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Wed, Oct. 16

Bird diets change with the season, parenting needs

You might be wondering why bird feeding activity dips a little during this time of the year, especially when you consider that there are lots of birds around. One reason for this is that many seed-eating bird species switch their diet to include a lot of insects during the summer months, so they are less dependent on seeds during summertime.

This is especially true during breeding season when seed-eaters have active nests with babies needing to be fed. The parents of most seed-eating species are actively foraging for insects and bugs to feed their babies, so they themselves are not eating as much seed during this time.

What you will find, however, is that once the baby birds fledge and leave the nest, guess where mom and dad bring them? That's right - to your feeders! It is not uncommon to witness juveniles - who are every bit as big as their parents - begging for food at feeders. Every once in a while the parents will oblige their young by giving them a mouthful of food even though the juvenile is more than capable of feeding itself at this stage of development.

Recently I have had several reports from customers that their lesser goldfinch numbers are down right now. I wouldn't be concerned. I'm sure they are busy with a nest full of babies. Personally, I am experiencing just the opposite in my yard - I have two wire-mesh thistle feeders that are getting constant action all day long.

My recommendation, if you feel you are not experiencing the level of bird activity you are used to, is to be patient. They will be back, of that you can be sure. Keep your feeders clean and fully stocked with quality birdseed (without any filler ingredients,) and as the dietary needs of the birds change with the seasons, they will return to your feeders.

The bird of the month to be on the lookout for is the Phainopepla. The what? I know the word Phainopepla might seem a little overwhelming, but it actually is pretty easy to pronounce: fain-o-pep-la. Phainopeplas are fairly common here in the Prescott area during the summertime, moving up from desert elevations in May and June.

Male plumage is a glossy black color with bold white wing patches, which are visible only when the bird is in flight. When the wings are at rest, you cannot see any white. The female is a dark gray color, and the wing patches are less pronounced. Both males and females have a crest similar to a cardinal, and their eyes are a deep red color.

Phainopeplas are both a berry and an insect eater. They will do some fly catching behavior, where they will fly out from the top of a tree and snap up insects in flight. In the summertime, insects make up a larger part of their diet, and in the wintertime, they rely more heavily on berries.

Phainopeplas are frequently found in areas where there is a profusion of mistletoe. Their preferred habitat is an area with an abundance of scrub oak, which is frequently a host plant for mistletoe. They will also eat berries from currant bushes, squaw bush, silk tassel, buckthorn and a variety of other native trees and shrubs that are berry producing.

So be on the lookout this week for Phainopeplas. Happy Birding!

If you have specific questions or issues related to wild birds which you would like discussed in future articles, you can submit them to Jay's Bird Barn, 1046 Willow Creek Road, Suite 105, Prescott, AZ 86301 or log onto and click on Ask Eric, which will link you with my e-mail address

Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, a backyard wild bird store located in the Safeway/K-Mart shopping center on Willow Creek Road. He has been an avid birder for over 40 years.

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