2018 Report on our Rose Breasted Grosbeaks

by Ken Quas
(Pine River, Minnesota)

I've wanted to update our experience with Rose Breasted Grosbeaks here in North Central Minnesota. For several years we have had to pull in our bird feeders due to Black bears becoming more common in our area.

Today marked the first time this year to see Rose Breasted Grosbeaks at our large tube feeder. Two breeding pair today. In 2016 and 2017 the birds first appeared on may 10, so they are early this year, despite a long winter. Since we had pulled our bird feeders in April of those years due to bears, they didn't stick around, sad to say.
Last fall, I put up a 6x6 treated-wood 'tree' with two 2x4 by 8 foot arms extending 4 feet from the 'tree' in 4 directions by mortising holes for them. The tree is 13 feet tall above ground with a 24-inch metal 'skirt' at 6 feet to discourage squirrels, raccoons and, we hoped, bears. The arms contained a Pileated Woodpecker suet feeder, two tube feeders of Niger Thistle, a large tube feeder of semi-hulled black oiler sunflowers and a hanging platform feeder for the semi-hulled sunflowers for flock feeders and larger birds such as Blue Jays.
Last fall we had to fell the mature bifurcated Red Pine we used to hang the feeders for safety reasons, and removed the 4x4 post-mounted platform feeder which was virtually bear proof in terms of not being destroyed, even when yearling bears climbed it. Our Local DNR banned feeding deer for 2 years last year due to CWD and ordered all bird feeders be not lower than 6 feet above the ground. The treated wood 'tree' solved all this as the lowest feeder (suet) on it is 9.5 feet above the ground. An inconvenience for filling as this requires a tall ladder and/or a pole with a hook on it. Forget pulleys, too complicated to bother with.
Needless to say, we thought we were home free until 8 days ago when a bear 'defeated' the 'tree' at night, climbed up and destroyed a plastic tube feeder of thistle and pulled down the hanging platform feeder by snapping the 12 ga. wires and straightening the 1/8" dia. factory made ring connectors to the eye hooks on the 'tree' arms. From the looks of the claw marks it had to be a mature boar black Bear. The platform feeder was not destroyed, only it's wire hangers and ring connectors. I had made it 'bear proof' and it was.
This morning a 3-year old Black Bear boar checked out the 'tree' and could not reach above the 8 foot top of the metal skirt and gave up after about 5 minutes. Now I know where to place another 24-inch metal skirt to discourage the larger males. We watched it exit west into our forest.
We are hopeful the Rose Breasted Grosbeaks will stick around this year and raise broods that we can view. Coincidentally, the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds also appeared today and they like the Grosbeaks had been appearing on May 10 the two previous years. The harbinger of the Hummers, the Common Sapsucker has not been seen so far this year. However, we have seen a Northern Flicker on May 5th, early for them and an Ovenbird today as well for the first time. And the Eastern Phoebe returned May 2nd and has staked out an under-eave nest platform I made for them 3 years ago and they continue to use it in lieu of making a mud nest on our log house siding.
Now that I know where to place an additional metal skirt on the treated wood 'tree' I plan to re-mount the hanging platform feeder with new hanger system. It's bottom is 11 feet above the ground. I have watched the bears stand on one foot trying to reach the hanging feeder we had on the Red Pine branch which was 8.5 feet above ground. The DNR says a minimum of 10 feet above ground is recommended to discourage bears. We see three to four different bears in our yard on average of once a week with no real food source for them. We had a routine to put the feeders out when they den up and remove them when they are about in early spring. We are on their route it appears.
As a side note, we fed a flock of 40 wild Eastern Turkeys at the edge of our yard all winter. They ceased to be wary of me after a week of twice daily feeding them by scattering semi-hulled sunflowers on the ground, shoveled bare when it snowed. When the ground was bare of snow about 3 weeks ago, they left for nest building duties. We continue to have a lone hen daily, so assume it is nesting nearby. The hens and toms should be in great shape this year, thank you. An interesting dynamic in a flock of wild turkeys, hens, jakes and toms. Disappointing they don't eat shelled corn if offered a choice of sunflowers. Corn is a last resort here. Feeding them became a serious budget item.
Sorry for the rant, but maybe some of it could be helpful.

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