Rose Breasted Grosbeaks

by Ken Quass
(Pine River, Minn. USA)

Each year we mark the return of the Rose Breasted Grosbeak as it seems to officially signal spring is well underway. Today, May 5, 2012, we had 3 male Grosbeaks come to our bird feeders. The males return first and a few days later the females join the males at our bird feeders. We customarily see the birds all summer and well into fall at our feeders. By fall the several pair we note each spring will have several juveniles with them. We suspect some may raise two broods. We regard them as a rather common songbird in our area.

We live in the forest on acreage in north central Minnesota about at the corner where Cass county wraps around Crow Wing county. A forest is defined as stand of trees in which the tree canopy covers at least 65% to 100% of the area. A woods, by definition, is a tree canopy that covers at least 35% to 64% of the area. Our home is in a relatively small opening in the middle of the property which is in the Laurentian Mixed Forest area that includes the North Minnesota Drift and Lake Plains with pine moraines and the outwash plains left by the various glacial advances and retreats in this part of the state.

Our particular property has several glacial ice-melt basins of various sizes and depths. This topography makes it impractical to 'farm', as it is too hilly for machinery to deal with in a safe and economical manner. We have a registered Forest Stewardship Plan with an emphasis on wildlife habitat management and have done some selective logging over the years. We are in the process of restoring the White Pine and White Spruce to the ratio before European settlement and logging harvested the White Pine and Spruce. Along with mature stands of Red and White pines, our forest has stands of Jack Pine, various Oak varieties, Aspen, Birch, Red Maple, Red Pine, Black and Norway Spruce, Tamarack, and Balsam. We have planted small stands of 'exotics', such as Appalachian Fraser Fir, a Balsam and Fraser Fir hybrid, Doug Fir, Eastern Hemlock, and Siberian Spruce in addition to the White Pine and Spruce. We are nursing a Wisconsin survivor American Chestnut sapling. We also have wild Chokecherry, Plum, Service berry, Red Raspberry, Blackberry, Blueberries, and Dogwood for the birds to choose from.

We maintain our birdfeeders year round. We have one open platform pole mounted about 5'-6" above the ground and is 'bear proof' from actual observation. That means a bear has yet to destroy it, but they can and do stand and easily eat the seeds on the platform. They pull at it in an effort to get it to the ground, but give up after a try or two. The post is a treated 4x4 cedar post buried about 30 inches and has served for 8 years. We went through several iterations that were destroyed by bears. We have another platform feeder with a roof that hangs from a mature Red Pine about 12 feet from the post feeder. We have two tubular feeders hanging from the same Red Pine. In the spring we put out an Oriole feeder as Orioles pass through, but do not nest nearby. The tubular feeders are squirrel and raccoon proof by virtue of having clear plastic domes over them. In the platform feeders which the Grosbeaks use, we put black oil sunflowers of which 2/3rds are shelled. In one tubular feeder, we put in finely chipped sunflowers and the other tubular feeder has the same feed as the platform feeders. We have found over the years that a mixed seed blend is not preferred by near all the bird varieties we have. We gave up Niger Thistle as the birds preferred the finely chipped sunflowers by far. We have to fill all the feeders near daily until summer, then about once a week. We put out a suet blend from late fall to late spring. If it has corn or millet in it, birds seem to lose interest in it. Peanuts and sunflowers are the preferred amendments. Except for the suet feeder, all the feeders are within 20 feet of our dining room window.

We have Downy, Hairy, Red Bellied, and Pileated Woodpeckers at the feeders year round. We now have Red Breasted Nuthatches year round along with White Breasted Nuthatches. The Reds used to be only a winter regular. We have Mourning Doves, Blue Jays, Chickadees, Goldfinches as well as Pine Siskens, Red Polls, and Purple Finches. We regard the Siskens, Red Polls and Purple Finches as winter regulars. We regularly record about 50 bird varieties each year without trying.

This year we have been blessed to have wild turkeys at the feeder 'leavings' on the ground daily since April 1st, at least 4 hens and 2 toms. Last fall a flock of 15 wild turkeys came into the yard to feed on the acorns and feeder 'leavings', at times as many as 19 over a period of 1.5 weeks. We were pleased to see a few return this spring and stick around. Turkeys are not native to this area and starve quickly when snow cover is 10 inches or more. Last winter was unusually light in snow cover. We are at the far north fringe of their 'range'.

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