It isn’t pollen allergies that are causing my discomfort — nor COVID-19, thank goodness — but a springtime affliction known to birders as warbler-neck. It’s caused by spending too many hours with your neck at an unnatural angle looking through binoculars into the treetops, trying to get a look at migrating warblers.
But at this moment I’m looking at a pine warbler, not in the treetops but at eye-level, just seven feet away, pecking at the suet in a wire basket suspended just outside my office window.
Every one of us is feeling stressed by all that the coronavirus has sent our way. Even the healthiest is feeling confined, restricted and otherwise inconvenienced by orders to stay home, to shelter in place.
Places where social distancing is so easily achieved, such as state parks and national parks, destinations for some of the best spring birding, are closed to limit the spread of the disease.
But there’s still one place where you can enjoy birdwatching without the constant pressure of the deadly disease, and that place is home. Some of my most enjoyable birdwatching is done in the safety and security of my home office.
A close-up feeder can provide many hours of entertainment for people who are truly restricted to indoors.
But if you are to enjoy birds up close, you must ensure their safety.
One of the biggest causes of bird mortality is from collisions with windows. Most of these collisions occur at office buildings that have large expanses of glass that reflect the sky or nearby vegetation. Birds see those reflections, think they are real and fly into them, very often resulting in death.
The American Bird Conservancy estimates that a billion birds in the United States die each year from collisions with glass. And while most of this kind of mortality occurs at offices and other commercial buildings, it can happen at home, too.
There are ways you can reduce the risk of window strike, though. Silhouettes of falcons or other predatory birds are not effective, but there are several window treatments that are easier for birds to see and thus avoid windows.
Acopian Birdsavers is a company that uses parachute chord, while another business — Bird Crash Preventers — uses monofilament. Both manufactures claim that their products are effective at preventing window strike without interfering with your view.
The proximity of feeders to windows can be an issue, too. Feeders should be placed either 30 feet or more away from windows or within a few inches.
I spend a lot of my time at my computer on the second floor of the house, but because of the lay of the land, it’s more like a third floor. From so high up, I wouldn’t be able to see feeders if they were placed on poles in the ground as is typical. Instead, mine are placed inches from a window which is near my desk. Brackets on either side of the window support a one-inch diameter wooden dowel rod, and the feeders are hung from S-hooks and small eyelet screws attached to the rod. One feeder is designed to hold peanuts in the shell, one is filled with sunflower seeds, one with suet, and another with sugar water for the hummingbirds. Yes, it’s time to put those hummingbird feeders up.
In winter, thistle replaces the hummingbird feeder. Thistle attracts goldfinches, peanuts attract both downy woodpeckers and red-bellied woodpeckers, and sunflower seeds attract white-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, and house finches, as well as the woodpeckers.
With placement of feeders so close at hand, binoculars are not needed.
An added advantage of this placement is that squirrels can’t get to the feeders. They can’t scale the wood siding and the trees aren’t close enough for them to make the leap.
Another unexpected result of this placement is the absence of several birds that ordinarily mob feeders. Mourning doves, blue jays, cardinals, even grackles — those notorious feeder raiders — don’t seem be able to manage feeders arranged in this way.
Before I came up with this arrangement, I dissuaded squirrels by offering suet with red peppers. Squirrels were put off by the hot pepper, but several species of birds were not.
But upon moving my feeders high off the ground, I switched to suet without pepper and I was rewarded with several bird species that shunned pepper-laced suet.
This winter, in addition to the usual birds attracted to suet such as Carolina wrens, woodpeckers, and nuthatches, bluebirds enjoyed the suet — as many as five of them on a 5-by-5-inch block. Pine warblers, a yellow-rumped warbler and a ruby-crowned kinglet were frequent visitors as well. These birds avoided the hot pepper suet, but liked the suet without hot pepper very much indeed.
The kinglet will soon be heading north for the breeding season. This bird is solely a winter visitor, as is the yellow-rumped warbler.
But the woodpeckers, nuthatches and pine warblers that have frequented my feeders all winter — male and female of each species — will continue to visit me.
They are old friends; I think of them as my birds, and some have probably been attending these same feeders at my window for several years.
While we are under siege by COVID-19, bringing so many delightful birds up close can give the house-bound endless hours of pleasure, all the while avoiding the pain and suffering of warbler-neck.
For more solutions to window strike, go to: abcbirds.org/program/glass-collisions/