The Bird Garden is located at 3203 route 114 in Edgett's Landing, New Brunswick. We manufacture unique bird feeders, houses, iron hangers and among other things make the best peanut butter suet ever.
We also have a stall at the Moncton Market, Westmorland Street, (but we're closest to the Robinson Street entrance), Moncton, New Brunswick, Saturdays from 7 am - 2 pm.

*****Since we can no longer compete with online discount sites like Amazon, we are no longer carrying commercial feeders. For now, we will be concentrating on our unique feeders and accessories, bear with us while we update our website. *****
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The Rest of New Brunswick's Winter Finch

Until you get to know them, the Pine Siskin seems like an ordinary little brown bird, it often gets mistaken for a sparrow and female of immature Goldfinch.  Watch them for a while though and you’ll see that they “act” more like a finch than a sparrow, quite acrobatic, they can hang up-side-down off a feeder perch or tree limb to get seeds.  Although they will go to the ground for dropped seeds, they don’t scratch around like a sparrow would.  Also, as the old saying goes, you can judge a bird by the company it keeps, when they show up at feeders they are often traveling with other finch, which is likely why people mistake them for Goldfinch or even a “baby” Purple Finch.  Both sexes have heavy brown streaks, but the male has more yellow showing between and a yellow wing bar.
They’re the same size as the Goldfinch, but if you take a closer look at the beak, it’s much finer.  Don’t underestimate it though, although they appreciate nyjer and hulled sunflower seeds, they have absolutely no trouble cracking a black oil sunflower seed and extracting the meat.  Good news if you’re on a budget, you don’t need to buy enough nyjer feeders so everyone gets a place setting at the buffet, they’re quite happy with the small sunflower and if you have extra guests drop by for a while, it won’t break the bank to spread a little extra on a platform feeder or even on the ground.  
This very friendly year round resident in New Brunswick, is welcome at my feeder whenever they pass through.  They aren’t very afraid of people, you can usually get very close before they take flight.  Several times I’ve been startled when I lifted the feeder and one flew off, usually only doing a short loop and landing on the hanger to wait for me to finish refilling.  Sometimes when I’m feeling extra patient, I’ll get them to eat from my hand and I’ve offered a finger to fledglings and had them perch a while.   
They seem to love the window feeder, very few activities inside the house scare them off, even our great indoor hunter cat pouncing at the glass doesn’t always flush them.  
The American Goldfinch is another year round finch, although it’s got a lot of people fooled, it’s hard to believe that half the olive drab birds coming to the feeder right now are going to be day-glow yellow in a couple months.  Goldfinch molt twice a year, we’ve almost made it to their late winter molt, first we’ll try to imagine that guy looks a little brighter, hoping it means spring is around the corner.  When in fact it has no bearing on warmer weather at all, the molt is triggered by lengthening daylight, so even if we still have snow in May, and we likely will, the Goldfinch will be bright yellow.  Then we’ll see some real scruffy looking dudes, half in and half out of winter plumage.  Sometimes this is a gradual thing that you see coming, other years it coincides with a bunch of smarter finch, who spent the winter a bit farther south, returning or passing through on the way even farther north.  (The feathers didn’t pop overnight.)
Strict vegetarians (even vegans I suppose?), these guys won’t be found on the suet feeder, unless the cakes are laced with seed.  I don’t even see them on the cakes containing black oil sunflower, but have in the past seen them on suet with hulled sunflower.  I’ve read that the fat makes the seeds slippery and hard for some birds to open, so they favour the feeder tubes.  These are the finch that nest really late, they wait for the thistle and milkweed to mature, using the fibers for nests and the feed the seed to the young.  A bit of Goldfinch trivia… unlike most birds, they even raise their young vegan, a Brown-headed Cowbird chick hatched in their nest won’t survive past a few days on the total seed diet.  (Cowbirds are the ones who don’t make nests of their own, rather lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.)
Watch for them in winter traveling in mixed finch flocks, there undulating flight and calls make them easy to pick out.  
The Common Redpoll is finally making appearances at most bird feeders.  I read this would be a good year and since they usually come south every other year, it was an easy prediction to agree with.  And the were around earlier, but until the snow got dumped there was plenty of wild seeds available.  I saw and heard them in the woods, on birch, tamarack and aspen trees, as well as the many weed and flower seeds still not buried. 
Streaked heavily with brown backs, these guys resemble the Pine Siskin, that is until a brightly dressed male turns around and you see the pink breast, bright red head and black bib.  They too call in flight and when perched in the top of trees, they’ll readily mix with the other smaller finch to give a great spring-like concert on a winter day.  
They’ll be leaving us soon, they don’t nest in New Brunswick, but if the pattern holds true, they’ll be back in two years to take advantage of our hospitality. 
The Hoary Redpoll is similar to the Common Redpoll, it’s slightly larger, lighter, less streaked and has white over the rump.  The beak is also shorter and more stout.  Males stand out but the females and immature may require a little more study.  In years redpolls come south there’s usually a few Hoary around, but they are greatly outnumbered by their cousin.  They likely just find New Brunswick winters too warm, they’re more at home in the Arctic, in even bleaker conditions than the Common Redpoll.  They have extra fluffy feathers, and are feathered in areas other birds aren’t, if they get too warm, they actually pluck a few to cool off.  They grow back in a few days, which is a good thing in case the temperature drops. 

The Winter Finch

Over the years there have been several changes in the common names of birds, the Marsh Hawk is now the Northern Harrier, Canada Jay became the Gray Jay, I’m not old enough to remember the changes to the falcon family, but they were once called Duck, Pigeon and Sparrow Hawks, my father and his peers still use those names, sending me to Wiki or my antique J.J. Audubon to find out which one he’s talking about.  
If you thought it was hard to keep up with the various changes in the common names, try to follow the changes among family, subfamily and genera of these birds.  As DNA tests are done, some birds are moved from one group to another, species are being combined into one, split into two, in the case of the Baltimore Oriole, both.  (it was combined with the Bullock’s Oriole to form the Northern Oriole, then re-split into it’s original parts), making your lifelist go up and down without ever lifting your binoculars.  
This week I want to write about the our winter finch, I was going over in my head the species I’d include.  Like many out there I got my start with a Peterson guide, in it there’s a few pages of finch; red finch, yellow finch and blue finch.  In my Peterson guide all the birds I was going to talk about fell in this category, a quick check reveled that although ornithologists were busy changing common names they were much more so when it came to changing scientific names and rearranging groups.  It makes my head spin and even if I could totally follow along, it would make a pretty boring read.
All this to say I wanted to include the cardinal, as in my old Peterson it’s listed as a “red finch”.  It’s actually grouped with the Rose-breasted Grosbeak (which makes more sense in french as Cardinal à poitrine rose), Blue Grosbeak and just recently the tanagers, but to keep you on your toes, the Evening Grosbeak and Pine Grosbeak are grouped with the finch. 
This has been a banner year for finch at feeders with every member present and accounted for, even the odd Cardinal.  
The Evening Grosbeak is still common, it could show up at feeders almost any time of year and there’s been an increase in activity this winter.  The males are bright yellow, with black head, tail and wing, the secondary wing feathers are white, they have a bright yellow forehead and eyebrow.  The beak is a massive yellow green cone, perfect for cracking seeds and biting the hand of a do-gooder trying to rescue one after a window strike.  Being quite familiar, I use the Evening Grosbeak as a standard of measure, “it’s grosbeak sized”, “it’s slightly larger than a grosbeak”.  So for those unfamiliar, they’re 8 inches, which doesn’t tell us much unless they’re in your hand or perched beside a ruler, but that makes them about half way between a chickadee and a Blue Jay.  
The Pine Grosbeak is our largest finch, slightly larger than an Evening Grosbeak, the males have red head, breast, back and rump, washing out to gray as you go down.  The dark wings have two white bars. Females are yellow olive in the places males are red, young males resemble females until their second year when they molt into the red feathers, but some will have a russet plumage prompting reports of three different birds.  They usually come to the yard for left over fruit but will also take sunflower seeds at feeders, they are very tame and approachable.  
This winter has had an increase in both Red Crossbills and White-winged Crossbills visiting feeders for sunflower and nyjer seed.  The males are red with darker wings, females are olive and first year males may appear to have an orange cast.  The White-winged will have more streaking on the flanks and two prominent wing bars, the beak is also smaller than the Red’s.  
The coolest feature is the beak, it totally crosses over, like when you cross your fingers, this design is made for spreading the spruce cones and extracting the seeds, a White-winged Crossbill can eat 3000 conifer seeds per day!
I’ve had crossbills at feeders several times and I usually mistake them for Purple Finch at first glance, it’s usually that they don’t fly away when I approach that makes me take a closer look.  
Purple Finch are certainly more plentiful in the other three seasons, but the odd ones do decide to stick around for winter.  The males are red, and lightly streaked, females are brown resembling a sparrow, but the beak is heavier, she also has quite a distinct light eyebrow, helping distinguish herself from the female House Finch.  Mostly dining on sunflower they do take the odd nyjer seed.  
House Finch were introduced to eastern United States from western states and Mexico in 1940, captured and caged they were sold in pet shops as “Hollywood Finch”.  To avoid charges under the migratory bird act, owners simply released the birds, since then they spread across much of the eastern continent.  All the House Finch in the east can trace their ancestry back to these relatively few released birds, the result of the inbreeding may have made them more susceptible to the eye disease Mycoplasma gallisepticum or House Finch Conjunctivitis.  Although it has been found in other species it is predominant in House Finch. 
The males have varying degrees of red, depending on the diet, some males may even appear orange.  Females are brown and both sexes are more heavily streaked than the Purple Finch.  Both these species are the same size and with the variations in the House Finch, it sometimes makes it tricky to tell them apart.  
Next week, the four smallest winter finch species (that’ll make 10, even without the cardinal!)

The Family Paridae

Two or three of my all time favourite birds are in the Paridae family, if this doesn’t ring any bells don’t worry, I had to look it up too. You don’t have to have the scientific names of every bird memorized to be what everyone seems to term an “avid birder”. On the off chance you ever need that information it readily available, all my field guides include them and of course there’s Wiki.
Our representatives of this family are the Black-capped Chickadee, Boreal Chickadee and (recently) Tufted Titmouse, I say two or three of my favourite birds because I’ve yet to meet a Tufted Titmouse but from what I see I’m sure I would love to have one at my feeders.
I don’t think I’ve met more than a handful of (grumpy) people who don’t include the Black-capped Chickadee in their most liked birds, being our provincial bird I think it’s required on your New Brunswick citizenship application.
These tiny acrobats are at home spending much of their day upside down gleaning insects from tree branches and making frequent trips to the sunflower feeder. Any day now we’ll hear more of their territorial fee bee call, as the days lengthen even more the urge to set up territory will go into overdrive. As spring approaches you’ll have fewer visits to the feeders as Black-capped Chickadee have a rather large 10 acre territory, so most feeder yards will be lucky to have even one pair through the breeding season. That their diet changes from 50% seeds in winter to 10% in summer also accounts for a decrease in feeder activity. For now though, chickadees are likely one of the most numerous species at the feeders, enjoying black-oil sunflower, hulled sunflower, suet and occasionally other seeds, they can also be seen hammering open rather large pupae and hovering around window sills and under eaves for spiders and their eggs.
They’ll excavate their own cavity for nesting, or take a man made nest box, with inside dimensions from 3x3 to 5x5 inches and a hole as small as 1 ⅛ inches. Since they’ll readily take a box also used by Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds, I tend to make my holes 1 ½ inches to allow the larger species while still thwarting the dreaded starling. This increases the odds of getting a bird nesting in your yard. The small hole is a good idea if you live in an area with House Sparrows or want to place the chickadee house on the edge of the woods where squirrels would likely take it over. In this case I use the metal predator guards with a 1 ⅛ inch opening to keep the squirrel from enlarging the hole.
The Boreal Chickadee is a close cousin to the Black-capped, but not seen nearly as often. The occasional feeder operator is lucky enough to host a one, but most sightings are made in a spruce forest sending beginners and non birders running for a field guide. Noting the brown chickadee I’ve had some folks mistake this for the Chestnut-backed Chickadee, but a quick check of the range maps and a look at the Boreal’s picture usually confirm what they saw. If you’re on a mission to add this bird to your list, you’d be wise to learn the song, you’ll recognize it right away as a chickadee but it’s more nasal and harsh, with the emphasis on a different syllable.
A very hardy permanent resident, this tiny bird stays put year round as far north as the tree line, but a true Canuck they rarely venture across the border into the US, you pretty much have to come here to see one. Which may help explain the relative lack of information when compared to it’s more common relative. The Boreal is often left out of beginner guides, and when I checked the usual on line sources the information is so scarce I thought all the white space on the page was a computer error. I even noticed a mistake on my favourite website,, hosted by Cornell University. So I guess nobody’s perfect. Check it out, if you notice the mistake, drop me a line.
This bird will nest in the same box as the Black-capped (but I can only recall 2 reports locally), and also excavate their own cavity. They also stash food for winter, the seeds are usually from spruce, but mostly it’s insect larvae that get stored. I wonder what happens to these if the bird doesn’t retrieve them? I’d be scratching my head if I came across a hollow tree full of larvae from a variety of species.
I remember getting numerous reports of Tufted Titmice years ago and I always thought they were actually seeing waxwings (especially when there were flocks of them), but never say never, the Tufted Titmouse has been expanding it’s range and is now in New Brunswick, hopefully I’ll live long enough to host one in my own yard.
I’m not sure why they call it the “Tufted” Titmouse, I know you’re going to say because it has a tuft on top of it’s head, but that doesn’t differentiate it from all the other titmice, they’re all “tufted”, although all my guides call it a crest, so maybe I’m missing something.
They visit the feeders in much the same way as the chickadee, taking one seed at a time, they also nest in old woodpecker nests or a nest box, but Tufted Titmice don’t excavate their own cavity.
Again, the key to first seeing this bird is learning the songs, they have a chickadee like call but also a loud peter, peter, peter song. It’s always a good idea to learn the most common birds songs, if you know the Black-capped’s repertoire, you’ll recognize the difference when you hear a Boreal or Titmouse.

The rest of New Brunswick's woodpeckers

Last week I talked about the four most common species of woodpeckers in New Brunswick, this week I’ll finish the other five that for most of us aren’t as common.

Although the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker breeds extensively in New Brunswick, it’s not reported all that frequently. I see the odd one around the yard, sipping sap from a small hole it drilled in my maple, I hear them more often now that I’ve learned their drum; unlike our other woodpeckers it stalls part way through and picks up again at the end. Reports do spike in breeding season when they find a resonant spot on your eave, stove pipe or metal ladder. They’re early risers and if one is drumming on your windowsill at the crack of dawn, it’s hard not to notice.

They don’t frequent feeders either but every now and then one will discover the sweet offerings we put out for hummingbirds or orioles. If you do get one hanging off a small hummingbird feeder you may want to get the larger version meant for orioles so less gets spilled while he’s feeding. Don’t forget to try some grape jelly either, the sweeter the better. They sometimes visit the suet feeders, but I wouldn’t run out and buy some just for sapsuckers, in 20 years I’ve only seen 2 on my suet feeders.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is considered a keystone species, that is they are vital for the maintenance of a community. There are 35 species of birds that benefit from the sap and the insects that are attracted to the sap wells. It’s not coincidence that the our sapsucker arrives a couple weeks before the our hummingbirds, they have some time to set up house keeping, get some trees tapped and the sap running in time for the hummers arrival. Researchers have noted hummingbirds chasing off other larger species, they don’t however, chase away the sapsucker, so the relationship may be mutually beneficial. Although the hummingbird eats a lot compared to it’s body weight (The heaviest hummer weighs less than one loonie and lightest less than a penny or it would take 14 small hummingbirds to equal one Downy Woodpecker), it’s very little compared to the amount of sap a larger species would rob.

I hear suggestions to get your hummingbird feeders out early in the spring so the first arriving birds will have something to eat, and while I’m all for it, the truth is these birds have been arriving before most New Brunswick flowers bloom long, long before anyone ever thought about the small red nectar feeders.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is our most migratory woodpecker, the only one who doesn’t even appear on the NB winter list (going back to 1996) and that makes sense, there’s not much sap running here in January.

The Black-backed Woodpecker and Three-toed Woodpecker are the only North American land birds with only three toes, the true rear toe is missing and the outer front toe that faces backwards in all woodpeckers is the only rear toe on these two species. (In the other woodpeckers it’s usually two forward and two backwards, but the outer rear toe can rotate to the side as the bird climbs, the inner hind toe is often hidden by the leg, so if you only see three toes it doesn’t necessarily mean it a three toed woodpecker.)

Although not commonly reported this woodpecker of the boreal forest can be found across New Brunswick, (I saw my first in Moncton city limits). Look for it anywhere there are dead or dying conifers as it feeds by flaking off the bark eventually removing all the bark from a snag. One of the favourite foods is the larvae of the white-spotted sawyer beetle, this insect can detect the light given off by a forest fire and moves in shortly after to deposit eggs in the dying trees, this in turn draws the woodpeckers. One reference states a Black-backed eats more than 13,500 larvae annually, that’s 40 of these fat juicy grubs daily.

The Black-backed is mid sized, with an all black back, the primary flight feathers are spotted white, the sides are barred black and white, white belly and yellow cap on males.

The Three-toed Woodpecker is less common than the other three toed woodpecker, he has similar feeding habits but will more readily feed on the sapsucker wells. Slightly smaller, it has white bars on the back, more barring on the sides, white speckles on the head and the males also have a yellow cap.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is one of those species that was named when the ornithologists shot first and made identifications later. Dead, on it’s back, the red on the belly is visible; alive and on a tree trunk it’s not so noticeable. Every few years this woodpecker will move into our area for the winter, like the other woodpeckers that come to feeders they enjoy the suet, but this one will take sunflower more readily and truly loves peanuts in the shell. When they are around I have a spike in peanut in the shell feeders and I always say, this feeder won’t magically attract a Red-bellied to your yard, but if you get one, it’ll be going to this feeder.

One winter we had one who made it his mission to fill a hollowed out apple tree with sunflower seeds. He made constant trips from the feeder to the tree to drop the seed in and seemingly listen for it to hit bottom, perhaps judging his progress. Unfortunately for him, a red squirrel was making it his mission to remove the seeds as fast as they were being cached.

This guy stayed all winter into spring and even started his mating call and drum, but after having no success on the girl front, he moved on. There were several females in New Brunswick that winter, but I didn’t hear of any of them hooking up.

While a lot of woodpeckers have red on their heads, there is only one Red-headed Woodpecker. They are entirely red from the shoulders up to the beak, the black is all black and the white is all white, making this one striking individual. Now considered our most rare woodpecker, (by me at least, as I still don’t have it on my New Brunswick list), it used to breed here.

The same winter we hosted the Red-bellied there was one down the road in Riverside-Albert, I didn’t bother to go see it, we had one on PEI when I was younger and thought if I’d already seen it, then it mustn’t be very rare. I should have gone, as the sightings are getting fewer and farther away.

Woodpeckers of New Brunswick

When a birder comes by and asks what birds I have around today, I run through the list of what I can remember seeing recently and I usually say, “...and both woodpeckers.” I hear others saying that too, we’re referring to the common feeder visitors, the Downy and Hairy but we really should be more specific. Did you know there are nine species of woodpeckers quite possible in New Brunswick?
Undoubtedly the Downy Woodpecker the most familiar, the friendly little bird frequents feeders and often stays put at the feeder while you approach very close. On several occasions I’ve been startled when I picked up a feeder not noticing one on the opposite side. It’s our smallest woodpecker, weighing about the same as three loonies, so theoretically my wife could have ten of them in the bottom of her purse at any time and not notice. Very similar to the Hairy in appearance, they have black backs checked with white, black and white striped heads and the outer tail feathers are white, on the Downy they typically have black spots, but the easiest way to tell them apart is the bill length when compared to the head. The bill of a Downy is about half the depth of the head while the Hairy’s is about equal. So if you’re taking pictures and want to be able to differentiate, try to get a full on side shot, sometimes when they are looking directly into the camera they’re harder to tell apart and if they are looking on an angle a Hairy may even look like a Downy. The males of both species have a bright red patch on the backs of their heads.
The Hairy is quite bit larger, it can weigh up to 13 loonies, (so my wife would notice ten of these in her purse), they are dominant at feeders but in nature the two feed on different parts of the tree, the Downy’s smaller size allowing it access, even feeding on weed stems and the Hairy’s heavier bill allows him to dig a little deeper.
My next most common woodpecker is all the way to the other end of the scale, I see the Pileated almost every day. They are in my area and make their presence known with their call, drum or noisy foraging that sounds very much like a carvers mallet and chisel. Our only crested woodpecker, they resemble Woody, except where he’s blue they’re black. The gentlemen have a red mustache while the ladies sport black ones.
I’ve never had one on feeders, (some people have) but I see them routinely on my dead trees and fruit, it’s favourite seems to be alternate leaf dogwood, wild cherry and grapes. He can be quite the acrobat, hanging vicariously off small suet cages, grape vines and saplings. I’ve seen them bend a cherry sapling horizontal, (they weigh 50 loonies or 17 Downy Woodpeckers) hang upside-down and strip the fruit. Even the way they take the fruit in their beak and toss it back into their mouth is interesting to watch.
The Pileated will nest in urban areas if there are large enough trees to excavate a nest, there are nests on the Crawley Farm Road, right in Moncton and several others are reported foraging on dead trees in the city.
For three seasons the Northern Flicker is plentiful, this one migrates in winter, but spring and fall they pass through in large numbers. In mid to late April you’ll see them on bare areas, in ditches and cleaning up any fruit that may be left on trees. During breeding season they’re very conspicuous, although not showing up at feeders very often, you’ll see them eating fruit and picking up ants on the lawn, which by the way, ranks as the number one ID question I get asked… “I have a bird that looks like a woodpecker, but he’s hopping around on the lawn---tan bird, black spots, red on back of head and black bib” or something like that (males have a mustache). They’re larger than the Hairy, about the size of a Mourning Dove, (they weigh 23 loonies).
If you don’t see flickers very often, try to learn their call, it’s similar to the Pileated but higher and longer, they’ll get on top of a light pole and call all day when they’re trying to define their territory.

I’ll finish up our other five woodpecker species next week.

Bluebirds checking houses in the fall

After nesting in a nearby box, these Eastern Bluebirds check out other sites in the fall. Presumably on the look out for new real estate for next spring.
Photo by:
Denis Doucet, taken in his NB yard