Hart Beat by Hart Rufe

First published December 1, 2014 ... Contact Hart at hartrufe@gmail.com

A Gray Catbird is delighted to find this suet feeder at a Treasure Coast home.

Breaking the Rules

Baltimore Orioles

Brown Thrasher

Common Grackle

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-winged Blackbird (juv)

Northern Flicker

“You know you are violating a cardinal rule of bird photography, don’t you?”

“What? There is a photography rule named for the Cardinal? Just kidding, and besides, you are well aware that ‘law abiding’ has been an important part of my life. We don’t even cut the tag off a new pillow in the privacy of our bedroom because of the warning: ‘Unlawful to remove this label.’ Imagine the embarrassment if a policeman knocked on the door: ‘Sir, you are under arrest for removing the label from that pillow you just bought.’ OK, what cardinal rule?”

“THOU SHALT NOT PHOTOGRAPH A BIRD ON ANY MAN MADE OBJECT! It was Commandment XI on Moses’ Mt. Sanai tablets, but didn’t get the same publicity as the first ten.”

“Sure, I know that rule, but this is different. The lady at the feed store asked me what kind of birds eat that when she saw me buying processed suet blocks in the bird food section. When I began to list the number of species attracted to the suet blocks she looked at me as though I had two heads, in complete disbelief. So I decided to show her some photos to prove I wasn’t just making all the birds up.”

“All right then, as long as you don’t suggest there is anything ‘artistic’ about such bird photos that aren’t in a natural setting.”

“No problem there, I have never been under the illusion that any of my bird photos are ever ‘artistic.’ I simply present them to make one birding point or another.”

So, now that the argument with the ‘little conscience guy’ on my shoulder is behind us, Lady in The Feed Store, assuming you might ever read this, here is positive evidence of some of the birds that feed on those processed suet blocks.

Woodpeckers are particularly drawn to suet blocks, and while some blocks are advertised to be specially designed for woodpeckers, we have found that they don’t really care what flavor of suet blocks we provide. Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers all compete for time on the blocks. Gray Catbirds and Brown Thrashers, two of the three eastern mimic-thrush species are quite regular feeders, while I have never seen any of our resident Northern Mockingbirds on or around any of our feeders.

As you might expect, blackbirds, especially Red-winged (juv. male here) and Common Grackle are also frequently on or around the suet blocks. We try to discourage the European Starlings that occasionally come by, and a loud noise seems to work. One of the big surprises for us was the attraction of Northern Orioles to the blocks. It was interesting to note that only young male and female Orioles came to the suet however, as the adult male Orioles dominated the nearby grape jelly feeder in preference to the suet, keeping the less dominant orioles away.

When I began writing this account I was dumfounded to discover that I did not have any photos of Blue Jays on the suet block, as they are constantly monitoring and chasing other birds away. The same is true of the woodpecker wannabe, White-breasted Nuthatch, which frequently sneaks in and steals a glob of suet and quickly leaves. Smaller birds often dash in and grab a bite when the larger birds are either sated or not paying attention. These include, commonly, the Carolina Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse, and both Carolina and House Wrens. However, these smaller birds also seem to prefer the oiled sunflower seeds offered nearby, where they are less harassed by the larger birds. When many of these birds were feeding young, the young would wait right under the suet feeder while the parent broke off a chunk and then delivered it to the begging, gaping-mouthed juvenile. Sound familiar?

So, Lady in the Feed Store, here is evidence of many of the birds feeding on the suet blocks that I told you about. As for the rest that I have mentioned, for which I don’t have photo documentation, you will just have to accept my word. Actually, I probably don’t have those additional photos because I was obeying the cardinal role mentioned above, as I normally disdain feeder photos of birds. Speaking of cardinal rules, our numerous Northern Cardinals rule the oiled sunflower feeders and the ground beneath them. I have never seen a single Northern Cardinal on a suet block. Sometimes, as I have observed over the years, evidence to prove a point is sometimes obtained through devious or even sneaky means. Sometimes, even by breaking the rules. I still won’t cut the tags off our pillows though. (12/1/14)

Note: Commercial suet blocks, and feeders to hold them as depicted in the photos, are readily available at feed stores and Tractor Supply in Florida, and do not melt in the heat, nor are they susceptible to mold or mildew. They also have the benefit of not leaving any ground residue beneath the feeder, and are not attractive to squirrels.

Click photos for larger versions