Monday, August 31, 2020

How do birds know when you fill the feeder?

If you've never set up a bird feeder before, you may be worried that birds will not find it right away.

On the other hand, if you already have a bird feeder set up, your question often changes. How did they come so fast? How do the birds know I filled the feeder?

Birds find newly filled feeders using their excellent eyesight and listening to other birds fighting excitedly over food. They are constantly searching for food sources and investigate new objects in their territory. Once they find a feeder with seed, they keep going back to see if it is filled again.

Photo of birds on a cute bird feeder
Image by Veronica Andrews from Pixabay.

Can wild birds smell bird seeds?

Experiments have revealed that most birds have a poor sense of smell. Their sense of smell is on par with humans or less sensitive. Both humans and birds have 3 conchae, the organs responsible for the sense of smell.

There are a few birds that do have a good sense of smell. 

Turkey Vultures can locate carrion by smell. 

Petrels can smell chemicals given off by plankton to find food in the oceans. These birds also use the sense of smell to find their correct nest burrows in colonies dug into sod on offshore islands. 

Kiwi birds in New Zealand use smell to locate prey underground as they probe with their bills. 

Parrots are said to have a good sense of smell.

But these are the exceptions.

Birds do not use smell to locate feeders or to tell if seeds or other food is present.

Then how do birds find bird feeders?

Birds primarily use vision, their sense of sight, to locate food.

Birds may see seeds that they recognize as food in your feeder. But to do so, they have to be pretty close.

Some birds of prey (hawks, eagles, falcons) have excellent visual acuity--they can detect prey very well--even from a long distance away.

Many birds, including hummingbirds and robins, at least, can see into the ultraviolet. That allows them to see different "colors" in what appears to human eyes to be a single color. But that doesn't mean they can see bird seed any farther away than you or I can.

So to attract birds to a new feeder, you may spread some seed on the ground. They have a better chance of spotting the seed, then.

Birds recognize bird feeders the same way you do--through experience. A bird feeder is a small object shaped like a bowl or box next to the big square structure (house) where people live. It has bird food in it. Once they learn where to find food, they keep coming back.

Birds are very curious creatures. They explore their small territory on a constant look out for two things. Birds are constantly looking around to escape danger. Birds are constantly looking around to find food.

Birds also keep an eye out on their neighbors. Other birds, whether the same species or not, may alert them to dangers or food sources. If other birds are gathered around a small area, fluttering and hopping, it may be food!

But that's not all. When a group of birds are eating they most always squawk and fight over the food. They make quite a loud noise sometimes when they are eating in such a group. If you listen, you can also hear birds at your feeder.

So hearing is the second way that birds locate bird feeders.

So how do birds know when I put out food?

Seeds come from plants. Seed eating birds must remember where those plants are and visit them regularly.

The same is true for bird feeders. Birds visit bird feeders regularly, perhaps several times during the day. They may not know how the food gets in the feeder. But they keep checking back.

On the other hand, birds may see you put food in the feeder. Or they may have learned that after people go near the feeder, there may be a new supply of food. Remember that birds keep an eye out for danger? Humans can be dangerous. So if you are out in your yard, the birds are keeping an eye on you!

So that's it , then. Birds may see you fill the feeders. Or, they check back at feeders several times each day and find new food. Once a bird or two visits a newly-filled feeder other birds see and hear and follow them.

It can seem like birds have a special sense to just "know" when you have refilled your feeder. But they just watch, listen, and visit regularly.

Wagner's Songbird Supreme bird seed is my favorite for attracting the most kind of birds to my feeder. If it isn't available, a close second is Wagner's Greatest Variety. These are Amazon affiliate links that help support this blog. Thank you.

More tips on feeding birds

5 Simple ways to attract more birds to your feeder

How often should you refill an empty bird feeder?

The two types of bird seed that attract the most birds!

7 kinds of bird feeders and the birds that like them

Confused as to how to set up your bird feeder? Let me help!

Is it ok to throw bird seed on the ground?

Thursday, August 27, 2020

My review: Best solar fountains for bird baths

The idea of a solar powered fountain for a bird bath is very compelling. Moving water really attracts birds. However, the difference between the promise and the reality of solar powered bird bath fountains may leave you disappointed.

The best solar fountain for bird baths is one with a battery backup and larger solar array. The battery should be at least 1200 mAh (milliamp hours). The solar panel should be at least 2.5 W (watts). The water flow should be at least 180 L/h (liters per hour).

Buy it now!

Aisitin 3.5W with 1200 mAh battery.

Amazon affiliate link

My Peoture 2.5W fountain (no longer available) 

runs all day in partial sun, even at a low sun angle.

Once it is in shade, it runs at least another hour.

Update August 2022:

Finished its 3rd summer now! 

Photo of Pine Siskin at bird bath with fountain
Pine Siskin at bird bath with fountain.
Photo by Greg Gillson

Are solar powered fountains any good?

Manufacturing quality

The question of whether solar fountains are any good is an interesting one.

In my opinion, most of the solar fountains on the market are a commodity item. They are made in China at the lowest possible price. There is not a lot of difference between them. They barely work. And not for long.

This is seen in the Amazon reviews. About 70% of reviewers are initially satisfied with their fountains. At least 20% of reviewers received non-functional or poorly working duds. Only 10% of reviews were middle of the road.

All the solar fountains look and work quite similarly. It makes me wonder if they are all made by the same manufacturer and just sold through different retail importers.

In general, the quality of solar fountains is poor. Those with batteries often are depleted or don't last long. It is as if the manufacturer got low price, low quality, batteries, with few recharge cycles left in them. The lifetime of batteries is about 1000 charges. That's 2-1/2 years. But most solar fountains don't last that long, some only weeks. Sad.

The spray heads shoot water 20 inches into the air!

Suitability of solar fountains for bird baths

Most pedestal bird baths have a bowl diameter of 17 to 21 inches. Filling to a depth of 2 inches requires about 2 gallons. On average, then, bird baths hold about 2 gallons, or 7.5 liters, of water.

The solar fountains pump about 180 liters per hour. That's 3 liters per minute. In less than 2-1/2 minutes the pump in the fountain could completely empty a bird bath if the water wasn't returned to the basin.

The various spray heads supplied with the fountains shoot up 18 to 20 inches. That's great. Except if there is a slight breeze so that the water does not land back in the bird bath bowl. When the droplets do land back in the bird bath water, there is a splash. Some water splashes out. It doesn't take long for the bird bath to get low on water and the fountain to stop working. An hour or two.

Thus, I took off all the sprayers to make the fountain work for a bird bath. The water then bubbles up about 3 to 4 inches, without splashing (see top photo). Keeping the fountain floating in the middle of the bird bath, and away from the edge, helps splashes remain in the basin.

Solar fountains are good for bird baths if the spray heads are removed. Water still must be replaced every day.

This spray head makes gurgling splashing noises to attract birds.

Solar bird bath fountains do attract birds!

The good news is that solar powered fountains are great for attracting birds.

The spray heads with accompanying splash noises are better for attracting birds. These fountains would be great with the spray heads in a larger koi pond or similar body of water to attract birds.

But birds are attracted to the bubbling water in a bird bath, even with the spray heads removed from the fountain.

The fountain moves the water preventing mosquitoes and helping reduce algae.

Solar powered bird baths do work to bring in more birds more quickly to your bird bath!

Solar fountain features

Solar panels

The solar fountains I have been discussing are all-in-one. The battery, pump, and solar panels are all in one compact unit. It floats on the water.

Other types of solar panels have a larger separate solar panel that attaches with a wire cord to the pump. These solar panels sit outside of the fountain to catch the sun. These are for small ponds and may supply 5 Watts of electricity or more. They give impressive water fountain displays!

In general, larger solar panels are better. The sun straight up at noon provides 1000 Watts of power per square meter. Solar panels today are about 20% efficient. A 7 inch diameter circular solar fountain panel produces about 2.5 Watts of electrical power under full sun.

If you have a larger water basin, then a larger solar panel, combined with a bigger pump, will provide a taller and more powerful spray.

Fountains with small solar arrays may stop working if a leaf falls on part of the panel. They may not work with the sun at an angle, only straight overhead.


It is solar powered, so why does a solar fountain need batteries?

Without a battery backup, a solar fountain pump stops working immediately when it doesn't receive enough sunlight. That could be a cloud or shadow of leaves through a tree.

With a battery the solar fountain continues to work through passing clouds, dappled sunlight through leaves, and even in full late afternoon shade for an hour or more.

Batteries are rated in milliamp hours (mAh). Many small fountains come with 800 mAh batteries. Larger batteries (1200 mAh or 1500mAh) power on through shade much longer and provide more power to the pump.

Be aware that these batteries are not replaceable. When they die, the fountain will no longer work. And that is the end of life of the solar fountain.


The pump determines how much water pressure there is. More water pressure provides a more impressively tall water fountain display.

Pumps for these floating all-in-one solar fountains are rated by how much water they pump per hour. Usually these are liters per hour (there are 3.785 liters per gallon). Most of the pumps move from 180 to 300 liters of water per hour.

More powerful pumps will require more sunshine to work. They will use up the backup battery power faster in shade. And more powerful pumps will splash more water out of the bird bath. They are ideal for larger water features, though.

Spray heads

Most solar fountains come with a selection of about 5 different spray heads. Some shoot up higher. Some shoot out more to the side.

As mentioned, I finally decided to remove all spray heads. They splashed too much water out of the bird bath. The bird bath emptied in an hour or less. Removing the spray head allowed a small bubbling fountain. This lasts all day.

Automatic power off

Water pumps overheat and fail if they run with no water. Thus it is important to have an automatic shut off if the fountain detects low water.

This automatic shut off is also the source of some problems with these fountains. The water detector can get stuck off. Then the pump doesn't turn on in the morning.

If a solar fountain doesn't work, try picking it up from the water and turning it over. Check for any blockage. It may even start vibrating in your hand. Then set it back down in the water. It should start working.

What is the best solar fountain for bird baths?

Assuming you have a pedestal bird bath of about 17 to 20 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep, I recommend the following.

Solar array: 2.0 Watts or more
Battery backup: 1200mAh or 1500mAh
Pump: At least 180 L/h

Compare solar powered fountains with battery backup at Amazon.

Easy to assemble. Peoture fountain.

My results

I bought two different solar bird bath fountains to compare.

The first was the Solatec (view on Amazon here). This is a best seller on Amazon. It was one of the lowest priced solar fountains. It does NOT have a battery backup. It is quite small. I thought it would fit well in most bird baths.

Diameter: 6 inches
Power: 1.4 Watts
Battery: No

Sadly, it never worked right for me. In San Diego, in summer, at noon, it sputtered. It turned on and off every second. This seems to be a common complaint. In more northern latitudes it would work more poorly. At other times of day than noon it would work more poorly.

11197 customer reviews on Amazon
73% satisfied
18% dissatisfied

My Amazon rating: 1 out of 5 stars (dissatisfied)
My recommendation: Don't buy. Even if yours does work, it is underpowered. Buy a solar fountain with battery backup instead.

My second solar fountain was the Peoture brand (no longer available). I chose this one because it has a battery backup with a large battery capacity. It is slightly larger than the Solatec. I used some stones that birds could use for perching in the water to also center the floating solar fountain within the bath.

Diameter: 7.5 inches
Power: 2.5 Watts
Battery: 1500 mAh

I am happy with this purchase. This solar fountain works very well. It did take about 3 days to fully charge the battery while in use. After that it has been reliable. The photos in this article are of this solar fountain.

It requires about 2 inches of water to work well. I fill the bird bath daily. The spray height was 50 cm (19.7 inches), but I use it without a spray head to keep the water in the bird bath basin.

The fountain often starts working early in the morning with bright overcast. After the sun breaks out it waits until sunlight strikes it directly before working. It works all day. After it falls into shadow, the solar fountain continues to pump for at least an hour.

450 customer reviews on Amazon
71% satisfied
20% dissatisfied

My Amazon rating: 4 of 5 stars (satisfied)
My recommendation: This or a similar solar fountain with a battery backup is they type to try. Be warned, though, that the product quality of all solar fountains is poor. You only have a 4 in 5 chance of getting a working unit. You may have to return a dud.

Update: August 2022: Still working from June 2020. No longer available.


Why won't birds use my bird bath?

Why you should put stones in your bird bath

How high off the ground should a bird bath be?

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Feeding winter birds in North Carolina

Feeding birds in winter is an enjoyable activity. Are you ready to try it?

This article tells you how and why to feed birds in winter in North Carolina. I'll show you the birds you can expect. And I'll show you what bird foods and feeder setup is best for attracting winter birds in North Carolina.

Winters in North Carolina are quite cool. Snow occurs occasionally in the lowlands, but is regular in the higher elevations. As an example, the average high temperature in Raleigh in January is 50° F. The average low in January is 30° F.

You'll want to keep your bird feeders well-stocked in winter!

In this article
Why feed winter birds in North Carolina?
What birds come to feeders in winter in North Carolina?
Setting up a winter bird feeding station in North Carolina
Related Articles

Why feed winter birds in North Carolina?

North Carolina has an abundance of native bird life. You can enjoy a view of their daily lives by bringing them to your backyard feeder. Viewing wildlife is good for your mental health!

The most common winter feeder birds in North Carolina are actually year-round residents. They will come to your feeder all year. However, these birds are often easier to observe when they come to feeders in winter. This is because they appreciate the food at the feeder when natural food sources are harder to find.

Not all birds at your feeder in winter are found year-round. Many birds migrate north in summer to breed in Canada. They then return south in winter. Many of these wintering birds are young that hatched the past summer. These young birds are still learning to find food throughout the year. They will quickly learn that there is food at your feeder!

Feeding birds often leads to improving your landscaping to make it more attractive and safe for birds. Your concern for the environment helps birds and other animals to survive.

What birds come to feeders in winter in North Carolina?

North Carolina is blessed with an abundance of wintering birds. Below I will show photos and describe identification of the most common feeder birds.

There are also several other common backyard birds in North Carolina that don't usually visit feeders. They will be attracted to your landscaping where they may find insects to eat, some berries, or a safe place to build a nest. Many birds that don't visit feeders come to bird baths.

I have another article about all of the common bird species found in your backyard all year long. They are in my article: Common backyard birds of North Carolina. I will link to it again at the end of this article so you can check out that information.

Here are some of the most common birds that visit feeders in winter in North Carolina.

Photo of Carolina Chickadee on bird feeder
Carolina Chickadee Image by GeorgeB2 from Pixabay

Carolina Chickadee

Let's start with a bird native to the southeastern United States. In winter you'll find small flocks of these cute little acrobats hanging from the tips of branches and shrubs. They often form the core of mixed species flocks in winter. These flocks also contain titmouses, kinglets, creepers, and nuthatches.

They like many kinds of woods and trees, both deciduous and coniferous. They are common in residential areas. They are year-round residents in North Carolina below 3500 feet of elevation.

Their size is small. Their shape is plump with large head and long tail. The bill is short and stout. Feet are large and strong. Carolina Chickadees are gray above and paler below. The white side of face is set off by a black cap and bib.

These birds are very talkative. Their common call is a rapid chickadeedeedeedeedee.

Carolina Chickadees eat black oil sunflower seeds and suet. They will eat from any kind of feeder.

Photo of Eastern Bluebird on bird house
Eastern Bluebird. Image by skeeze from Pixabay.

Eastern Bluebird

If you have some open farmlands adjacent to your home, you may attract Eastern Bluebirds to your backyard. If so, you'll want to set up some bird houses in summer.

These birds are found in orchards adjacent to open fields and pastures. They may be found in open pine forests and parks. They are year-round residents in North Carolina.

Bluebirds are pudgy and a bit larger than House Finches or sparrows. They have a large head and short bill. The tail is rather short. They are blue above with rusty orange on the throat and across the breast.

Their call is a mellow rising chur-lee.

They hunt insects by perching quietly on a fence or low tree branch, then dropping on them on the ground. You can attract Eastern Bluebirds to your platform feeder by offering a dish of fruit, such as raisins, blueberries, cranberries, orange slices, and cherries. They also love mealworms. They love bird baths, too.

Photo of American Goldfinch on teasel
American Goldfinch. Greg Gillson.

American Goldfinch

I've selected a photo above of the bright yellow male in his summer plumage. In winter the yellow feathers are replaced with dull tan feathers. The wing feathers are a duller brownish-black. They really look different!

These goldfinches love weedy fields and pastures, often near water. They are found year-round in North Carolina. However you may notice some changes in abundance throughout the year. North Carolina is right on the southern edge of the breeding range. So they may actually be more common in winter or migration.

Goldfinches are tiny birds. They are compact, a bit plump, with a short neck and big head. The tail is short and deeply forked. Winter birds are pale tan with dark brown wings and two tan wing bars. Males have a touch of yellow on the throat.

They are found in flocks in winter. Birds in flocks give twittering calls and a rising whiny per-weee. The call in flight is a lilting per-chik-o-reee.

American Goldfinches visit backyard feeders for Niger seed. Feed this seed in a special "thistle sock" of finch feeder. They also love black oil sunflower seeds from a tube feeder.

Photo of Northern Cardinal on bird feeder
Northern Cardinal. Image from GeorgeB2 from Pixabay.

Northern Cardinal

This larger bird (not as big as a robin, though) is one of the most common and well-known backyard birds in the East.

They are found year-round in open deciduous woods, parks, and backyards in North Carolina.

Birds usually appear slightly plump with a large full tail. The head sports a fancy crest and a large orange cone-shaped bill. Males are bright red with a black face and throat. Females are dull buffy brown, but have the crest and over-large orange bill.

They sing all year. One of the most common songs in a whistled birdy birdy birdy refrain.

Northern Cardinals eat a wide variety of seeds, including larger seeds. They eat black oil sunflower seeds, striped sunflower seeds, and safflower seeds, among others. They like platform feeders best but will eat from hopper feeders or on the ground.

Photo of Mourning Dove walking on ground
Mourning Dove. Greg Gillson.

Mourning Dove

These doves are about a foot long, from bill tip to tail tip. They are common backyard birds across the United States. You may see them perched on telephone wires in towns.

They also live in countryside, farms, wooded river edges, almost everywhere at lower elevations that isn't thick forest. They are year-round residents in North Carolina.

These pigeons have thick bodies. But they have a little round marble head on a long neck. The tail is very long and pointed. They are fawn-brown above, slightly paler and pinker below. They have black spots on the inner upper wing feathers. The legs and feet are dark pink-red.

Their song is a sad sounding cooing, boo hoo hoo.

Mourning Doves eat black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and other grains. They prefer platform feeders but will squeeze on to hopper feeders, or feed on the ground below the feeder.

Photo of Red-bellied Woodpecker on tree trunk
Red-bellied Woodpecker. Image by skeeze from Pixabay.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

This woodpecker is common at feeders in the East. It is active in all parts of a tree.

These birds are found in deciduous and mixed woodlands, especially near streams. They are also common in towns. They are year-round residents in North Carolina.

These birds are fairly long and slim--not as chunky as some other woodpeckers. The have a long bill. The tail is short. They are smaller than flickers, but larger than Hairy Woodpeckers. Birds are very pale. The back is zebra-striped black-and-white. The crown is red, more extensive on the male.

A common call they give is a rolling churrr.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers eat insects, but also acorns, nuts, and berries. At your bird feeder they will eat sunflower seeds, peanuts, and fruit. They prefer a platform feeder.

Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch crawling upside-down on tree
White-breasted Nuthatch. Greg Gillson.

White-breasted Nuthatch

Nuthatches are well known for crawling over and down branches and tree trunks in their search for food on the bark of trees.

These birds are common in deciduous woods. They also are found in open pine forests, but not usually in other conifers. They are year-round residents in North Carolina.

These are short, stocky birds, neckless with a large head. They have almost no tail. The bill is long and slender, but slightly chisel-shaped. The legs and feet are strong, helping them cling firmly to the branches. They are blue-gray above with a black crown. The face and underparts are white. There is a touch of rusty on the vent.

A common call is a series of nasal yank yank notes.

White-breasted Nuthatches love black oil sunflower seeds that they take one at a time from a tube feeder. They fly off to a branch to hold the seed with their feet and pound it open with their bill. They also like nuts.

Photo of Blue Jay in bird bath
Blue Jay. Image by skeeze from Pixabay.

Blue Jay

Here is another common and easily recognized bird in the East. In winter this bird is loud and boisterous. They form small roaming flocks in winter.

These birds are common in deciduous woods, residential areas, and parks with large trees. They are year-round residents in North Carolina.

They are rather large for backyard birds. They have a large full tail, big head and strong bill. They have fairly long legs and strong feet. Blue above and white below with a black chin strap. Their most obvious mark is their crested head. In flight you will notice white wing patches and tail corners.

They can be noisy and give several calls. The most memorable is a raspy jay jay jay call.

Blue Jays visit feeders for sunflower seeds and peanuts or other nuts. Since they are larger birds they prefer platform or larger hopper feeders. In fall they often raid bird feeders and carry away large gulletfuls of seeds to go bury in caches in the woods. They will dig them up later in winter to eat.

Photo of Eastern Towhee in tree
Eastern Towhee. Image by skeeze from Pixabay.

Eastern Towhee

These large sparrows spend much of their time on the ground scratching for animal and vegetable foods in the leaf litter. The red eye is a feature that grab's many people's attention. Though there are many birds with red eyes, the towhee is the only bird that is widespread in backyards.

Widespread in the East, they favor brushy tangles in dry oak woodlands. But they may be found wherever there is leaf litter under low bushes, including mature residential landscaping. They are year-round residents in North Carolina.

Towhees are plump with a long full tail and round or slightly crested head. They maintain a rather horizontal posture. Males are black above with a wedge of white in the wing. The sides are rusty orange and the belly white. While flushing away low to the ground you may see the white spots in the outer spread tail.

You may first notice the towhee by its whiny whistled call from the bushes, tow-eeee.

Eastern Towhees will visit low platform feeders for black oil sunflower seeds. But they may rather be content to pick up fallen seeds from under the feeder. Or they may prefer to rummage in the leaves under bushes at the edge of the yard.

Photo of Downy Woodpecker on post
Downy Woodpecker. Greg Gillson.

Downy Woodpecker

This little guy is found across North America, except for deserts and deep forests. It is common at bird feeders.

These birds like deciduous woods, especially damp stream bottoms. They are found in residential areas with trees, even as small as willows. They are year-round residents in North Carolina.

This is a small woodpecker, less than 7 inches long from bill tip to tail tip. They are compact with a big head and small chisel bill. The tail is short. The head is striped black and white with a red spot on the nape of the male. The shoulders are black. The back is white. The wings are black with white spots. The under parts are white. The tail is black with white outer tail feathers.

Birds give a sharp pik call, and a soft descending rattle of similar calls.

Downy Woodpeckers normally find insects on the bark of small trees and branches. They love suet. So a suet feeder will attract them. They will also eat black oil sunflower seeds from a hopper feeder.

Photo of House Finch in bird bath
House Finch. Greg Gillson.

House Finch

These cheerful songsters are common in towns across the United States.

Wherever people are in the U.S. there will be House Finches. They like residential areas, farms and, in the West, arid regions. They are year-round residents in North Carolina.

This finch is rather thin with a rounded head. The bill is thick and rather short and curved on the upper mandible. The tail is medium length and squared or slightly notched. 

Birds are streaked with dusty brown over gray on the upper parts. The under parts are off-white and streaked with dusty brown. Females don't have much of a face pattern. Males show orange-red forehead, breast, and rump.

These birds are always talkative in family groups or small flocks. They chirp similar to House Sparrows and have a rising wheat call.

House Finches love black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeders. They will also eat Niger seed from thistle socks. They come readily to bird baths to drink water.

Photo of Song Sparrow in bush
Song Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

Song Sparrow

These little birds are common across North America. You may see them hopping furtively below bushes at the edge of your yard.

They are found in tangles and brush in open woods. They are especially numerous in marshes and riparian areas. But they also occur in residential areas. They are year-round residents in North Carolina.

They are rather plump with a longer round-tipped tail. They have a striped head in a pattern that is complicated to describe. Heavy streaks below converge in a central breast spot. Upperparts are pale gray-brown with dark brown streaks. The under parts are white with heavy dark brown streaks.

Their common call is a rising nasal chimp call.

Song Sparrows eat smaller mixed seeds such as millet in hopper or platform feeders. More often, you may note them on the ground under your feeder, never far from cover.

Photo of Dark-eyed Junco on ground
Dark-eyed Junco. Greg Gillson.

Dark-eyed Junco

These little birds come in winter flocks to your feeder.

These birds breed across Alaska and Canada and in the higher mountains. Some breeding birds reach all the way south to the highest mountains of far western North Carolina, where they may be found year-round. Otherwise, juncos only visit in the winter.

They are small and plump. The head is fairly large and they look to have no neck. The tail is short and sports several white outer tail feathers that they fan and flash nervously. The little conical bill is white or pink. The legs and feet are pink. In the East, juncos are all-gray with white bellies. Females may have slightly brownish backs.

They give soft twittering calls and a soft smacking tik.

Dark-eyed Juncos feed on small mixed seeds in hopper and platform feeders. Most often, though, you may notice them on the ground under the feeders.

Photo of White-throated Sparrow on bird bath
White-throated Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

White-throated Sparrow

These larger sparrows breeds across Canada and in the Northeast. Then they move south in winter to visit bird feeders.

In winter, birds are found in roadside tangles, wood edges, and backyards. They often find an active bird feeder in fall. Then they stay there all winter and into mid spring. In North Carolina they are only found fall through spring.

They are fairly long sparrows with a long tail. They have a fairly large head with a rounded forehead. The bill is conical, but not overly large. The upper parts are tan with dark brown stripes on the back. There are two thin wing bars. The head is striped black and white or black and tan. The breast is gray and offset by a well marked white throat.

The call note is often given at dawn and dusk. It is a very loud spink! 

White-throated Sparrows like to eat black oil sunflower seeds on platform or hopper feeders.

Photo of Tufted Titmouse in bird feeder
Tufted Titmouse. Image by anne773 from Pixabay.

Tufted Titmouse

These are plain gray birds related to chickadees. Like chickadees, they will visit your feeders regularly.

The habitats they inhabit include oak and deciduous woods in the eastern half of the United States. They frequent residential backyards. They are year-round residents in North Carolina.

These birds are small, but a bit larger than chickadees, to which they are similar in shape. The are plump with a large head and short stout bill. The tail is medium length and squared off. They have a wispy crest. The legs are strong and the toes are large. These birds are colored blue-gray above and pale below. There is some black on the forehead and around the eye.

They give soft husky chickadee-like notes. They sing throughout the year, a whistled Peter Peter Peter.

Tufted Titmouses love black oil sunflower seeds from tube or hopper feeders. They will also eat suet.

Setting up a winter bird feeding station in North Carolina

Several of the smaller bird species in North Carolina would prefer black oil sunflower seeds from a tube feeder. Tube feeders are harder for larger birds to eat from. Smaller birds can get food more easily with less competition. Such birds include the House Finch, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, and American Goldfinch.

I would also set up a suet feeder. Birds that would like the suet include the White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and Blue Jay.

I would also set up a low platform feeder with roof over it. There I would feed mixed seeds, including white proso millet. The sparrows would like this feeder and food. In winter you would attract Eastern Towhee, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated Sparrow. 

Add in some sunflower seeds and you'll attract Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Chickadee, and White-breasted Nuthatch.

And don't forget to provide a bird bath with drinking and bathing water.

These related articles should answer your questions on setting up a bird feeder and get you started viewing and identifying your backyard birds: 

The most common backyard birds in North Carolina

My recommended bird feeder setup

Bird seeds that attract the most birds

Different kinds of bird feeders for different birds

Bird baths that birds actually use

Binoculars for beginning bird watchers

Bird watching books for beginners

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