April 23, 2020 | Story by: Jocelyn Anderson | Photos by: Jocelyn Anderson
Several years ago the birds along the nature trails at Kensington Metropark learned that it was safe to take food from people’s hands. This trust has carried on through the years, with many birds partaking in the food offerings from the many visitors to the park.
The birds that are often found hand-feeding include Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Downy Woodpeckers. Other birds that are common to the park but are less often found hand-feeding include Red-winged Blackbirds, Blue Jays, Mourning Doves, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers.
The best time of year to feed the birds is during the brisk winter months. The birds need to eat more to survive in these cold temperatures and will keep an eye out for people that are bringing tasty treats.
Sunflower seeds – which can be purchased at a dispenser near the Nature Center in the winter – and shelled peanuts are a popular item with the birds. Peanuts are the more popular choice, but at times the birds will choose a couple of sunflower seeds instead.
Going early in the day will give you the best opportunity to feed the birds. This is true for all seasons, including summer when the birds have the least amount of interest in hand-feeding. In the summer there is a bounty of insects and caterpillars, and the birds will often turn to this source of protein for food.
When looking to feed the birds, walk along the trail until you hear the call of a bird nearby, or see a bird landing near you in the bushes. These smart birds have learned to come up to people for food. If you don’t see any birds, keep walking along the trail until you see or hear them.
Larger birds, such as Sandhill Cranes and Turkeys, will be very interested in the food offerings and will come right up to people, hoping for a handout. While it is tempting, it is in the best interest of everyone (park visitors and birds alike) that these birds not be fed. Feeding these birds will cause them to be aggressive toward people.
My favorite trail for feeding the birds is the Wildwing trail, a 1.75-mile trail that has a couple of steep hills. If you’re looking for a shorter route, or a spot to hang out in, around the Nature Center, the northeast part of Wildwing trail (between markers 2 and 3), and the metal bridge near the boardwalk are all popular bird hangouts.
Some birds will grab seeds from your hand, fly away, and then quickly come back for more. The Chickadees and Tufted Titmice will cache food during the Fall and Winter months and can remember the hundreds of locations of these stored away seeds.
You may notice that birds queue up and fly to your hand one by one. There is a pecking order, not just between the different species, but among the species as well. The Black-capped Chickadees have a social hierarchy in their flocks, with males ranking higher than females, and older birds ranking higher than younger birds. The larger Tufted Titmice will often outrank a Black-capped Chickadee, although every once in a while an especially bold Chickadee will dart in front of a Titmouse.
It is a wonderful feeling to have a wild bird trust you and land in your hand. A trip to Kensington Metropark’s nature trails not only allows you to take in the beautiful outdoors but also to enjoy this magical experience.
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