Rindge man builds elaborate bird feeder — but where are the birds?

  • Fran Laflamme of Rindge built a winter bird feeder, but has yet to see a single bird visiting. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Fran Laflamme of Rindge built a winter bird feeder, complete with a covered feeding area and a “fly-through” mailbox feeding station, but has yet to see any visiting birds. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Fran Laflamme of Rindge has built a bird feeder complete with two separate compartments to cater to specific species of birds. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Fran Laflamme of Rindge built a winter bird feeder, but has yet to see a single bird visiting. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Fran Laflamme of Rindge built a winter bird feeder, but has yet to see a single bird visiting. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Fran Laflamme of Rindge built a winter bird feeder, but has yet to see a single bird visiting. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Fran Laflamme of Rindge built a winter bird feeder, but has yet to see a single bird visiting. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • While birds have yet to find his feeder, one enterprising chipmunk has been enjoying the free meals. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/30/2019 2:36:33 PM

Fran Laflamme’s winter bird feeding station is a labor of love.

Set at the end of his driveway on Sun Cliff Drive in Rindge, the perfect distance for him to sit on his porch and observe with binoculars, his homemade feeder has separate compartments for small birds and the larger songbirds.

Laflamme jokingly modeled his creation after a fast-food joint. Birds can enter through holes to a “dine-in” situation, under a wire cover, where they can enjoy their preferred food sources, served up on McDonald’s breakfast platters, and sip fresh water from McDonald’s cups, or they can visit the “fly-through,” a re-purposed mailbox on the side of the feeder with seed scattered inside.

Laflamme, an avid birdwatcher and feeder, decided to create his ultimate feeding station when a smaller version, which was mounted in a tree on his property, had to be taken down when the tree started to rot and had to be removed.

“I figured, why don’t I go a little crazy?” Laflamme said. 

It took a month to make, Laflamme said, and then he sat back and waited to reap the rewards of his labors.

Which have yet to come.

“The problem this year is … no one’s coming!” Laflamme said.

Other than a chipmunk he’s dubbed “Skinny Jimmy,” which has been making free use of the new food source, Laflamme said the birds which used to visit his old feeder haven’t returned, despite his feeder having been up and stocked for more than three weeks.

Of course, most of the region’s migrating birds have flown the coop for warmer climates by mid-October. But Laflamme’s feeder is specifically targeted to the species known to winter at home, including chickadees, sparrows, finches and cardinals. Many birds that don’t migrate have trouble finding food and unfrozen water during the winter, and Laflamme has become particularly interested in providing a reliable source of both during the winter months. Particularly, he said, for the smaller species.

“My passion is toward the smaller birds. Just an ordinary barn sparrow. For them, making it through the winter is harder. I want to make sure they get their daily portion of food. The smaller you are, the more I like you and the more I want to take care of you,” Laflamme said. 

Francie Von Mertens of Peterborough, an honorary board member of the Harris Center for Conservation and an avid birder herself, said Monday that the lack of birds at Laflamme’s feeder right now isn’t as bad an indicator of the bird population as it may seem.

“Birds are very opportunistic, and are used to being on the search for food, but it’s also a bonanza time for their natural food – insects and seeds are at an all-time high right now. If winter arrives, and he doesn’t see them at his feeder, that shows there’s a problem,” she said.

But Laflamme’s concern is warranted, on a larger scale, Von Mertens noted.

“There are a lot of people that get concerned this time of year, and it’s good to know that right now, your concerns aren’t justified. But the concern is good, because in the big picture, it’s very justified,” Von Mertens said. 

The decline in bird populations

According to a comprehensive population assessment of birds in the United States and Canad done by Cornell Lab of Ornithology released in September, Laflamme’s observations in his own backyard is part of a troubling decrease in the overall population. 

The study shows that in the last 50 years, the bird population in the U.S. and Canada has diminished by as much as 30 percent – about 3 billion adult, breeding birds.

Radar tracking of bird’s migratory patterns show that numbers have decreased by about 14 percent compared to 2007, with steepest declines on the eastern part of the country.

It’s especially troubling because the declines are happening across the population, not just a single species. 

Most of the losses since 1970 have come from among the most common avian families – which includes Laflamme’s treasured sparrows and finches. 

Since 1970, one in three white-throated sparrows has been lost, one in three dark-eyed juncos, one in three Baltimore orioles, and one in four blue jays.

What we can do

Humans feed birds mostly for their own pleasure in watching them, Von Mertens said. Even in winter, birds are efficient at locating food.

“They’re programmed to find food. In terms of their existence, the amount of time we’ve been putting out bird feeders is a blink of an eye. They know where to find food, and some species brains actually grow in the winter to remember where to find it,” she said. 

That said, putting out feeders or suet and becoming a food source is helpful, and so is nurturing other natural food sources, Von Mertens said.

“They’re not going to find food if the landscape is paved over,” she said.

Von Mertens said allowing landscaped areas to grow a little will encourage insects. Birds which rely on aerial insect feeding are among the populations in steepest decline, she said.

“The fact that aerial insectivores are in decline is a problem,” Von Mertens said. 

In a companion piece to their study, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has released a list of seven things people can do to help reduce bird deaths. They include installing screens on windows or buy products designed to break up window reflections, keeping cats indoors, reducing landscaped lawns and planting native plants, avoiding pesticides which can contaminate seeds or prey and reduce the insect population birds rely on, reduce the use of products such as coffee which destroys large amounts of forest habitat to grow, and reduce the use of plastic, which impacts seabirds. 

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.




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