Shown is a western screech owl in a cottonwood tree at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.(Eric Moore/Courtesy)

While spring is still more than a month away, it is certainly starting to feel like spring. I personally am enjoying the longer days and warmer temperatures! This advice might seem a little early — after all, it is only February.  However, if you don’t have a hummingbird feeder out yet, I would recommend getting one out.

Ever since I returned from my bird watching trip to Trinidad and Tobago, I have been seeing hummingbirds regularly.  I’ve observed them out in nature, away from suburban settings, as well as in my yard where I now have two feeders out!

I am also enjoying the reappearance of a great-horned owl in my yard.  Last year, we had a pair doing a lot of duetting — calling back and forth to one another and hanging out near the top of the ponderosa pine tree in our yard where there is a raven’s nest. I thought perhaps the owls might lay claim to the nest, but in the end the ravens prevailed and retained ownership.

As spring approaches, you may consider taking down all of your seed feeders and giving them a good cleaning.  I would especially recommend this for your finch feeders. 

From one neighborhood to another, the amount of finch activity at nyjer feeders seems to be highly variable. It is funny when an individual comes into the store and tell us she is getting eaten out of house and home by lesser goldfinches, then the very next customer through the doors laments that he doesn’t have any goldfinches at all.

It is hard to pinpoint the exact reason for the disparity in numbers from one house to the next, but I do have a suggestion.  Nyjer seed has a high oil content, and the seed can go rancid if you’ve had it in your garage or storage shed for more than a year.  This is especially true if the seed is stored in a location where summer heat can speed up the spoilage process.

Sometimes, due to a lack of finch activity, the feeder stays full, which means the feeder isn’t constantly being replenished with a supply of fresh seed. Before you realize it, months have passed, the finch feeder hasn’t gone down any, so you haven’t filled it, and the same ‘old’ seed is still in the feeder.  In addition to cleaning the feeder I would recommend replacing the seed completely — dump out the old seed and refill the feeder with fresh seed, and see if the finches don’t come back in short order.

It is important to remember that just because your seed feeder is full doesn’t mean the seed is still good, any more than a full hummingbird feeder means that the nectar is still good. Just as nectar needs to be refreshed and changed, sometimes the seed and suet in your feeders needs freshening, as well. 

On a different note, I was down in the Sierra Vista area this past week and was thrilled to see a western screech owl perched in the entrance of its roosting hole in a large cottonwood tree at the San Pedro National Riparian Conservation Area. I took a picture of it using my cell phone, lining up the lens of my phone camera with the ocular lens of my spotting scope!

Finally, I encourage you to get online to register for some of the many birding festivals coming up in the next few months, including the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival in Cottonwood, the Ute Mountain Festival in Cortez, Colorado and the spring session of the Southwest Wings Birding and Nature Festival in Sierra Vista. 

Until next week, Happy Birding!

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona — Prescott and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at