During periods of heavy snow, as has occurred in Columbia this week, backyard feeders are especially effective at attracting a wide variety of birds. A few days ago, I reported that a fox sparrow had joined our common winter songbirds and, since that time, a small flock of American tree sparrows has also stopped by to feast on the handouts (the first I have encountered on our suburban property).
In addition, the commotion near the feeder brings in other birds that have no interest in the sunflower seed but sense that food availability is attracting their neighbors. In the last couple of days, eastern bluebirds, yellow-rumped warblers and a pileated woodpecker have graced our modest-sized parcel of land. Of course, the large concentration of songbirds may also catch the attention of their predators, especially Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks.
Beginning birdwatchers soon realize that a backyard feeder is the quickest way to expand their life list, introducing them to many common species that they had overlooked in the past. Veteran birders, on the other hand, know that artificial feeders are a magnet for common residents and uncommon visitors alike and are generally the sites at which rare "accidental" species are first observed and photographed. The potential for these rare finds is what keeps experienced birders focused on their feeders, especially when heavy snowstorms send in their quarry.