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Fracas at the Feeding Station
November 16, 1959
Winter birds battle for their place in the chow line when deep snow makes it difficult for them to find natural food
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November 16, 1959

Fracas At The Feeding Station

Winter birds battle for their place in the chow line when deep snow makes it difficult for them to find natural food

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Millions of American homeowners who are now stocking the bird-feeding stations in their yards and gardens with assorted seeds and suet to help their bird friends through the winter will look for but never quite catch the startling antics shown on the following pages. A big part of the fun of a feeding station is watching the aerial didos the birds engage in as they establish priorities in the chow line, but few people are really aware of the fantastic positions the birds assume in the air as they battle to establish the pecking order. Their movements are so fast that only a high-speed camera can capture their contortions. Among birds coming regularly there are those that will dominate others. After the pecking order has been settled, individual birds seem to know when to take their turn in accepting the human handout. Of course, newcomers keep turning up at the station, so the battles continue to provide winter amusement for those feeding their local birds. It must be remembered that if a feeding station is established it should be kept well stocked through the winter. A station usually attracts an abnormally large concentration of birds in one area, and if their food supply is suddenly cut off while snow is on the ground they will have a hard time finding enough food to sustain themselves. As the birds shown here established their pecking order, they actually took their own pictures with a complicated arrangement of cameras and electric eyes which Photographer David Goodnow set up at the feeding station. To see just how the pictures were taken, turn to page 35.

Squaring off, two goldfinches start an aerial dogfight to establish which bird will eat at the feeding station and which one will sit by and wait. The simplest feeding station will provide some fancy bird watching as well as help the wild birds over lean times.

Explosion at the feeding station occurs when birds, frightened by a passing hawk or a prowling cat, throw themselves into the air and take off for the safety of the nearest trees or shrubbery. In this picture birds scatter in all directions, intercepting electric beam to take their own photograph in the act of a quick getaway.

Finch fight takes place with feeding station as the arena. Goldfinches engage in a brief but harmless encounter to see which one has a free hand with the free meal set out for them. Camera stops purple finches (below) in strange postures as they come and go at the feeding tray. The more birds, the more arguments at the table.


Before his feeding station Photographer Goodnow set up light sources (1 and 2) for two electric eyes (E-1 and E-2), one beam crossing feeding area vertically, the other horizontally, and each connected via power packs (3 and 4) to a separate circuit of electronic flash and camera. If a bird broke the beam between 1 and E-1, the two lights (L-1) coupled to it would flash, and camera (C-1) would take its picture. In the same fashion, the horizontal beam between 2 and E-2 activated the other flash and camera. On rare occasions birds would break both of the beams, in which case they had their pictures taken simultaneously by both cameras but from slightly different angles.