It’s impossible to grab a snack in the Arboretum Cafe without getting sucked into the drama that’s happening right outside on the Newton Terrace. Chickadees, Cardinals, Blue Jays and other birds land on feeding stations throughout the terrace. Squirrels and turkeys jockey for position below, gobbling up fallen birdseed. A juvenile Red-tailed Hawk sits in a nearby tree, carefully watching the squirrels and small birds, waiting for an opportunity to pounce. “I’ve seen it attack twice now, and others have reported that, too,” says Arboretum Director of Operations and avid birder Alan Branhagen. “One day the huge Pileated Woodpecker was outside the cafe feasting on crabapples, on the tree not at the feeders, for all to see.”
The Arboretum bird feeders are maintained by Penny Kube, who fills up the feeders as needed in the mornings. Kube says she goes through at least 20 pounds of birdseed each week, sometimes more. She feeds the birds the Wild Birds Unlimited Supreme Blend, as well as Black Oil Sunflower Seeds. She also puts out suet regularly.
The Arboretum pays for the birdseed using money from a donor fund set up by Henry and Dorothea “Dottie” Garwick, who earmarked the fund for birding and wildlife.
While there’s plenty of birds to observe on the Newton Terrace, it’s actually been a slow year for birding according to Arboretum Director of Operations and avid birder Alan Branhagen. “Birding has been pretty slow around here. The Christmas bird count reflected that in our region, with lots of reports, ‘this has been the slowest birding they can ever remember,’” he said. “There must be a good food crop up north, because many finches that normally head south have not this year.”
Branhagen has seen quite a few Bald Eagles soaring overhead, and said that the Arb’s iconic Barred Owls are still around and a pair of Great Horned Owls has set up territory west of the Dog Commons. “They are nesting now but we have not located the nest,” he said.
Up at the Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center, an opossum visits regularly to eat the dead bees under the hives, and another opossum lives in the compost pile behind the Marion Andrus Learning Center.
The opossum at the bee center showed up for the first time in January, and has become a bit of a star on the Arboretum’s Facebook page. “The sightings have all been around midday or in the afternoon,” said Laura Cogwell, who works in the bee center, adding that the animal visits the apiary in the back of the building to eat the dead bees that are naturally around the hives in the winter. On a Jan. 31 visit, the opossum came up to the window to lick water off the edge.
In addition to cleaning up the dead bees, a single possum can consume 5,000 ticks per season. They have sharp food memories, and outrank rats, cats, dogs and pigs in tests.
“He’s definitely a regular fixture now,” said Farm at the Arb Education Program Coordinator Ping Honzay, noting the opossum recently showed off for bee center visitors on Feb. 12.