A Brutally Cold Week

Lending A Hand To Avian Friends

We have been hit by a brutally cold winter since Christmas that has become much worse in the last couple of days.  Yesterday and today the temperature hovering in the single digits, Fahrenheit, during the day and dropping down below 0°F at night.  This number does not take windchill into account which would drop it into negative double digits.  This extreme cold temperature, common for those who live in a much colder climate, is a concern for us in the mid-Northeastern part of the US.  Even the local birds have retreated.

Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) tucked in under the patio roof, away from high wind

We had a blizzard three days ago which dumped 5 inches of snow in our area.  Reservoirs around here iced over thick enough to make ice fishing a common site again.  At times like this we put up more bird boxes, lined with fluffy cotton at the bottom, so our avian friends can have a place to roost away from high winds and frigid temperatures.  We also put more feeders up along our patio and make sure that there is clean water in the heated birdbaths.

One of the heated birdbaths being hoarded by a flock of Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura). Not just drinking from it, they stay on the stones and around the rim to keep warm.  After a while we have to chase them off so other birds can have access too

As far as I know Downy woodpeckers and the bullying House sparrows roost in the boxes.  This winter, however, a few Bluebirds have been roosting in one of the boxes- the box that they may have been born in.  It’s very convenient for them to just look out of the box to see if we have put the feeders back up in the morning before they come out.

They enjoying our hospitality and we enjoy watching them in the comfort of our home.  All photos were taken through the patio door; it’s blow 10°F outside.

Four  Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) (4 on the feeder, 2 hidden behind) on their favorite feeder, one waits its turn below
A male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) cracking seeds in the snow
A male Downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) shares a feeder with a female House finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) waiting his turn
A pair of Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) share a feeder, female on the left, male on the right
Even a ground feeder like the Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) left, learn to get on the feeder.
A pair of Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) share a feeder with a Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

These are just some of the birds that frequent our feeders in winter.  Most are welcome even the ones that come in a flock like the House finch and Pine siskin but bullies like House sparrows and European Starlings we chase off.  In spring and summer, the table is turned and they pay us back when they serenade us from dawn to dusk and patrol our garden for insects.  Symbiosis indeed!


White Christmas

Three Inches Of Good Spirit

We kept checking daily if we’re going to have a white Christmas or not.  The weather forecast kept switching between rain and snow.  This is what I woke up to on Christmas morning…

Before sunrise on Christmas morning, snow dusting on branches

It was a peaceful and quiet morning.  The wind didn’t pick up until close to noon.  Then the trees were flayed bare again by the howling wind.  Plenty of birds flew in for treats since it was hard to dig through three inches of snow.  The Northern Cardinals looked best against white snow, a natural ornament.  The others pretty much blended in with their surrounding.  Somehow the colors of birds we have in winter are in shades of black, white , grey and brown; the Cardinals are the brightest of the bunch.  Here’s one of the Cardinals awaiting his turn for Christmas treats.

A Cardinal waits for his treats

More of birds that came in for treats on Christmas that I managed to snap photos of.


A Recap’ of The Breeding Season

Eastern Bluebird

One of my fellow bloggers asked me recently how the Bluebirds fared this season.  A light bulb went on in my head how about a recap’ of this past breeding season?  The Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) have done quite well.  To our surprise, they have raised three broods this season however the broods may not be of the same pair.  I know one pair has raised two broods since their chicks were allowed to hangout by their new nest box when they started the second brood.  But the third which nested in the front yard nest box later in the season didn’t have any chicks around.

Below is my progressive observations of the second brood.

June 6th – Three eggs
June 17th – Five eggs
June 25th – All hatched
June 29 – Most of the chicks developed hard feathers. It was the last observation. We don’t want the parents and the chicks to get too anxious and try to fledge too early.
One cloudy day, the chicks were flying around, observing their parents and learning how to get food from the feeders.

In the years past, we have only observed Bluebirds raising one or two broods at the most.  Then to our surprise & excitement, we discovered a third brood in the front yard.  I have seen the Bluebirds on this nest box a few times but have also seen House sparrows (Passer domesticus) on it too.  The vicious House sparrows zoom into their nests, peck & break their eggs & will not let them have any peace.  However when we tried to trim the hedge by the nest box, the Bluebirds wouldn’t leave the area so we checked the box.  Bravo! What a pleasant surprise and hedge trimming was immediately suspended.

July 28 –  Four beautiful blue eggs. We promptly closed the box and leave the area.
August 6 – Three chicks
August 11 – All hatched
August 15 – Last observation

I don’t know how many of the chicks from these three broods have survived to adulthood.  What I do know is that we hear more of their calling in the air, around the yard, than years ago.  They  come to the feeders and baths year ’round.   They also look for places to roost in our garden in winter.

Three of them at their favorite feeder a week ago.
Looking for a place to roost

We have not yet had a heavy snow.  We will see more of them once the ground is covered with snow and the lake is frozen over.  I think they decided to stick around in winter because we have food, heated bath and warm places to stay.  We pretty much rolled the red carpet out for our avian friends.  The only exception is House Sparrows….for this bunch, it’s war.




Good Year For Bluebirds

Starting Their Second Brood

I think the Bluebirds are getting more comfortable with our garden now.  They no longer leave us during winter.  We provide roosting boxes, food and water in heated birdbaths when nothing much is around in winter and we help with guarding their nesting box during their breeding season.  Since they have become our resident birds, they have started their nesting early.  Last year they had two broods and this year they have already started a second brood while still feeding their chicks from the first brood.

They started the first brood in April. Once the female lays eggs, we start to monitor the nest box weekly to make sure they are fine.  Four out of five eggs hatched with the 1st brood.

May 7th – not much feathering and eyes still closed
May 14th – They are much bigger and have feathers. This was our last photo because we don’t want them to fledge too early

We stopped checking their nest box when the chicks have full feathers.  If they fledge too early, out of concern for their own safety, they could become other birds food.  So we don’t want to stress them with visits.

May 30th – The female tends to one of the chicks in between building a new nest
A couple taking a break from feeding the chicks and building a new nest
June 4th – The first egg in a new nest-second brood
Two of the babies from the first brood perching on top of new nest box
Male keeps his eyes on his chicks and the new nest too

The second nest is right by our vegetable garden and the green pole is only a couple of feet from the front of the nest box.  Hopefully there will be another three or more chicks from the second brood.

Migrating Birds

They Are Back

Around this time in spring we prepare a welcome mat for the migrating birds, both the ones that come to stay for a season or just passing through.  We clean the birdhouses that were left out during winter for cold night roosting and set them back up.  Plenty of food is put out as well and we make some effort to insure the feeders won’t get emptied by larger birds like the Mourning doves, Grackles, European Starlings and Blue Jays by using weight sensitive feeders.  Grackles and Blue Jays manage to work these feeders anyway by bouncing up and down.  But we don’t mind since they can’t really land on the feeder blocking small birds from getting on.

We take our cues from the plants and trees in the garden.  We put oranges out when the cherry trees blossom; that is when the Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula) start to show up.  We put sugar syrup out when the Columbine starts to bloom.  That’s when Ruby-throated Hummingbirds reach us from the south.

Arriving on the same schedule are the tree Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). They’re looking for nesting boxes now.  This year is much harder for them since the Eastern Bluebird beat them to nesting, having eggs now, get very territorial.  They don’t want any neighbors, even when the closest box is 20 feet away the male Bluebird still chases any bird who has the temerity to stray too close.  Also House Sparrows that try to nest in every box in the yard.  It seems like an uphill battle for the Swallows but they still try and we do our best chasing the Sparrows to give them an edge.

A pair of Tree Swallows checking one of the nest boxes.  They have not yet picked one.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) has also arrived.  Generally we only see the male at this time of year.  Some years they will stay through the season but some years they just pass through.

A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak enjoy chipped sunflower seeds and peanuts
A male Baltimore Oriole enjoying oranges

I know that the Baltimore Orioles are here, aside from the cherry tree cue, we can hear them.  They haven’t come down for the oranges yet.  Above is an image captured last year.


Eastern Bluebird

The First Family To Settle

Spring is a very active season for birds.  I can tell that spring is really coming when the male American Goldfinches shed their winter coats and the male Cardinals are no longer willing to eat together.  The same thing goes for the Eastern Bluebirds which no longer flock together like they do in winter.  There is also their singing.

The first pair of birds that took up residence in our garden this year is the Eastern Bluebird.  After picking and choosing among several nest boxes in the yard, they ended up at the same one the bluebirds nested in last year.  I’m not sure that it’s the same pair though, since a flock of them stayed with us this winter.

Male Eastern Bluebird staying on top of the house they picked
The female keeps her eyes on it from the tree above
Their new home

Once the female has started to lay eggs, the male become very territorial.  A Tree Swallow who just migrated back, checked the nest box for availability and was immediately chased away.  As aggressive as the male bluebird is, he’s no match to the House sparrow.  We have to diligently monitor all the nest boxes in the garden for signs of the House Sparrows.  So far we have been successfully hosted Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, House Wrens, Chickadees and Tufted Titmouse in our nest boxes by monitoring the House Sparrows attempts.

April 16: three beautiful blue eggs
April 22: five eggs
She rarely leaves the nest now

Hopefully most of the eggs she’s caring for now will make it to adulthood.  We’re happy to see more and more of them each year and to know that they are comfortable enough to stay with us year round.

These are the one’s that use the nest boxes.  The one’s that prefer to build their own nests like the American Robins, Chipping Sparrows and Song Sparrows have already picked their spots in the foliage.  I’ll have to check on the Robins next time I have a chance.  Last I checked, they had just finished building their nest.

We are still waiting for the Grey Catbirds, Baltimore Orioles and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to come back.  The wait won’t be much longer because the Cherry trees have started to blossom and the Columbine is starting to bud.



Spring Has Sprung

…With A Cold Shoulder

I took the day off from work yesterday and the weather was on my side.  Still plenty of snow on the ground but the temperature had soared to nearly 60°F.  The honeybees should have been out and about now with a temperature this high, but alas, none to be seen.  So I decided to inspect one hive.  Intrinsically I knew I had to face my fear somehow.  It’s better to know early than not know at all.  I suspected they may have died of starvation since the weather has been inconsistent.  That forces the bees to consume their stored food faster leaving them with nothing inside and nothing for them to forage outside.  But I wasn’t expecting what I saw.  There were no bees in the hive.  None at all.

I ended up opening all the hives.  My worst fear had come true.  There were only a few dead bees in each hive which was otherwise empty.  There were plenty of capped and uncapped honey frames in each hive but no live occupants.

First sadness hit, then depression, then self-doubt….what did I do wrong?  I’ve been taking a mite count throughout the season and it’s been very low.  We provided clean water.  We provided food, with the supporting evidence of plenty left over in each hive. The only thing I did not do was treat them with chemicals.  But I have never treated them from the start.  They were fine and happy for many years, from one generation to the next, living their lives naturally.

I’m still sad and depressed but giving up is not in my nature.  I will clean up the empty hives on my next day off and have them readied for new occupants.  New honeybee packages are coming in next month and I hope we will work well together like their long gone relatives.

But there was a bright part of the day…I finally dug my way to the igloo, my cold frame.  What was left in there were carrots, Mustard greens, a few Pac choi too.  The lettuce I had sown in January had come up, barely reaching half an inch.

The path I had to dig to get to the cold frame
Pulled some fresh carrots from inside the cold frame. Small but tasty.

I pulled weeds out, watered the soil a little and sowed a few more seeds: Mizuna, Mustard greens, Radish, Arugula, Chinese broccoli, and more lettuce.  They should start to sprout in a week and within a couple more weeks I can have my first salad of the season.

Sowed some seeds after pulling carrots and clearing some dead vegetables

Our resident Eastern Bluebirds are also looking for a nest box in our yard and haven’t given up despite harassment from the House sparrow.

A pair of Eastern Bluebirds enjoy their meal and keep their eyes on their prospect home

As the Buddhists say, ‘all is impermanence.’  There will be more honeybees.  The garden is still there and this year’s seedlings are all sprouting high in the house and itching to get their feet in the ground outside.  I really can’t complain.


Hello Spring

With Snow On The Ground

We had around two feet of snow last Tuesday and most of it is still on the ground.  The daytime temperatures are hovering between 30 and 40°F which isn’t helping to melt it.  Today is the official first day of spring but outside, you would never know it.  It’s more like ‘Hello spring, where are you?’ to me.  Crocuses, Hellebores and Snowdrops were completely buried under.  My little cold frame looks more like a little igloo in the garden.

It’s not only me that was fooled by nature, the Robins have already made an appearance despite the snow.  The American Goldfinches have started to drop their winter coats.  We try to help them by providing food and water when there isn’t much out there for them besides endless snow.

A male American Goldfinch, amidst snow fall, starting to show their bright yellow plumage, their summer color.
Cold frame is covered with snow. I’ll try to dig my way there to see how it looks inside.

I had sown some lettuce seeds inside the cold frame a couple of weeks ago because I wasn’t expecting to get this much snow around now.  I’ll dig my way in there tomorrow to see how they are doing.

Though it doesn’t look like spring outside, a new cycle of life, a new season, has already begun inside the house.  This is the time I usually start tomato, pepper, eggplant, Swiss chard and kale seedlings.  The first three need to be done around 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost so they can have enough time to grow, bear fruits and ripen.  As for the Swiss chard and kale, they like cold weather anyway so I can put them out in the garden early.

Variety of tomato and pepper seedlings for the new season
Variety of Swiss chard and Kale seedlings

Next, is prepping tropical plants in the basement for their summer outdoors.  Spring should come around the corner and stay within a few weeks.  But who knows? We had snow in April.




Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑