The weather is still too cold for spring. Night time temperature a little bit above the freezing point most nights. Making matters worse, we had an ice storm four days ago. The birds, on the other hand, seem to know better since they have started to shed their winter down. This is the time of year I see a lot of fine feathers blowing in the garden or floating in the birdbaths. The male American Goldfinches have almost completely turned bright yellow by now, their summer color.
Most of our birds have just started to claim territory and are checking available nest boxes. Some have already paired up with mates. The Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), on the other hand, has already laid eggs. I thought they had only built their nest since it’s still very cold. I always monitor our nest boxes in the garden to make sure that there are no House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) nesting there. Once I saw the female Bluebird leave the nest box, I had to take a peek.
They never left us this past winter anyway. I think they probably felt comfortable here with food, water and roosting box to take shelter in during winter. And, plenty of food in spring and summer.
I hope they will have two broods this year since they’ve started the first one early. There really is no such thing as too many Bluebirds.
Today was very cold and windy, the temperature barely made 20° F. Taking wind chill factor in to account, it was close to 0° F. This is the time the birds need us the most. There’s hardly any food around, water turns to solid ice and the wind factor is over 40 miles per hour, so we provide them with food, warm water and shelter. They congregate outside our patio door and enjoy food and heated birdbaths near by. Once in awhile they would burst away in all directions and the quiet chill descends on the yard. It’s an indication of a hawk patrol, looking for food as well. Our yard becomes a hawk deli.
They also scatter away to nearby bushes and trees when I sprint out the door chasing squirrels and Mourning doves (Zenaidamacroura). Another time is when I knock on the glass door chasing away House sparrows (Passer domestics). I tolerate squirrels to a certain degree but not the Mourning doves and House sparrows. The last two don’t do much of anything aside being a pest. I won’t let them feel comfortable in our garden so they don’t nest here, eat my seedlings and terrorize other birds.
Speaking of terrorizing other birds, the Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) rank at the top of the list. They steal other bird’s eggs and eat their chicks if they have a chance. I once witnessed a Blue jay attack and carry off a Bluebird chick that left the nest box too early. But, the Blue Jays also eat other animals that are small enough: mouse, mole, and snake.
Blue Jays are highly intelligent and territorial. Most of the time they just zoom in to the feeder but many times they would make a loud alarm call that will cause other birds to scatter away. I first thought they feared the Blue jay but after observing them for many seasons I realized that it’s the same warning sound as when a hawk is around. They make the exact sound, though there’s not a hawk in sight, to fool other birds to go away and hide. After the birds realized that it was a trick, they came back but by then the Blue Jays have already occupied comfortable positions at the feeders.
Blue Jays are also hoarders. They will pack as many as they can between their beaks each time after they ate. They bring food back to wherever they stash away for the future. During the breeding season, due to their territorial behavior, they will chase away squirrels, hawks and crows that come in the neighborhood. It helps to increase survival chances for smaller bird’s chicks.
After balancing their good and bad habits, I let them be. They have beautiful feathers anyway. I only chase them when they take too long at the feeders while other birds wait patiently for their turn.
However bad this last winter was, the Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia Sialis) elected not to leave us for warmer digs down south. Maybe because we provided everything they needed here: food, water and places to roost inside from the cold wind and snow. This last winter was the first time that they were really present on an almost daily basis. Once the weather started to get warmer, they started to seriously look for a place to nest. From an initial flock, there are only four left now. They have made their territorial claims. I don’t know whether the pair that is nesting in one of the nest boxes now is the same pair that nested in there last year. I was unable to find any information on whether they try to nest at the same place every year as the Tree Swallows do.
Last Sunday, Easter Sunday, I spent all day in the garden. Aside from doing the usual garden chores I also checked on the new residents. Who’s just come back, who’s nesting where and also monitoring the House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) at the nest boxes. The American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is still battling his image in the bay window on a daily basis. A female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is building her nest in the front Azalea. Two pairs of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are taking up residence in two of the nest boxes, one of which is the same as last year.
In the end, to my surprise, I found my favorite Easter eggs. A pair of Eastern Bluebirds have laid four beautiful blue eggs. I hope it’s not too cold for them at night (still below 40ºF most night) for them to hatch. I hope to see them start bringing food in for their young in a little over a week. And then, start a second brood…
It snowed again today. There was some snow on the ground when I woke up and it continued to snow all day. I looked out the kitchen window while getting water for the coffee machine and saw the commotion in the garden. All the small birds scattered, dashing for cover, while a hawk flapped his wings like crazy in the Himalayan Musk rose bush. He probably chased some tasty birds in there and got caught between thorny branches. This was not the first time I saw a hawk dive after a bird into a bush. This one seemed to be a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii). I was surprised to see a hawk hunt this early in the morning, yes, it was around 7 am, let alone while it’s snowing. The visibility is not good for them.
Anyway, he freed himself from the rose branches and chased after some birds around the house. The birds resumed their breakfast at the feeders after a few minutes but something was nagging me. If the hawk was still looking for his breakfast, the birds wouldn’t come back to the feeders this fast. So I checked the front of the house by the over grown rhododendron, and…
Note: The last two images are stills (vidcaps) from a video. All images were shot through a double glass window early on a snowy morning.
Carolina Wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) come to stay in our garden every winter. They mostly stay in one of the woodpiles and come to the feeders or search the woodpiles on the patio and all the nooks and crannies of the patio roof for food. They have no fear of us and allowed us to get close enough. Our relationship is a symbiotic one: we provide food and shelter and they get rid of the insects for us. By mid-spring, when food is abundant, they go back into the nearby forest area and the House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon) will take over the territory.
A couple of nights ago I found a Carolina Wren in a strange pose at one corner of the patio where the beam connected to the upright post. Looking from afar, I thought it was a dry leave stuck there but I realized that it was a small bird when I looked closer. An injured bird, maybe? The feathers on the back were flattened out. The tail was also flattened to the wooden beam. The head buried between the body and the wood beam. When I got up on a chair and looked closely, the bird turned around, looked at me and then flew off into the night garden. We thought it was very strange. We assumed that it had possibly just escaped from a predator.
But it came back almost every night, at the exact spot, and did the same flattened out with the back feathers act. It was gone in the morning. It’s a strange behavior that we haven’t seen before but maybe this is how the Carolina Wrens roost at night.
It’s up there tonight again. The display with the feathers makes it look injured although it isn’t. Perhaps that’s how they flatten themselves against tree trunks at night trying to look like just another chunk of tree bark.
Spring is the busiest time in our own garden aviary. We have both resident aerialists that stay with us year round and the ones that travel back and forth from North to South America annually. Every spring we roll out the red carpet for them, helping them stay strong and nurturing a new generation. By the end of spring some of them already have a new extended family and are ready to start a second brood. Most of them are camera shy but some of them have become used to seeing me in the garden all the time…just another big funny looking deer to them.
This Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) couple had three chicks. Yes, I checked. I patrol the bird houses in the garden to make sure that the House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) haven’t taken them over and to insure the Cowbirds haven’t laid their eggs in one of the nests. This pair ended up with one surviving chick. I witnessed one chick becoming a Bluejay (Cyanocitta cristata) lunch. I have no idea what happened to the other chick so I’m hoping it survived. They just had another brood, four newly hatched chicks, hopefully more than one will survive.
The Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) is one of the smartest and friendliest birds in our garden. They come back every spring and stay until late fall. We put oranges out as soon as we see the first one show up. They help keep the Japanese beetles under control. Their first brood, two chicks, have grown up and as far as I know one pair has started a nest in the front Forsythia bush.
All the books I have read indicated that Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) produce one brood a year in the Northern US but this pair by the vegetable garden are having a second one. Maybe because their first brood, three chicks in all, and their nest was destroyed by our neighbor’s cat. They didn’t give up and rebuilt the nest in the same box. We put a squirrel guard flange under the nest box this time to prevent the cat from getting to the nest. I haven’t peeked to see how many eggs they have. The good news is the Tree Swallow family that nested in the front yard produced five chicks and they have all fledged.
When we see the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) in the neighborhood that means spring is coming. A couple of pairs have nested in our garden each year. They help a lot by picking grubs off the lawn and gardens. Their first brood have all grown up now and they’ve already started a second one.
This House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) was building a nest she ended up nesting in. They have a habit of building a few dummy houses before they actually pick one. Five chicks from this nest had flown off. Two more pairs are singing and building nest in the garden now.
I don’t know where the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) nest but they are repeat annual visitors and we seem to have more of them every year. It’s fun to watch them doing their courting ritual; flying back and forth sideways like a pendulum- and when they take their dinner at dusk. Delicate and beautiful little birds that they are.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus) also stopped by to refuel this spring as usual before flying further north. They have a very distinctive and lovely song. I wish they would nest with us instead of just commuting through.
Yes, woodpeckers eats oranges along with a variety of things. They even eat small lizards upon occasion, though there are no lizards here. We were surprised to see one eating oranges we had put out a few years ago. The oranges were intended for the Baltimore Orioles and Gray Catbird but the orioles have never come down for it. We thought that only one particular Red-bellied was eating them, but more than one stops in regularly when they have active nests in the area.
They would eat for a while and at the end they would gather pulp, keep it between their beaks, and fly off, we presume for nesting youngsters.
There are some more avians around the garden this spring. The common ones like American Goldfinch, House Finch, American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Blue Jay, Red-winged Blackbird, Downey Woodpecker, Chickadee, Titmouse, Northern Cardinal….and with them around we don’t need pesticide. The down side is we see less butterflies due to caterpillars being invited to lunch, so to speak, but our garden is never without someone serenading somewhere in the premises.
It’s that time of year again…a time to look for a perfect place to raise a new generation. The birds that usually hang out together during winter start chasing one another, claiming their territory. A few of them checking out the nest boxes we put up in the garden. I cleaned them in mid-fall and put them back up for the birds to roost in winter, and I check them again around this time of year to see if any of them need to be cleaned again. Some birds do make a mess in there when they use them as a roosting place.
The Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis), which never left us this winter, have been coming everyday to check the nest boxes. They seem to be very serious about two of the boxes. One box had a pair of Bluebirds nested in it last year, and a pair of Tree Swallows have nested in the other one. I hope they make up their mind soon, especially if they want to take the one that the Tree Swallows used to nest in.
Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are known to come back to the specific nesting place they used in the previous year. We had two generations, three pairs of them nested in our garden last year. And, yes, the older pair came back to the exact nest box they had used the year before. They are pretty vicious in defending their nest so I hope the Bluebirds will build their nest before the Swallows come back.
We love both of them so we can’t really take sides. With House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) and European Starrings (Sturnus vulgaris), we pretty much chase them away or clean them out if they have nested in one of the boxes. I know it sounds mean spirited but they are pests and they kill other birds or break their eggs to get their nesting place. They’re not indigenous to this area.
I would also like to increase our state bird population. The Bluebird is the official New York state bird. I acquired this knowledge a few years ago when I looked up Bluebird so I’m glad that we’ve hosted our state bird three years in a row…..and hope to continue the trend this year.
I checked on our vegetable garden early last week and was happy to see the garlic I put in last October came up. The Daffodils and tulips have also pushed themselves above the soil. But Mother Nature doesn’t seem to give up on winter just yet, she dumped a whole load of snow on us again last Friday. The storm ‘Saturn’, with just a winter storm advisory, has dropped around 10 inches of snow over night. The vegetables and flowers, were fooled by a few days of warm daytime temperature, have disappeared under the snow again.
Our avian friends who have started to claim territory and housing were force to make a truce between them. Yes, they will have to eat together at a few feeders we put up for them in winter since snow has covered everything else. With snow still falling, they patiently wait their turn at the feeders. Here are some of them….
Winter. I have a love-hate relationship with winter. I love winter best when it’s snowing and its aftermath. The snow wipes out the sad look of bare branches and turns the world picturesque with dull gray turning to glistening white. The quietness, since the snow absorbs sound so effectively, renders the world peaceful too.
There is not much I can do in the garden aside from feeding the birds and checking up on the bees. That’s when I want winter to go away as soon as possible. In the meantime when there is frozen snow on the ground, marked by deer and rabbits tracks, I spend my time camera-stalking birds coming in for food and water. Here are some of them…
I had a visit from a very shy bird, a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), last weekend. It is the largest woodpecker around since the Ivory-billed (Campephilus principalis) is presumed extinct. It is a crow-sized woodpecker, with a 17″ long body and a wingspan around 29″, according to National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America by Edward S. Brinkley. I knew they were in the neighborhood since I could hear them knocking. Last year a mother took two chicks around to our garden a few times, but mostly they stay in the wooded areas away from people. Only the Downey Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) seem to prefer easy pickings like the feeders rather than banging their brains out on trees for sustenance. We have a lot of Downeys, more than we can count. Some of them even roosted in our birdhouses. The Red-bellied (Melanerpes carolinus) and the Northern Flickers (Colaptesauratus) are also common woodpeckers in the area. Only once in a while would the Pileated join their cousins in our garden. Last weekend was one of them.
With a very loud hammering sound high up on the tree, too loud to be mistaken for a small woodpecker, I looked up and tried to locate the origin. There he was, with a bright red Mohawk hairdo, hammering away at a tree trunk. I dropped everything, grabbed a camera, and followed him from branch to branch. He glanced at me from the above from time to time. I’m glad he is around and trusted me enough not to fly away as soon as he saw me. Here is a magnificent bird and some cousins. Hopefully they won’t follow the Ivory-billed down the extinction path.