I’m not sure if they trust us or the remnants of the old Gray Catbird’s nest was too good a spot to pass up. An American Robin family has built a nest in the Rhododendron to the right of our front door. There was a Gray Catbird nest there last year and some old nest material still hung from the branches. We can see the female sitting in the nest about 2 feet from our window. She also keeps her eyes on us when we’re in the room but stays put.
I guess we have been working together in the garden often enough that she’s decided we’re not her enemies. Why not live next to us? She has four beautiful blue eggs and we hope to see chicks soon. We decided to tape part of our mesh blind to the window so we can observe the nest and not stress her to much when we turn the living room lights on.
It’s still a little cold out, not freezing though close enough. But it’s warm enough for birds to migrate back to this area. The ones that take residence year round and group together for winter survival start to de-group now. They all sing to make their territory known, and to attract females. This time of year they usually sing at their loudest.
A few of them have already settled, built nests and some of them have laid eggs. Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) have taken one of the nest boxes and produced four eggs a couple of weeks ago. American Robins (Turdusmigratorius) settled in the rhododendron in the front, also with four eggs. A pair of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) is in the middle of building their nest. The Chickadees (Parus atricapillus) are still choosing. Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula) should come back soon since the cherry trees have started to blossom.
All in all we have a very loud garden and it seems a non-stop chorus, except when the hawks come by. And, these are some of the louder singers:
Still more to come, some migrating birds have not yet arrived.
Winter storm ‘Jonas’ hit us last weekend. It crippled New York City for a day and dumped over two feet of snow in Central Park at the end. All above ground transportation was shut down and non-emergency vehicles were not allowed on the road. We ended up staying in the city over night and, I admit, it was fun.
I ended up walking around midtown during the blizzard. A rare moment when New York City was dressed attractively. No cars and not that many people around, the tense and busy city, for once, became serene. I had taken a few photos during the walk before my fingers and toes felt numb enough to retreat back inside a warm building.
There was a flock of Robins on the cherry trees outside my office. They were all puffed up against the wind and snow and were picking cherries off the trees. I think they have a high survival chance since it’s usually warmer in the city and there are plenty of cherry trees along the city streets . They also have a taste for bread crumbs.
We didn’t get much snow up where we live, only eight inches. Luckily, the snow was still light and fluffy when we got home so it was easy to clean up. Checking up on our bees we were heartened to see signs that they were still alive. As long as there are dead bees on the snow, then we know there are live bees in the hive.
Jonas came and left and our lives go on. I keep searching catalogs for new additions to the garden but won’t get too hyped up until the middle of next month. Hopefully, Nature will keep her schedule.
This time of year is the only time we, the birds and us, compete for fruits in our garden. We have wild cherry, ornamental cherry, white mulberry, wild raspberry, Golden raspberry, strawberry and blueberry on the property. We gave up on the wild cherry since it’s too tall for us to harvest; the birds always get the fruit first. Our neighbor used to put a bed sheet under one of the trees but what she got was the left over from the birds. We can only get the sweet, white mulberry from the lower branches but that’s enough. This year there are so many fruits that the birds and squirrels have taken longer to clean them up. So we are still picking mulberry.
Wild raspberry has not yet ripened. There will not be much fruit this year. I removed many of them early in spring because they were getting too invasive. Since there is no distraction now from the wild raspberry, I am more concerned with the Golden raspberry and am considering putting a net over them. I will have to cover the blueberries before the fruit ripens as well. The Gray Catbirds are pretty good at keeping their eye on the fruit.
We have been sharing strawberries this year since I have no time to cover them. What ever the birds missed is our feast.
Competing for ripe fruits in the garden doesn’t make us enemies. The birds still work the other part of the garden; picking off insects and grubs which are much more destructive to our garden. Losing some fruit to them is a small price to pay for their service.
There has been one snow storm after another and the official spring date is still more than a month away. Our garden is covered a foot deep in snow crusted with ice. The cold frame we put up last fall has become an igloo at this point. I have no idea what has happened in there since I can’t have access without digging my way in through snow. I’ve left the honey bees alone. The only sign that there are live bees in the hives is the fresh dead bees I found on top of the snow around the garden.
It was very sunny and no wind today so I braved a low 30º F, in my knee-high boots, to stomp around inspecting the garden. As much snow as there is on the ground, there are many signs that spring is not too far away. I always see the arrival of American Robins (Turdusmigratorius) as an indication that spring will be here soon enough. Today was the second time I’ve seen a large flock of Robins come around.
Aside from Robins, the male Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) no longer keep to their truce. They seem to keep close to their female companions now and chase other full grown males around the yard. The Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) are also looking for nesting spots now and no longer just coming to the garden for food.
The American Goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) are starting to shed their winter coats. There are little bits of yellow tipped grey down here and there on the snow, and the birds are beginning to show spring colors in bright yellow blotches.
With a lineage that stretches all the way back to the dinosaurs, I figure the birds know better than I.
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.