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.
After we finished preparing our beehives for the winter, putting a cold frame over the winter vegetable plot and cleaning up most of the leaves it’s time to focus on our avian pals. We don’t feed them in summer because we don’t want them to depend on us completely for their survival and we want them to have some incentive for pest control in the garden. But when insects die out or hibernate underground and flower seeds and fruits wane, it’s time for us to return the favor. It’s only fair. We’ve been carrying on a symbiotic relationship since I started gardening.
Late autumn and winter is also the time the birds make a truce with one another for their own survival. The territorial line is diminished, no need to defend a non-existence. No female to impress, no kids to protect…they only need food, water, shelter and to avoid becoming food themselves.
Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) will steal other birds eggs or chicks during breeding season so other birds never let them get close. Still, small birds depend on Blue Jays to give them warning when there is a hawk around. Blue Jays sometimes even gang up on a hawk. But at this time of year smaller birds seem to welcome the company of Blue Jays.
Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), especially the males, are very territorial during mating season. I’ve seen them chase one another in the garden far too many times. In winter, however, both males and females stay together in a flock. One year, our Forsythia bush lit up with twelve male Cardinals looking like Christmas ornaments in the snow. Three females and one male, above, were waiting for their turn at the feeder.
It’s only the second week of May but five bird families have already settled down in our garden, as far as I can see. Two pairs of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) have decided to build their nests here: one has taken a nest box in the front yard and one at the corner of the vegetable garden. The same spots they nested in last year, actually. The Eastern Blue Birds (Sialia sialis) have also taken the same nest box as last year. The American Robin (Turdus migratorius) has built their own nest in a Rhododendron. We will have to wait for the chicks to fledge before we can prune the shrub. We can see the female sitting on her eggs from the bay window. The Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) took one of the nest boxes in the front. The Chickadees seem to move around the garden very year. The Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) have been checking our patio ceiling for a perfect spot, but we try our best to discourage them. Our experience with the Robins nested there one year, wasn’t pleasant. Those are the ones whose nests I can see.
We have plenty of American Goldfinches (Carduelis trisis) who stay with us year round. Most of the males have already shed their winter coats. The Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are still courting and claiming territory. We also have more visitors from the North, Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus), this year. Not counting the other residents like three or four different kinds of sparrows and woodpeckers, our garden needs air traffic control.
This year we also have an infrequent visitor, Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus). They come around once in a while. At this moment I ‘m waiting for the Columbine to bloom so I can put the Hummingbird feeders up to welcome the Ruby-throated hummingbirds back from Central America.
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….