Birds of Winter

Enjoying The Hospitality

Winter temperature has finally matched the season and there is not much of anything out there.  Snow has not yet paid a visit.  The birds have picked most of the seeds off the buds I left in intact for them: Echinacea, Black-eyed Susan, Goldenrod… So now they enjoy the additional food we put out for them.  On  cold days they can enjoy a heated birdbath too.

We remove the feeders every night to prevent unwanted guests like raccoons and skunks.  A raccoon can empty a feeder in one sitting.  Once we had suet feeder removed and carried over to a neighbor’s yard.  We suspected a raccoon.  The only animal around here that is big enough to carry a suet feeder off and has ‘thumbs’ to open the cage.  Any morning that we can’t put out the feeders (when we have to go to work) or when we put them out a little late, there will be birds lined up on the pool fence outside the patio… waiting.

It’s as though they are saying ‘What’s wrong with these humans?  Don’t they know what time it is.’  As soon as we put the feeders out and turn our backs, they land on them, at the head of the line, the Chickadees and Downey Woodpeckers.  We try to keep them healthy and well-fed during winter so they will stay and patrol our garden in spring and summer.

These are the locals that stay with us year round:

American goldfinch in winter coat
American goldfinch in winter coat

As much as the American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) like Nyger seeds, we’d rather feed them with sunflower seeds in winter.  The feeder is hung under the patio roof and the Nyger seeds make a big  mess under the feeder.

A pair of Chickadees at the feeder
A pair of Chickadees at the feeder
Male House Finch
Male House Finch

I have a hard time differentiating a male House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) from a male Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus).  But House Finches are more common in my area and this one has less of a red plume on the breast to be a Purple Finch.

Female Northern Cardinal shares a suet feeder with a male Downey Woodpecker
Female Northern Cardinal shares a suet feeder with a male Downey Woodpecker

I’m surprised to see this female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) on the suet feeder.  Most Cardinals prefer a tray feeder or a feeder with a horizontal bar that they can hop on.

Male Northern Cardinal sharing a heated birdbath with a Chickadee
Male Northern Cardinal sharing a heated birdbath with a Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch waiting his turn
White-breasted Nuthatch waiting his turn

It’s always fun to watch a White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) walking up and down a tree trunk or a post or eating upside down.

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker ready to take off with a beak full of suet
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker ready to take off with a beak full of suet
Another friendly Titmouse on a feeder
Another friendly Titmouse on a feeder

There are more locals than these shown above but they are either camera shy like the Eastern Bluebird or know they are not welcome like the Blue Jay, House Sparrow and European Starling.   I don’t know if the migrating birds from further North like the Common Redpoll and Pine siskin will be here this year since it has been so warm.  But for them too, the welcome mat is always out.

Birds And Water

Crucial For A Harsh Winter

I spent most of New Year’s Day watching birds in our garden.  It was cold outside so I mostly just watched them through the glass of the patio door.  I took the camera out for only half an hour at a time, until I felt numbness creeping into my fingers and toes.  Since there wasn’t any snow on the ground, though it was very cold, birds were still able to find food naturally.  So there were no new critters on the feeders.  But what was interesting to me was their behavior at the birdbath.

We provide water for the birds year round but cut it down to two or three heated birdbaths during winter.  It’s a bit difficult to draw an electric cord far from the house and monitor the bath too.  Water dissipates much faster in heated birdbaths because of evaporation and the frequent use by birds.  Letting it dry up while the heater is running is not an option.

Providing fresh water for birds in winter, when an unfrozen surface is hard for them to find, does not just benefit the birds.  I enjoy watching them gathering around the rim either to drink the water or just for warmth.  When there is a lot of snow on the ground or when it’s really cold, I would see birds that do not usually come to the birdbaths as well… woodpeckers, crows.  Even the squirrels love it.

Chickadee and Titmouse
Chickadee and Titmouse

This birdbath is a little too deep for small birds so I put a stone in there to provide a shallow area so that they can bathe.  They do seem to like it.  Most of the smaller birds often land on the stone instead of the rim.  In summer the bees also like to land on it when they drink water.

Male Northern Cardinal
Male Northern Cardinal
Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Titmouse
Titmouse
White-throated Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow

 

First Day Of Winter

And Snow, Right On Schedule

Today is the official first day of winter and it has been snowing lightly on and off all day.  It’s very peaceful and quiet outside, the only sound the birds singing.  The birds are the only bright colors in the garden at this time and without them it’s a plain brown and gray everywhere we look.  We couldn’t fill the feeders fast enough but we’re not complaining.  Here’s my first day of winter outside:

Light snow on and off all day
Light snow on and off all day
Milkweed seeds still hanging on to the seedpod, topped with light snow
Milkweed seeds still hanging on to the seedpod, topped with light snow
Spent Goldenrod flowers
Spent Goldenrod flowers

There’s nothing to do in the garden at this time aside from filling the feeders, cleaning and filling birdbaths, and stalking birds with the camera.  So, I spend time in the house trimming tropical plants, reading and listening to the music.  This time of year the radio stations seem to put Beethoven’s Symphony #9 and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker on almost everyday, so far, twice today on our local station.  I don’t mind at all especially the Symphony#9 which I always turn up really loud.  For some reason this symphony always sounds so much better loud.  A friend once told me that Beethoven composed this piece when he was nearly deaf so he needed to feel the music.  I don’t know if that’s really true but when I listened to it at Carnegie Hall I could feel the vibration.  The same goes for Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. When not listening to the radio, our outside chorale is equally good to me.  Herewith some of the Avian Chorus’s members:

Male Northern Cardinal in the rose bush
Male Northern Cardinal in the rose bush
Chickadee enjoying a heated birdbath
Chickadee enjoying a heated birdbath
American Goldfinch in show
American Goldfinch in show
House Finch waiting his turn at the feeder
House Finch waiting his turn at the feeder
Nuthatch shares a feeder with an American Goldfinch
Nuthatch shares a feeder with an American Goldfinch

Though nothing is flowering in the garden, flowering continues in the basement and on the windowsill.  Nothing soothes my mood like the scent of jasmine and they are still blooming.

Almond verbena will continue flowering, even under artificial light, if I keep cutting and feeding them
Almond verbena will continue flowering, even under artificial light, if I keep cutting and feeding them
Azores jasmine (Jasminum azoricum) has very subtle scent
Azores jasmine (Jasminum azoricum) has very subtle scent
Winter jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) with delicate vine and flowers but very strong scent
Winter jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) with delicate vine and flowers but very strong scent
Winter jasmine close up
Winter jasmine close up
Moth orchid at the bay window
Moth orchid at the bay window

Snowed In

And More To Come

A snow storm hit us again today, starting about 5:00 AM.  It was very peaceful because no one was out, the town plows didn’t bother to come around early and not a snow blower in sight.  It was the type with big fluffy flakes falling down early on then became very light rain before stopping in late afternoon.  It dumped close to a foot of snow today, adding to the foot still here from the previous Wednesday.  We now have a three foot snow bank along our driveway and higher mounds here and there.  And, there’s more to come tonight.  The weather forecast is predicting the second round of this Nor-Easter tonight may add another 8″ to 10″ more.

As soon as the snow stopped the neighborhood came out in force cleaning their driveways and getting them ready for the next onslaught tonight.  We had to rake some of the snow off our roof as it is thick and heavy and makes it difficult to open the sliding door.  During all these chores, we were accompanied by plenty of birds doing their best to pack as much food in as they could to brace for the storm.  The Chickadees and Carolina Wrens didn’t even care that we were raking the roof; they just flew in and out picking on seeds at the feeders by the patio.

Our beehives have only a couple of inches left before the snow reaches the landing board and the bottom entrance.  We were lucky that we decided to put the hives on 3 foot risers off the ground, otherwise half of the hives would have been buried under the snow by now.   I know the bees would be fine if that had happened because they still have the upper entrance that keeps air flowing.  They will be able to come out through the snow for their cleansing flights anyway, even if snow covered both entrances.   The hot air they create in the hive melts little holes in the snow where the entrances are.

Northern Cardinals waiting for their turns at the feeder
Northern Cardinals waiting for their turns at the feeder
A Chickadee resting under heavy snow fall
A Chickadee resting under heavy snow fall

Only a couple of inches left before the snow reaches the landing board.  Both lower and upper entrances are covered with snow.  When I inspected them after the last snow fall, they had small tunnels behind the snow that opened up to the left and right of these little mounds.  Once I saw them I left the snow alone so it can block the cold and wind from getting in the hives.

Beehives this afternoon
Beehives this afternoon

A few more weeks to go before spring reaches us, but more snow to be expected.  On the bright side, we need all the extra water.  And, if the bees pull through this harsher than usual winter, we will have a very strong generation of honey bees for our garden.  Bees that can weather temperatures below 0ºF in a very erratic winter.

From an Icy Rain To Snow

It’s a Time to Care For Friends

We’ve been having a roller coaster weather this year and December temperature around here rages from 60º F to 18º F which is a pretty wide gap.  We had icy rain yesterday and snow today, haven’t seen the sun in the last couple of days.  Weather like this raise my concern for my avian friends in the neighborhood.  As much as they are descendants of Dinosaurs but they probably have a hard time adapt to drastically changes of the environment; evolution takes time.  One day is so warm, the next day everything freeze.  Food are harder find at this time of year and even harder when the weather is unpredictable.

I put all the birdhouses up this year so they can have warm places to roost during the frigid cold nights.  Neighborhood pet food store loves us during this time of year because we buy a variety of twenty five or fifty pound-bags of bird food monthly, plus a case or two of suet cakes.  We just want to make sure that our feathered neighbors are well cared for.  I think the Tufted Titmouse and Chickadee keep their eyes on us since they’re always the first two groups that get to the feeders every time we refill them.

So far I’ve seen just the neighborhood birds that stay here year round like Northern Cardinal, Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Jay, Red-bellied woodpecker, Downy woodpecker, American Goldfinch, House Finch, Nuthatch and the pesky House Sparrow.  I haven’t seen any visitors like Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus) or Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) yet.  The neighborhood population control officer, a Cooper’s Hawk and a Red-tailed Hawk, are also on regular patrol this time of year.

Today, the population is more condensed in the garden as the snow has been falling since early morning.  They have learned that we are dependable at this time of year for food and water, so our garden becomes a gathering place during harsh weather.  Here are some of them….

A daring Blue Jay swooped pass me to the feeder a couple of feet away.
A daring Blue Jay swooped pass me to the feeder a couple of feet away.
A male Northern Cardinal enjoys fresh water and warm air raising from the heated bird bath
A male Northern Cardinal enjoys fresh water and warm air raising from the heated bird bath
Female Northern Cardinal waits patiently on a rose branch for her turn at the feeder
Female Northern Cardinal waits patiently on a rose branch for her turn at the feeder
Black-capped Chickadee taking cover in a rose bush
Black-capped Chickadee taking cover in a rose bush
A male Red-bellied woodpecker waiting for his turn at the suet
A male Red-bellied woodpecker waiting for his turn at the suet
A male House finch on an ice-covered rose branch
A male House finch on an ice-covered rose branch

Another Snow Storm

…And The Birds Are Still Happy

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….

American Tree Sparrows (Spizella arborea) have been with us all winter.  They're probably packing up for a flight back to the Arctic.
American Tree Sparrows (Spizella arborea) have been with us all winter. They’re probably packing up for a flight back to the Arctic.
A female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) keeps her eye on the feeders from atop a trellis.
A female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) keeps her eye on the feeders from atop a trellis.
A male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) also waiting in the rose bush.
A male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) also waiting in the rose bush.
One Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) preferred to wait in the lilac bush rather than eat with the other Chickadees.
One Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) preferred to wait in the lilac bush rather than eat with the other Chickadees.
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), the sparrow that can really sing, preferred to hang out on the Blueberry branches.
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), the sparrow that can really sing, preferred to hang out on the Blueberry branches.

Birds of Winter

When Nothing Blooms Outside

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…

American Goldfinch in its winter coat.
American Goldfinch in its winter coat.
Carolina Wren waits its turn for the feeder.
Carolina Wren waits its turn for the feeder.
Tufted Titmouse, one of the more friendly and daring residents
Tufted Titmouse, one of the more friendly and daring residents
Chickadees will eat from your hand when you gain their trust.
Chickadees will eat from your hand when you gain their trust.
Fresh clean water will draw the birds in when everything else is frozen.
Fresh clean water will draw the birds in when everything else is frozen.
A female cardinal waits her turn
A female cardinal waits her turn