Rescue Mission

Saving A Mourning Dove

I admit I’ve never really liked Mourning Doves.  They take over the tray feeders, sitting in the middle and keeping others out.  They sit in the birdbaths and enjoy the water while fouling it.  They won’t leave until they are done or until I chase them off and they don’t sing.  Their worst offense is eating my vegetable seedlings or just sitting on them.

We’re not enemies, just not really allies.

The relationship changed three days ago when I found an injured dove in the garden.  One of his wings was mangled near its root and there was a little blood in the neck area.  He couldn’t fly.  He hopped away from me when I got close then froze when I got much closer.  All birds freeze when they know their hunter is in the neighborhood.  From the way he looked I guessed he had just escaped being hawk food.

The injured Mourning Dove with one wing badly mangled but lucky enough to escape.
The injured Mourning Dove with one wing badly mangled but lucky enough to escape.

I had conflicted feelings on whether I should let nature run its course or help him. Admittedly I consider Mourning doves mostly just a pest, however they aren’t bullies like the House sparrows or European starlings.  But letting any animal suffer is anathema to me.  After deciding to try to help him, we weren’t sure there were any rescue centers that would want to take a dove in since they’re so common.  We asked friends and colleagues if they knew any centers that would take a dove.  Suggestions came in by the end of the day, Friday, but it was too dark by then to find the dove and he’s pretty good at hiding even in bright day light.  It should be mentioned that the deer fence keeps out coyotes, foxes, dogs and other critters that would find an ambulatory and grounded dove a great chew toy.

Our friend Alison, a genuine bird lover with a lot of knowledge in this area, reminded us that he’s hiding and should be out in the morning.  Lucky for him that we fenced our backyard.  My concern was surviving the cold.

True to her word, he showed up the next morning trying and unable to reach a birdbath.  I got him in to a cardboard box and ready for transport.  I decided to keep him in the house for warmth.  This being a long weekend (Martin Luther King Day), we weren’t sure that any of these centers would be open.  He looked weak but still had a lot of fighting spirit.

A made up shelter with shaded paper for warmth, food and water.
A made up shelter with shredded paper for warmth, food and water.

Rescue centers in our area were closed but Alison came through with a rescuer who was willing to take him if we could transport him to New Jersey, a little bit over an hour’s drive.

He’s in good hands now.  I’ve never searched for a wildlife rescue center before.  It’s nice to know that there are so many people out there who are willing to help an injured wild animal even when it’s not on an endangered species list, let alone on a Sunday evening.  He refused our offer to help with expenses for the dove’s treatment.

In between this rescue mission, we still chased other doves off our tray feeder.  Ironic, isn’t it?  Our reasoning is helping those that cannot help themselves.  If you’re fine, you’re fair game.  The dove tormentor (we think) also showed up and stayed for a while, darting from trees to the pool fence and the roof.  A majestic Broad-winged hawk on patrol.

A Broad-winged hawk, probably the dove tormentor. He has al most three feet wingspan
A Broad-winged hawk, probably the dove tormentor. His wingspan stretch out almost three feet and sporting a short tail.

I love birds of prey as much as song birds and we have plenty of hawks around here: Red-tailed, Broad-winged, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s.  I have difficulty telling the Broad-winged hawk apart from the Cooper’s hawk if I can’t see their tails.

Frontal up close
Broad-winged hawk from the front, up close
Cooper's hawk has much longer tail. This image is from a couple of years ago when I caught him in the act of dismantle a bird.
Cooper’s hawk has a much longer tail. This image is from a couple of years ago when I caught him in the act of dismantling a bird.
One of the Cooper's hawk decided that our kitchen is also his kitchen; he hang out on the woodpile outside the kitchen.
One of the Cooper’s hawks decided that our kitchen is also his kitchen; he hangs out on the woodpile outside the kitchen waiting for his food to come in to the nearby feeders.

We never chase the hawks away as population and rodent control is in their job description.  If the birds or rodents are fast enough they’ll continue to live on, nature’s rule.  But if they’re merely injured like the dove, we’ll help give them a second chance.

We are waiting for an update on his condition and hope that he can be healed.  It is within the soul of all birds, the need to kiss the sky.

 

 

And the Orchestra Resumes

The Loudest Performance Of The Year

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 pair of Northern Cardinals waiting their turn, with an American Goldfinch, at the feeder
A pair of Northern Cardinals waiting their turn, with an American Goldfinch, at the feeder

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 (Turdus migratorius) 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.

Eastern Towhee foraging for food by a brush pile
Eastern Towhee foraging for food by a brush pile
A male House Finch shares a bath with honeybees
A male House Finch shares a bath with honeybees
Cooper's Hawk, our population control officer, also came to visit
Cooper’s Hawk, our population control officer, also came to visit

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:

A flock of American Goldfinches can be really loud. This male is in his full summer garb.
A flock of American Goldfinches can be really loud. This male is in his full summer garb.
Song Sparrow has quite lovely song
Song Sparrow has quite lovely song
Early morning and evening singer award goes to American Robins
Early morning and evening singer award goes to American Robins
White-throated sparrow is not a bad singer either
White-throated sparrow is not a bad singer either

Still more to come, some migrating birds have not yet arrived.

 

One Warm Day

Many Activities

We got a break one day last week.  The temperature has gone up to a little bit above 40ºF for a day, actually for a few hours.   Then it dropped back down to below freezing again a day later.  But just a few hours was enough to create activity at one of the hives.

Honeybees from hive #1, the strongest of all five hives, came out from the top entrance.  Many of them flew around and did some cleaning after have been cooped up in the hive for months.  Some old bees that knew it’s the end of their time have come out to die on the snow in front of the hive.

That was the only hive that became active that day, the other four hives remained quiet.   I’m so glad that they survived -9ºF.  I don’t know if any of the other hives still have a live cluster of bees in inside. They may try to conserve their energy and keep warm in there as a low 40ºF  is not an ideal temperature to come out in, anyway.  If the temperature reaches above 50ºF for a day or two and still no bee activity from these quiet hives that will mean they are gone.  There is no guarantee that the one active hive will pull through either since the temperature has dropped even further, down to -11ºF the following two days.  Hopefully only a few more weeks of winter to go.

The bees came out from the top entrance since the bottom one is covered with snow.  I cleaned snow off the bottom landing afterward.
The bees came out from the top entrance since the bottom one is covered with snow. I cleaned snow off the bottom landing afterward.
Dead bees on the snow in front of the hive
Dead bees on the snow in front of the hive

But I’ll be happy if one out of five hives pulls through this harsh winter.

Not just bees took to the air that day.  It was sunny as well as warm, so plenty of birds were around including a bird of prey.  A Cooper’s hawk probably saw a conglomeration of fresh food coming around.  I watched him chasing birds into a Barberry hedge where he got caught several times tangling his wings and feet.  At one point in the afternoon he landed on the pool fence and sat there looking for anything that might move on the patio.  He reminded me of a young hawk some years ago that used to wait in ambush on the woodpile on the patio, outside our kitchen window.  He realized that he was in shadow on the woodpile.  By the time a small bird saw him there, it was too late.

He kept his eyes on me as well as scanning for food
He kept his eyes on me as well as scanning for food
This is the one on the woodpile a few years ago, with his back to us.  This photo was taken from our kitchen window
This is the one on the woodpile a few years ago, with his back to us. This photo was taken from our kitchen window
He caught a Downy woodpecker and decided to chow down on the woodpile. This photo taken through two panes of window glass.
He caught a Downy woodpecker and decided to chow down on the woodpile. This photo taken through two panes of window glass.

 

Population and Clean Up Control

Taking Their Job Seriously

Our garden is still covered with snow, not the fluffy stuff but the cement-like snow resulting from melting and freezing again.  The neighborhood birds are having a tough time finding food so our garden has become a gathering place for many of them.  With eight feeders and two heated birdbaths spread around in the garden, the air traffic is congested enough to give an FAA controller fits.

Even a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) came around try to claim a left over rabbit.  I found part of a rabbit when checking up on the bee hives the other day.  I suspect a fox because part of the carcass had been dragged in the snow in the direction of our neighbor’s garden.

Eagles and hawks will not drag their prey, they just fly off with it.  I know food is hard to come by in a winter like this one so I took what was left of the rabbit and left it under a tree where it could be seen from above.  It wasn’t long before a Turkey Vulture came around to investigate, then a crow.  Not much left of the rabbit now, just some fur.  Clean up accomplished.

Once or twice a day hawks would come by to raid the fresh food flying about.  As far as I know we have Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperii) and Sharp-shinned Hawks (Accipiter striatus) frequenting the neighborhood.  The Cooper’s Hawk seems to care less about my presence.  Maybe because he grew up here, the one that allowed me to get within a couple of feet of him when he was young and liked to hang out on the patio woodpile.

He came last Sunday, nabbed a Junco and polished him off right there while I snapped his photo.  As much as I feel bad for his prey, I’d rather have nature take her own course, so I won’t chase the predators off. They need to be able to do their job in a natural way.

Turkey Vulture waiting to come down for his rabbit
Turkey Vulture waiting to come down for his rabbit
Cooper's Hawk taking a Junco apart
Cooper’s Hawk taking a Junco apart
Puffing up after meal
Puffing up after meal

View more of this Cooper’s Hawk at AMAZINGSEASONS

Christmas Bird Count

Unofficial Observation

I’ve been thinking about joining the Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count  (CBC) every year but never did.  Though I have good intentions, if I’m not sure I can fully commit I would rather not do it.  This year is the 114th of the Christmas Bird Count which is taking place from December 14, 2013 to January 5, 2014.  I envy those who brave the cold and snow to do this bird census.

I decided to do my unofficial Christmas bird observation in the garden today despite the 20 degree temperature.  Below are some of the birds that stop long enough for me to get a shot of them, but there were more of the camera shy (Northern Flicker, Carolina Wren) that stayed away until I came back in the house.  There were also the usual Northern Cardinal, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, Chickadee that aren’t bothered by my presence.  I spent just 30 minutes behind the camera each time in the garden, my fingers were numb despite having a hat, a jacket and insulated gloves on.   That’s why I envy those who commit to do the CBC.  Here’s my very short, unofficial Christmas Bird observation in the garden:

Male Downy Woodpecker
Male Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) is very common in our garden and they stay with us year round.  Once in a while we would see a Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), a larger relative of the Downy.  I haven’t seen any of them this year.

American Tree Sparrow
American Tree Sparrow

Identifying a sparrow is always fun since there are many types of sparrows around and they look similar.  This American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea) is a winter visitor from the North.  The easy way to identify this one is a pronounced dark spot on the plain grey breast.

Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) has plenty of dark brown streaks on the breast and a dark spot in the middle of the breast.  I mistake them for Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca) many times when I try to identify sparrows.  I’ve since learned that the Fox Sparrow is a little larger and their color is more of a rusted brown.  I saw two or three Fox Sparrows in early fall but haven’t seen them since.

White-throated Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) are also common in our garden.  They are easy to identify because of the white patch under the chin.

White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch

I think the White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) is a very cool bird.  They routinely eat upside down and can do a very fast walk up and down a tree trunk.  There are about five or six of them that regularly come to the seed and suet feeders.

Male House Finch
Male House Finch
Dark-eyed Junco
Dark-eyed Junco

We have plenty of Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) as well but we don’t see them much in summer when food is plentiful in the woodland nearby.  When it’s very cold out, they puff their feathers up and make themselves look like a black and white ball.

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) are our garden’s permanent residents and plenty of them too.  I have difficulty identify male and female in winter since the males shed their canary yellow and black cap starting in early fall.

Cooper's Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk

A Cooper’s Hawk landed on one of the birdhouses but quickly took off when he saw me adjust the lens.  I think he’s looking for his flying Christmas gifts.

These are birds that enjoy winter in our garden.  We are still waiting for the Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus) and Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) to come down from the tundra for a visit .  We hadn’t seen many of them last year but they usually flock down every two or three years.  Hopefully, we will see more of them this year.

Cooper’s Hawk

Population Control Officer At Work

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…

Enjoying his breakfast, seemed to be a Dark-eyed Junco
Enjoying his breakfast, seemed to be a Dark-eyed Junco
Resting after meal
Resting after meal
Looking around for the next one
Looking around for the next one

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.