Snow is still on the ground, a residue of the snowfall a few days ago. It’s very peaceful watching snow falling and the quietness afterward as the snow absorbs sound pretty well. Though it was too cold to go outside, a joyful moment was still there.
We hang bird feeders along the patio roof during winter which makes it much easier for us to refill them and we can bird watch when circumstance stops us from doing anything else. It’s also easier for us to patrol and protect the feeders from European Starlings and House Sparrows. The down side is we have to sweep bird droppings and whatever else they’ve dropped off the ground underneath. In spring, after we move the feeders back to the garden, we use soap and water to clean the remaining effluent off the fence. But it’s worth the effort. We can observe our avian friends closely and they can also take shelter in the woodpile under the roof from predators too large to squeeze in.
These are some of what we enjoyed a few days ago.
There are others that are more elusive like the Carolina wren, the Pileated Woodpecker and the Northern Flicker. Clearly not wanting the publicity with being caught on camera.
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:
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.
I have a hard time differentiating a male House Finch (Carpodacusmexicanus) 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.
I’m surprised to see this female Northern Cardinal (Cardinaliscardinalis) on the suet feeder. Most Cardinals prefer a tray feeder or a feeder with a horizontal bar that they can hop on.
It’s always fun to watch a White-breasted Nuthatch (Sittacarolinensis) walking up and down a tree trunk or a post or eating upside down.
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.
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 always love that period right after a rain or heavy storm, provided I don’t have to vacuum water out from our basement. The sky is clear and the air is clean; I can smell the freshness in it. It’s a very distinctive scent of life renewed. Plants shake off the shower that washed away dust and dirt from their leaves. Birds come out chirping and looking for food. Mother Nature has a way of cleaning her house; as much of a mess as we might have made, as fierce as she can be. She will also show us both her beauty and her kindness afterward.
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.