Tag Archives: Downy Woodpecker

A Brutally Cold Week

Lending A Hand To Avian Friends

We have been hit by a brutally cold winter since Christmas that has become much worse in the last couple of days.  Yesterday and today the temperature hovering in the single digits, Fahrenheit, during the day and dropping down below 0°F at night.  This number does not take windchill into account which would drop it into negative double digits.  This extreme cold temperature, common for those who live in a much colder climate, is a concern for us in the mid-Northeastern part of the US.  Even the local birds have retreated.

Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) tucked in under the patio roof, away from high wind

We had a blizzard three days ago which dumped 5 inches of snow in our area.  Reservoirs around here iced over thick enough to make ice fishing a common site again.  At times like this we put up more bird boxes, lined with fluffy cotton at the bottom, so our avian friends can have a place to roost away from high winds and frigid temperatures.  We also put more feeders up along our patio and make sure that there is clean water in the heated birdbaths.

One of the heated birdbaths being hoarded by a flock of Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura). Not just drinking from it, they stay on the stones and around the rim to keep warm.  After a while we have to chase them off so other birds can have access too

As far as I know Downy woodpeckers and the bullying House sparrows roost in the boxes.  This winter, however, a few Bluebirds have been roosting in one of the boxes- the box that they may have been born in.  It’s very convenient for them to just look out of the box to see if we have put the feeders back up in the morning before they come out.

They enjoying our hospitality and we enjoy watching them in the comfort of our home.  All photos were taken through the patio door; it’s blow 10°F outside.

Four  Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) (4 on the feeder, 2 hidden behind) on their favorite feeder, one waits its turn below
A male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) cracking seeds in the snow
A male Downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) shares a feeder with a female House finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) waiting his turn
A pair of Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) share a feeder, female on the left, male on the right
Even a ground feeder like the Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) left, learn to get on the feeder.
A pair of Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) share a feeder with a Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

These are just some of the birds that frequent our feeders in winter.  Most are welcome even the ones that come in a flock like the House finch and Pine siskin but bullies like House sparrows and European Starlings we chase off.  In spring and summer, the table is turned and they pay us back when they serenade us from dawn to dusk and patrol our garden for insects.  Symbiosis indeed!

 

A Brutally Cold Winter

And A Busy Yard

Winter hit us very hard this year.  We already have more than two feet of snow on the ground and, as I’m writing this blog, it’s snowing outside.  The temperature has also dropped down below zero for a couple of nights and hanging below 20ºF most days.  As much as it is harsh for us, it’s much more difficult for our winged friends.  We depend on them to handle garden pest control and they have been doing a great job.  It’s only fair for us to provide some comfort for them when food and fresh water is hard to find.

Since we provide food, water and roosting places, when the winter gets really bad our yard gets very busy.  This year is even busier since the Pine Siskin are here.  They would come around once every few years when their food is hard to find in the sub-arctic boreal area.  There are so many of them that we have to fill the main feeders in the garden three times a week in order to keep up with their appetite.

We leave the feeders in the garden but remove the ones on the patio every evening so as not to draw in skunks and raccoons.   Every morning I see the birds line up on the fence waiting for us to put the feeders back.  It’s a wonderful sight.

A male American Goldfinch
A male American Goldfinch

I wonder if this male American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) knows something that I don’t.  He’s starting to molt and getting his black patch on the head back.  The male Finch shed their winter down when spring comes and turn bright canary yellow in summer.  Several of the finches have developed some bright color and black head patches now.  Either they are fooled by the temperature swing or spring is just around the corner.

Shared feeder
Shared feeder

Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus), American Goldfinch, Eastern Bluebird and Black-capped chickadee sharing a feeder.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) are not just feeding, they also pack seeds and hide them
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) are not just feeding, they also pack seeds and hide them
Puffed up Dark-eyed Junco
Puffed up Dark-eyed Junco
Male Downy woodpecker
Male Downy woodpecker
Pileated woodpecker
Pileated woodpecker

We have plenty of Downy woodpeckers (Picoides pubesceus) and they are not as wary of us as the other woodpeckers.  The Red-bellied and Northern flicker woodpecker are very camera shy.  The Pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) have never come to the feeder.  The one above was pecking on the maple tree in the front yard.

Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Bluebird

These five Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) were waiting for their turn at the feeder.  We see them more and more in winter.  We assume that either we have plenty of food and shelter to offer or they were born here and feel comfortable being in the yard instead of migrating south.  By religiously monitoring the nest boxes, we managed to raise one to two broods every year.

Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus) are back this year, plenty of them
Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus) are back this year, plenty of them
Female Northern cardinal
Female Northern cardinal
Male Northern cardinal
Male Northern cardinal

Nothing wrong with this male Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).  It was so cold that he alternately tucked one foot in while feeding.  Many of the birds either do this or just sit on both legs to keep them warm like the Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) below.

Song sparrow
Song sparrow
House finch, Pine siskin, Black-capped chickadee
House finch, Pine siskin, Black-capped chickadee

House finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) waiting his turn while a Pine siskin defends his space from a landing Chickadee.

Some photos are not much in focus since they were taken through two panes of glass.  Sitting in the blind wasn’t an option when the temperature was below 20ºF.

 

 

 

 

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.