As much as Mother Nature doesn’t want to let go of winter weather, birds in our garden don’t want any part of it. Their songs are much louder now and they chase each other around in the garden a lot more too. There are a couple of things indicating spring has arrived: American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) are molting and the arrival of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor).
American Goldfinches are gregarious birds. They flock together and never stop chirping. Sometimes we have 20 or 30 of them crowding around the feeders. A male Goldfinch has very bright yellow feathers with black and white stripes on the wings in summer but he’ll molt to a greenish brown in winter. He’ll put on his brown winter coat in autumn. Many of them have that ‘rolled in the soot’ look now.
Many birds like the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) and the House Finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) have already paired up. The Northern Cardinals are still chasing one another around, claiming territory and mates.
We heard and saw Tree swallows that flew back from the Carolinas and only to be hit by snow the next day. They haven’t come down to check on the nest boxes yet. Hopefully they nest early enough and will not to be chased out of their usual nest box by the Bluebirds.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.