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!

 

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.

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

Spring Recap On Birds

Residents And Visitors

Spring is the busiest time in our own garden aviary.  We have both resident aerialists that stay with us year round and the ones that travel back and forth from North to South America annually.  Every spring we roll out the red carpet for them, helping them stay strong and nurturing a new generation.  By the end of spring some of them already have a new extended family and are ready to start a second brood.  Most of them are camera shy but some of them have become used to seeing me in the garden all the time…just another big funny looking deer to them.

Male Bluebird with a worm waiting to feed his chicks.
Male Bluebird with a worm waiting to feed his chicks.
Female Bluebird just about to feed her chicks
Female Bluebird just about to feed her chicks

This Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) couple had three chicks.  Yes, I checked.  I patrol the bird houses in the garden to make sure that the House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) haven’t taken them over and to insure the Cowbirds haven’t laid their eggs in one of the nests.  This pair ended up with one surviving chick.  I witnessed one chick becoming a Bluejay (Cyanocitta cristata) lunch.  I have no idea what happened to the other chick so I’m hoping it survived.  They just had another brood, four newly hatched chicks, hopefully more than one will survive.

A Gray Catbird tapping the oranges.
A Gray Catbird tapping the oranges.

The Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) is one of the smartest and friendliest birds in our garden.  They come back every spring and stay until late fall.  We put oranges out as soon as we see the first one show up. They help keep the Japanese beetles under control.  Their first brood, two chicks, have grown up and as far as I know one pair has started a nest in the front Forsythia bush.

Tree Swallow keeps her eyes on me while I was working nearby and stayed put even when I was a couple feet away.
Tree Swallow keeps her eyes on me while I was working nearby and stayed put even when I was a couple feet away.

All the books I have read indicated that Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) produce one brood a year in the Northern US but this pair by the vegetable garden are having a second one.  Maybe because their first brood, three chicks in all, and their nest was destroyed by our neighbor’s cat.  They didn’t give up and rebuilt the nest in the same box.  We put a squirrel guard flange under the nest box this time to prevent the cat from getting to the nest.  I haven’t peeked to see how many eggs they have.  The good news is the Tree Swallow family that nested in the front yard produced five chicks and they have all fledged.

American Robin picking a caterpillar for their young
American Robin picking a caterpillar for their young
With a young chick. Lunch 1st then flying lessons.
With a young chick. Lunch 1st then flying lessons.

When we see the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) in the neighborhood that means spring is coming.  A couple of pairs have nested in our garden each year.  They help a lot by picking grubs off the lawn and gardens.  Their first brood have all grown up now and they’ve already started a second one.

House Wren nest building in late May this year.
House Wren nest building in late May this year.

This House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) was building a nest she ended up nesting in.  They have a habit of building a few dummy houses before they actually pick one.  Five chicks from this nest had flown off.  Two more pairs are singing and building nest in the garden now.

A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovering over one of the feeder
A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovering over one of the feeder

I don’t know where the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) nest but they are repeat annual visitors and we seem to have more of them every year.  It’s fun to watch them doing their courting ritual; flying back and forth sideways like a pendulum- and when they take their dinner at dusk.  Delicate and beautiful little birds that they are.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak munching on a seed
Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak munching on a seed

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus) also stopped by to refuel this spring as usual before flying further north.  They have a very distinctive and lovely song.  I wish they would nest with us instead of just commuting through.

A female Red-bellied woodpecker packing in some orange before taking some for her young
A female Red-bellied woodpecker packing in some orange before taking some for her young

Yes, woodpeckers eats oranges along with a variety of things.  They even eat small lizards upon occasion, though there are no lizards here.  We were surprised to see one eating oranges we had put out a few years ago.  The oranges were intended for the Baltimore Orioles and Gray Catbird but the orioles have never come down for it.  We thought that only one particular Red-bellied was eating them, but more than one stops in regularly when they have active nests in the area.

She packed her beak full of orange and returned to her nest (this photo is a VidCap)
She packed her beak full of orange and returned to her (this photo is a VidCap)

They would eat for a while and at the end they would gather pulp, keep it between their beaks, and fly off, we presume for nesting youngsters.

There are some more avians around the garden this spring.  The common ones like American Goldfinch, House Finch, American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Blue Jay, Red-winged Blackbird, Downey Woodpecker, Chickadee, Titmouse, Northern Cardinal….and with them around we don’t need pesticide.  The down side is we see less butterflies due to caterpillars being invited to lunch, so to speak, but our garden is never without someone serenading somewhere in the premises.

Hurricane (continued)

After Nature Had Her Way

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.

And, hurricane ‘Sandy’ was no different.

Hurricane ‘Sandy’ blowing past
Sky afterward
During sunrise the morning after
American Goldfinch (in their winter coat) and Pine siskin came out to share the feeder
Northern Cardinal (male) perched on top one of the feeders
One of the White-breasted Nuthatch zoomed in and out for seeds
Downey Woodpecker (female) packing in suet
Red-bellied Woodpecker (male) tried to figure how to get the seeds from the feeder.

Pileated Woodpecker

A Magnificent Bird

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 (Colaptes auratus) 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.

On a tree trunk observing me
Paused between pulling off the bark
Inspecting the bottom side of the trunk
A male Red-bellied Woodpecker taking off after grabbing a nut from the feeder
A male Northern Flicker Woodpecker looking for either ants or seeds
Mother Downey waiting patiently for her son to finish eating

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