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.
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 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 (Turdusmigratorius) 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.
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:
Still more to come, some migrating birds have not yet arrived.
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.
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.
Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus), American Goldfinch, Eastern Bluebird and Black-capped chickadee sharing a feeder.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I spent most of New Year’s Day watching birds in our garden. It was cold outside so I mostly just watched them through the glass of the patio door. I took the camera out for only half an hour at a time, until I felt numbness creeping into my fingers and toes. Since there wasn’t any snow on the ground, though it was very cold, birds were still able to find food naturally. So there were no new critters on the feeders. But what was interesting to me was their behavior at the birdbath.
We provide water for the birds year round but cut it down to two or three heated birdbaths during winter. It’s a bit difficult to draw an electric cord far from the house and monitor the bath too. Water dissipates much faster in heated birdbaths because of evaporation and the frequent use by birds. Letting it dry up while the heater is running is not an option.
Providing fresh water for birds in winter, when an unfrozen surface is hard for them to find, does not just benefit the birds. I enjoy watching them gathering around the rim either to drink the water or just for warmth. When there is a lot of snow on the ground or when it’s really cold, I would see birds that do not usually come to the birdbaths as well… woodpeckers, crows. Even the squirrels love it.
This birdbath is a little too deep for small birds so I put a stone in there to provide a shallow area so that they can bathe. They do seem to like it. Most of the smaller birds often land on the stone instead of the rim. In summer the bees also like to land on it when they drink water.
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:
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.
Identifying a sparrow is always fun since there are many types of sparrows around and they look similar. This American Tree Sparrow (Spizellaarborea) 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 (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 Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) are also common in our garden. They are easy to identify because of the white patch under the chin.
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.
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 (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.
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.
I checked on our vegetable garden early last week and was happy to see the garlic I put in last October came up. The Daffodils and tulips have also pushed themselves above the soil. But Mother Nature doesn’t seem to give up on winter just yet, she dumped a whole load of snow on us again last Friday. The storm ‘Saturn’, with just a winter storm advisory, has dropped around 10 inches of snow over night. The vegetables and flowers, were fooled by a few days of warm daytime temperature, have disappeared under the snow again.
Our avian friends who have started to claim territory and housing were force to make a truce between them. Yes, they will have to eat together at a few feeders we put up for them in winter since snow has covered everything else. With snow still falling, they patiently wait their turn at the feeders. Here are some of them….