House Bound

And Enjoying Bird Watching

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.

A pair of Cardinal and a House finch waiting their turn in snow
A pair of Northern Cardinals and a House Finch await their turn for the feeders in snow
Female Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal puffs her feathers up against the cold
Bright red male Cardinal
Bright red male Northern Cardinal looks like an ornament in the snow.  We have plenty of them in the garden as many of them were born right here.
American Tree Sparrow
A little puff ball- American Tree Sparrow-also came for the seeds
Female Bluebird
A female Eastern Bluebird enjoying warmth from the heated birdbath.  We have a flock of five bluebirds that stayed with us this winter.
Downey Woodpecker
Plenty of Downey Woodpeckers year round and they no longer seem to care when we are close by.
House Finch
House Finch also flocking around throughout the year
Dark-eyed Junco
Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco visit us only in winter and leave for their boreal home by early spring
Junco
Female and young Dark-eyed Junco have more brown color on them
American Goldfinch stay with us throughout the year. The male only change his summer bright yellow coat to a much duller brown in winter. We take a hint that spring is coming when they start to drop the brown feathers.
American Goldfinch stay with us throughout the year. The male only changes his summer bright yellow coat for a much duller brown in winter. We take it as a hint that spring is coming when they start to drop the brown feathers.
Chickadee
Here is our most friendly resident- Black-capped Chickadee
Song Sparrow
Member of the Avian Chorus- Song Sparrow-as the name suggested, sing one of the sweetest songs during spring and summer
White-throated Sparrow
We have a variety of sparrows, this White-throated Sparrow is also a good singer
Titmouse
This Tufted Titmouse has been checking the weaved birdhouse our friend gave us a few times during the day.  I wonder if he roosts in there at night.
Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker is twice the size of the Downey Woodpecker and seldom come to the feeders.  This winter we have a pair that frequents one of the suets daily.
Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch tend to eat upside down most of the time
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch– a smaller cousin of the White-breasted Nuthatch seldom comes to the feeder.  They usually make a fast dash to the feeder, but won’t stay on it like its cousin.

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.

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.

Birds And Water

Crucial For A Harsh Winter

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.

Chickadee and Titmouse
Chickadee and Titmouse

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.

Male Northern Cardinal
Male Northern Cardinal
Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Titmouse
Titmouse
White-throated Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow

 

Taking Refuge From the Snow Storm

And Frigid Cold

We got hit by snow storm Hercules last night to midmorning today.  The snow itself accounted for little accumulation, only  six inches or so, but the frigid wind was another story.    The temperature is around 3ºF now but the strong wind makes it much colder.  I’m really concerned for our honey bees, that they may not survive this winter.  I left the snow covering the entrances the way it is, at least for overnight, to cut down the wind and frigid cold blowing through the hive.

In this harsh weather we make sure that the bird feeders never go empty, and the heated birdbath is filled.  We depend on wild birds to do insect control in our garden and with the advent of harsh weather their well being depends to some degree on us.  We also enjoy their chirping and their dancing in the snow.  The dancing is actually the way they alternately tug one foot under their feathers to keep it warm in between hopping around for seeds.

I was snowed in for the most part this morning.  With coffee in hand, I parked myself right by the patio door and watched the activity outside.  A never ending stream of birds came by for food and water.  Some of them took refuge in between the joists under the patio roof, but most of them came in for food and warm water.  I was surprised to see two Eastern Bluebirds checking birdhouses.  Maybe they sense that tonight’s temperature is predicted to go down below zero.

The photos here were taken through the patio door.  I like to keep my fingers intact.  I have difficulty operating a camera with gloves on and no gloves while outside today wasn’t an option.

A male Red-bellied Woodpecker came by and stayed for a while
A male Red-bellied Woodpecker came by and stayed for a while
A male Northern Cardinal and a White-throated Sparrow enjoy a margarita together
A male Northern Cardinal and a White-throated Sparrow enjoy a margarita together
Tufted titmouse at one of the feeders
Tufted titmouse at one of the feeders
A White-throated Sparrow taking refuge in an Autumn Sweet clematis
A White-throated Sparrow taking refuge in an Autumn Sweet clematis
Carolina Wren also puffed his feathers up into a little ball against the cold wind
Carolina Wren also puffed his feathers up into a little ball against the cold wind

Truce Among Birds

Making Peace For Their Survival

After we finished preparing our beehives for the winter, putting a cold frame over the winter vegetable plot and cleaning up most of the leaves it’s time to focus on our avian pals.  We don’t feed them in summer because we don’t want them to depend on us completely for their survival and we want them to have some incentive for pest control in the garden.  But when insects die out or hibernate underground and flower seeds and fruits wane, it’s time for us to return the favor.  It’s only fair.  We’ve been carrying on a symbiotic relationship since I started gardening.

Late autumn and winter is also the time the birds make a truce with one another for their own survival.  The territorial line is diminished, no need to defend a non-existence.  No female to impress, no kids to protect…they only need food, water, shelter and to avoid becoming food themselves.

Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals
Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals

Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) will steal other birds eggs or chicks during breeding season so other birds never let them get close.  Still, small birds depend on Blue Jays to give them warning when there is a hawk around.  Blue Jays sometimes even gang up on a hawk.  But at this time of year smaller birds seem to welcome the company of Blue Jays.

 Four Northern Cardinals wait their turn for the feeder
Four Northern Cardinals wait their turn for the feeder

Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), especially the males, are very territorial during mating season.  I’ve seen them chase one another in the garden far too many times.  In winter, however, both males and females stay together in a flock.  One year, our Forsythia bush lit up with twelve male Cardinals looking like Christmas ornaments in the snow.  Three females and one male, above, were waiting for their turn at the feeder.

A Blue Jay puffs up against the wind
A Blue Jay puffs up against the wind
A Tufted Titmouse enjoying probably the only bird hot spa in the neighborhood (electrically heated)
A Tufted Titmouse enjoying probably the only bird hot spa in the neighborhood (electrically heated)

View more backyard bird images at photo blog Amazing Seasons

Birds of Winter

When Nothing Blooms Outside

Winter.  I have a love-hate relationship with winter.  I love winter best when it’s snowing and its aftermath.  The snow wipes out the sad look of bare branches and turns the world picturesque with dull gray turning to glistening white.  The quietness, since the snow absorbs sound so effectively, renders the world peaceful too.

There is not much I can do in the garden aside from feeding the birds and checking up on the bees.  That’s when I want winter to go away as soon as possible.  In the meantime when there is frozen snow on the ground, marked by deer and rabbits tracks, I spend my time camera-stalking birds coming in for food and water.  Here are some of them…

American Goldfinch in its winter coat.
American Goldfinch in its winter coat.
Carolina Wren waits its turn for the feeder.
Carolina Wren waits its turn for the feeder.
Tufted Titmouse, one of the more friendly and daring residents
Tufted Titmouse, one of the more friendly and daring residents
Chickadees will eat from your hand when you gain their trust.
Chickadees will eat from your hand when you gain their trust.
Fresh clean water will draw the birds in when everything else is frozen.
Fresh clean water will draw the birds in when everything else is frozen.
A female cardinal waits her turn
A female cardinal waits her turn