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.
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:
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.
I have a hard time differentiating a male House Finch (Carpodacusmexicanus) 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.
I’m surprised to see this female Northern Cardinal (Cardinaliscardinalis) on the suet feeder. Most Cardinals prefer a tray feeder or a feeder with a horizontal bar that they can hop on.
It’s always fun to watch a White-breasted Nuthatch (Sittacarolinensis) walking up and down a tree trunk or a post or eating upside down.
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.
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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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…