Just when you thought it was safe….

… Mother Nature’s blast of white let us know who was in charge this morning.

snow

It’s a fairly deep snow but with rising temperatures it should melt quickly. I filled the bird feeders last night and threw out some feed this morning for the ground feeders. The seeds and berries and nuts quickly disappeared deep into the fluff. That’s no problem for the ground feeding juncos, the most numerous of the birds visiting us this winter.

These medium-sized sparrows fly in a flock to feed. They land together and they hop, fly, scratch, dig, and flit in and out of shrubbery. Although they move quickly, one or two have become meals for the neighborhood’s ever-observant Cooper’s hawk. We simply find the telltale pile of grey and white feathers on the ground.

junco

junco

Junco.

The juncos dig for seeds and toss snow, fuss constantly among themselves, and jockey for dominance. Although they primarily dine on our shelled sunflower seed on the ground, they don’t hesitate to feed from any of the feeders…. loving the bluebird’s mealworms, the tube feeders, and the suet cake.

suet

The little juncos are among the most common songbirds at the winter feeders in many areas. In Virginia, they were only winter visitors. However in New Hampshire, we have plenty of preferred coniferous forests with lots of evergreen, so we’re lucky to have them as year-round residents.

 

Dark-eyed Junco

It’s bird migration time and things are happening in our little spit of land. According to Chris Bosak, Birds of New England, Labor Day weekend was a good time to fill the feeders again for the fall and winter birds. So I filled the feeder with hulled black oil sunflower seeds and the welcome mat was officially rolled out for the migratory songbirds.

Due to an invasion of breeding house sparrows this summer, I fed only the insect eaters, the robins, bluebirds, phoebes, and chipping sparrows nibbling on what fell beneath the feeder… no seeds at all, just meal worms.  Those pesky house sparrows turned their noses up at the meal worms and have exited the neighborhood, probably living inside Home Depot or around McDonalds for the winter. We are ready for the next wave!

Our first winter visitors arrived two mornings ago. The white-throated sparrow and their snowbird companions, the dark-eyed junco, are perhaps the best harbinger of winter. They arrived overnight and I spotted the newcomers at dawn cleaning up fallen seeds beneath the feeder.

junco (Junco hyemalis) female with sunflower kernel

Female junco with sunflower kernel

The junco is a fairly nondescript bird, gray above and a white belly. The female is generally paler with a mixture of brown in the plumage. Our flock should number 20 or more by the end of October.

Juncos are among my favorite little birds because they entertain me with their antics all winter. Their scientific name is hyemalis, Latin for ‘winter,’ an appropriate name for no snowstorm, blizzard, or arctic day can keep them away.  Their feisty interactions competing for seed under the feeder (and on the feeder) make me smile. They run, they hop, they flit, and they scratch as they battle each other for seed on the frozen ground or snow. Look for them to appear beneath your feeder around here very soon.

Harsh Winter? Help the Birds…

The winter months can be a difficult time for birds when the weather is extremely cold and icy or the ground is snow-covered and food is scarce.  Yes, life can be tough for birds with insects gone, water frozen, and shelter difficult to find. This is a good time to supplement nature’s food supply with high calorie foods to help our feathered friends.  Oil sunflower seeds provide the best all around food source for the vast majority of birds. The outer shell is thinner than the striped sunflower shell and the kernel inside is larger than the striped-sunflower seed kernel. Another option is the shelled sunflower kernels, a favorite of numbers of birds. Suet is one of the best high calorie winter foods to tempt a number of birds from woodpeckers to chickadees. And finally, in one feeder, I cater to our three species of nuthatches, titmice, the woodpeckers, Carolina wrens, bluebirds and the occasional brown creeper that prefer this high protein mix.

Eastern bluebird (S. sialis)

We hang several large capacity tubular feeders suspended from high branches, provide a platform feeder, two domed bluebird feeders, a suet feeder and supply a sprinkling of feed over the ground for juncos, doves, finches, sparrows, pine siskins. Water is furnished by using a heating element for the pond that provides a hole in the ice.

According to Audubon, studies show that it’s a myth that feeding birds makes them dependent on feeders. It’s believed that perhaps only a quarter of a bird’s diet comes from feeders except in the harshest of weather conditions. The notion that feeding birds keeps them from migrating has also been debunked. According to Audubon, bird migration is triggered by changes in the length of the day, not the availability of food. Any bird that lingers past migration is either ill, injured or lacks the ability to migrate.

But feeding birds with seeds is only part of the picture. Improving landscape habitat is the most important part of inviting birds to your garden. Garden with berries in mind, evergreens for shelter from the winter weather, and a variety of nesting sites for spring and summer. Feeding the birds is a delightful and entertaining activity, bringing them up close and personal, enriching our lives and teaching us about more about the lives of these amazing garden friends.

Enjoy the photos in this post taken by our son who is home from college for the holiday.

Carolina chickadee (P. carolinensis) cracks open a sunflower seed

 

Dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) is a ground feeder

 

Female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

 

White-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)

 

Male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

 

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester