Angry Birds?

It was frigid yesterday and we always take extra care of the birds in severe weather. Fresh suet, heated bird bath, filled feeders, and sunflower seed scattered to attract the ground feeding birds. Who came to dinner? Our neighborhood rafter of turkeys!

I don’t dare intrude when our 18-20 hungry turkeys arrive. The gobblers can be a trifle aggressive and I sure don’t want to ruffle their feathers so I videoed a few of them from the window. The dominant Toms had slim pickings as they kept watch on the fringes allowing the rest access to the sunflower seeds that I scattered for much smaller birds on this icy morning.

I’m becoming rather attached…

Love is in the air

Spring is upon us and suddenly the woods are alive with avian romance. White-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos that have kept us company throughout the winter have have migrated north and we welcome back songbirds that spend half their lives elsewhere. Seeds and suet, rich in protein, were ready for their arrival to provide the energy they need.

Two mated pairs of rose-breasted grosbeaks recently arrived from their winter in Panama and northern South America and are being well-fed at separate feeders.

Two male ruby-throated hummingbirds arrived a week ago and each claimed a different feeder as his own. They fuss across the branches but no fights yet… and, sigh, no lady loves either. It may take a week or two before the females arrive. Instead of hovering and guarding their food, they spend time staking out the best territory for breeding and sit high in the treetops as if scouting for the arrival of the first female. Then the fights may begin.

One male is very approachable and will hover inches from me each time I drag out the hose to water the baby grass or fill the birdbath. All he wants is a nice mist shower. I follow him to a branch where he flaps his wings and washes every feather for at least 5 minutes.

Male Ruby Throated HummingbirdOne of my favorite bird species, the gray catbird, is now frequenting the feeding area, flitting here and there, in a shrub, on a limb, running across the ground, on the suet, and then the feeder. The pair is vocal, mewing and repeating the calls of a number of other birds, as they forage for insects and enjoy sunflower seeds. I added a ground water bath that they especially love.

gray catbird in the ground bathFour varieties of woodpeckers, all paired off, visit the suet along with pairs of nuthatches, titmouse, bluejays, and chickadees.

Whether watching plump mourning doves, two by two, pad quietly beneath the feeders looking for spilled seeds or the sweet affection of a male cardinal feeding his mate, we both agree that birdwatching is an amazing experience in the spring.

 

Ice Storm

During the sleet and freezing rain this morning we could see the shadow of a bird hunkered down in the bird feeder that, like everything else outdoors, was decorated with glistening icicles. It couldn’t have been a pleasant morning for anyone but we were curious to know who seemed to find permanent refuge in the feeder.

ice on feederSoon, up popped a head. It was an American Goldfinch. He was hunkered down eating and staying dry in the shelter of the feeder.

finchWhen he saw me at the window with my camera, he hopped to the side. But he didn’t leave. Soon the lure of food and shelter outweighed the fear of me watching him and he returned to his safe harbor snug in the sunflower seeds.

goldfinchThe American Goldfinch can remain in New Hampshire for the winter if there is a food supply. Not to worry, little fella. You came to the right yard.

A Foxy Visitor

A plump Red Fox Sparrow (P. i. iliaca ) is visiting the ground beneath the bird feeder this week. It’s a bird that we rarely saw at our Tidewater Virginia home so I was pleased to welcome it to New Hampshire, providing a little sunflower seed as it refueled on its way to Alaska and Northern Canada’s breeding grounds.

Red Fox SparrowThere are 4 major groups of these large Fox Sparrows across the country with some interbreeding where groups meet but the Red is the one found in the east.

These rusty-colored sparrows are fun to watch. They generally choose to feed on the ground near cover. To watch them forage for food is to think of how a chicken forages. They jump forward, scratching and kicking up leaves behind them with both feet.

I’m sure this one will be off on his journey north in another day or so and I’m quite happy to be a refueling station.

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