Tuesday was a beautiful day with a day time high temperature of nearly 70 degrees. It was pretty windy that day and I watched as several aged leaves finally let loose and spiraled downward to settle in the dull winter grass. I had awakened early that morning, long before dawn arrived. The bird feeders were replenished and fresh peanuts were put out for the local blue jays. With that done, I sat in my chair on the front porch, sipping on what was probably my fourth cup of coffee by then.
As I glanced across the cloudy sky over me, I noticed a flock of birds had gathered atop one of the bare trees across the lawn. Of course, it's not unusual to see scores of birds gathered in tree tops around here. However, this group of birds caught my attention because something about them was different...
My intense curiosity led me to zoom in on them with my 300 mm telephoto lens, but still I couldn't get a clear enough view of the birds to satisfy my inquiring mind. From a distance, they appeared larger than a group of Cardinals and their chest plumage appeared to be a beige to tan color. I could see enough of their plumage to know they weren't Blue Jays. So what kind of birds are these? I wondered. I cropped and lightened the underexposed image (above), but still couldn't identify this group of feathered unknowns. However, my curiosity became temporarily displaced while I reluctantly tried to complete some household chores.
It was hard for me to concentrate on doing housework because the beautiful outdoors beckoned me to come... Enjoy this gorgeous weather. Sit on the front porch. Watch life. You can do your chores after dark, while the earth sleeps.
Sometimes it's a battle between what we want to do and what we know we must do, isn't it? We try to compromise...to somehow balance it all and settle somewhere in the middle. I completed the laundry, swept and mopped, vacuumed, washed dishes, cleaned kitchen counters and cleaned living room windows inside and out. I gave Rollo a bath and balanced my checkbook. With all that done, I spent the late afternoon outdoors.
As I strolled down the gravel drive with my camera on ready, I noticed some movement in the trees and saw a few Robins fly away. I expected to see more Robins as I eased closer to the edge of our tree line. Instead, I saw these birds...
These beautiful birds...several of them. They were Eye Candy...to a wild bird lover like me ;))) Ohhhhh!!! I had to get some close up shots of them. I eased a little closer and slowly raised my camera to focus on them...and captured one photo. The click of my shutter release startled them. In a flash, they were gone. Darn!!! I managed to get one more photo when a couple of them settled in a nearby pine tree.
I didn't recall seeing this species of birds...ever. Or maybe, I just hadn't paid as much attention to them before. I was anxious to learn more about them so I did some research...
I discovered these birds are known as Cedar Waxwings. They are so named because of their fondness for cedar berries and the waxy red tips on their wing feathers. These birds breed from central Canada through the northern United States, but in winter, flocks can descend on fruit and berry trees almost anywhere from the US/Canada border south through Mexico. A flock can strip the fruit from a holly or cedar tree in an amazingly short time and they rarely hang around one area for more than a day or two. I know this to be true because when I returned to the same spot the next day, most all of the berries were gone...not only from that particular tree, but several berry producing trees along our fence line. I could not believe my eyes- all those berries, gone so quickly! Apparently, the birds consumed all the goods then left town.
After reading more about them, I now know that Cedar Waxwings swallow the berries whole, one at a time. Furthermore, they occasionally get into trouble when they consume fruits that have fermented on the vine. They literally become drunk and, disoriented by the alcoholic content, will fly irregularly and sometimes fall victims to cars, glass windows, and predators. According to one witness, a group of nine Cedar Waxwings flew into an office window and all but two of them died. That's sad, but weird- drunk birds? Flying drunk birds? I never imagined that.
The photo directly above is from Wikipedia. Isn't this a gorgeous bird? His colors, so rich and smooth. His beautiful face mask. I hope to see more of these birds in the future. I'll be watching for them....
It seems our front yard birds are becoming just a little more comfortable while I'm hanging out in their space. They continue to watch me from the nearby trees or across the lawn, but when I'm very still for a little while they'll get closer and closer...until they're within only a few feet from me and my camera.
I've learned to distinguish some of the cardinals from each other from their individual size and plumage colors. Charlie has teasingly asked me if I've named them yet...No, not yet. I'm working on that. :)))
While observing the Cardinals, it becomes obvious the males dominate the females. Even with a spread of seeds several feet long, the males will dive in on the feeding females and force them to move. From my observations, it seems the male Cardinals intimidate their females more than they intimidate birds of other species. On the other hand, the female Cardinals habitually bully the smaller birds around, such as the Goldfinches and Sparrows. They sometimes remind me of our own human behavior.
Mention the word "woodpecker" and my mind instantly replays short memories of a certain little television character- Woody the Woodpecker. Woody was a popular cartoon series in the 1950's and 1960's and I can still remember watching him and his funny friends on our black and white television set. I remember the time that my Daddy Charles helped me order a plastic Woody figurine using a cut out cardboard form from a cereal box. Daddy Charles and Uncle Shelby pitched in to help pay for the shipping...seems like it was only 25 cents. A quarter went a long way in those days.
Now, a certain little woodpecker comes to visit us nearly every day. I've observed her several mornings while sitting on the back porch or from my bedroom window. She is often seen in our back yard first, where she pecks on the tree limbs or the wooden light pole. Minutes later, she is in the front yard where she makes rounds between the wooden walkway rails to a certain tree near the walkway. She usually pecks at the same hole on the tree, day after day. I recorded her briefly a few days ago while she made the routine rounds. I was trying to figure out if she was trying to hide bird seeds in the tree trunk or using the tree trunk to break the seeds into smaller pieces. She pecked away busily for several minutes before flying off.
This little feathered friend of mine is a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. I know she's a she because of the color patterns on her head. Males have a red cap that covers the entire top of their heads whereas the female's cap only covers a portion of it and the rest is filled with gray. Isn't she beautiful? My photos are a little blurry because I was taking them from inside my bedroom window where I can easily observe her.
Here's a short video I captured of her from my bedroom window:
I watched this great video of a family of Red-Bellied Woodpeckers-
the narrator, Samuel Kulp, did a wonderful job of documenting the bird family while giving interesting information on this species of woodpeckers.
I would love to have a woodpecker family so close...
with luck our little female might just find a partner right here in our own front yard...
I've been expecting to see the return of the Robins soon, and they were right on time. Each year, about mid to late February, flocks of them are seen on lawns and forest edges throughout the South. Most are on their return journey to the North for Spring breeding. Although they're year round residents of the United States, Robins spend most of the winter months near the coastal areas or in dense forests where winter berries are abundant. I usually don't see them until late winter and then it seems they're here for just a short while.
The Robins kept their distance as I tried to get closer to them. The above photos have been heavily cropped for a better view of their rusty orange colored breasts, white underparts and dark gray heads. I watched them for a little while as they foraged the front lawn.
Through online reading, I've learned that Robin roosts can be huge, sometimes including a quarter-million birds during winter...wow! However, mortality rates are very high among this species. It's estimated that the entire population of American Robins turns over on average every 6 years. On average, only 40 percent of nests successfully produce young. Only 25 percent of those fledged young survive to November. From that point on, about half of the robins alive in any year will make it to the next.
Additionally, I've learned that when foraging on the ground, the American Robin runs a few steps, then stops abruptly. In long grass, robins may hop or fly just above the ground powered by slow, powerful wing beats. American Robins often find worms by staring, motionless, at the ground with the head cocked to one side. Robins sometimes fight over worms that others have caught. During fall and winter robins often roost in large flocks and spend much more time in trees. In spring, males attract females by singing, raising and spreading their tails, shaking their wings and inflating their white-striped throats. When pairs are forming in spring, you may see a display in which a male and female approach each other holding their bills wide open and touching them.
Video of American Robin singing/foraging/collecting nest materials:
One day I noticed an odd looking black bird mixing with other birds at the feeders. Taking a closer look, I noticed the black bird had a bluish tint all over except for his head, which was brown. Soon after, a plain brown bird was next to him, looking for seed. I was unfamiliar with these type of birds and decided I would do some research on them later.
The following day, there were at least half a dozen of these birds at the feeders. The next day, there were a couple dozen at the feeders, and they barely allowed enough room or food for the smaller birds. After some research, I learned these birds are Brown-Headed Cowbirds, also known as parasitic birds. In other words, the Brown-headed Cowbird is North America’s most common “brood parasite.” A female cowbird makes no nest of her own, but instead lays her eggs in the nests of other bird species, who then raise the young cowbirds. Cowbirds are not monogamous. Studies show that males and females have several different mates within a single season. Some birds can recognize cowbird eggs but are too small to get the eggs out of their nests. Instead, they build a new nest over the top of the old one and hope cowbirds don’t come back. Some larger species puncture or grab cowbird eggs and throw them out of the nest. But the majority of hosts don’t recognize cowbird eggs at all. Cowbird eggs hatch faster than other species eggs, giving cowbird nestlings a head start in getting food from the parents. Young cowbirds also develop at a faster pace than their nest mates, and they sometimes toss out eggs and young nestlings or smother them in the bottom of the nest. In winter, Brown-Headed Cowbirds may join huge roosts with several blackbird species. One such mixed roost in Kentucky contained more than five million birds. (Information from www.allaboutbirds.org)
Certainly I would rather not have these pesky birds around, but I haven't figured out yet how to provide food for the other birds without inviting cowbirds. Ryan's solution- "you want me to shoot em for ya?"...Ummmm, no Ryan, that won't be necessary but thank you for offering some assistance. I'm going to observe the bird activity in our front yard a few more days and see if further steps are necessary. Hopefully they will find an easy food source somewhere else.
The mostly brown birds in the photos are female cowbirds. Male Brown-Headed Cowbirds have glossy black plumage and a rich brown head that often looks black in poor lighting or at distance. Female Brown-Headed Cowbirds are plain brown birds, lightest on the head and underparts, with fine streaking on the belly and a dark eye.
Brown-Headed Cowbirds feed on the ground in mixed-species groups of blackbirds and starlings. Males gather on lawns to strut and display for mates. Females prowl woodlands and edges in search of nests. Brown-Headed Cowbirds are noisy, making a multitude of clicks, whistles and chatter-like calls in addition to a flowing, gurgling song.
Video of female cowbird captured from my bedroom window:
In the past, I haven't paid much attention to blackbirds. Recently, however, I've acquired an interest in all of our local birds. A sudden flash of color grabbed my attention and I focused in on this blackbird. I later did some research and discovered that he is a Red-winged blackbird, common to our state.
The male Red-winged blackbird is hard to mistake. Look for red and yellow shoulder badges upon an even, glossy black body. On the other hand, the female of this species looks nothing like the male- she is dark brown overall with crisp streaks. Though I haven't photographed a female yet, I did capture only one decent image of a male...because it is winter, his red shoulder badge is barely visible. During breeding season, his shoulder badges are prominent and colorful.
According to articles I've read, the Red-winged Blackbird is a highly polygynous species, meaning males have many female mates – up to 15 in some cases. In some populations 90 percent of territorial males have more than one female nesting on their territories. But all is not as it seems: one-quarter to one-half of nestlings turn out to have been sired by someone other than the territorial male.
Also, the males fiercely defend their territories during the breeding season, spending more than a quarter of daylight hours in territory defense. He chases other males out of the territory and attacks nest predators, sometimes going after much larger animals, including horses and people. Red-winged Blackbirds roost in flocks in all months of the year. In summer small numbers roost in the wetlands where the birds breed. Winter flocks can be congregations of several million birds, including other blackbird species and starlings. Each morning the roosts spread out, traveling as far as 50 miles to feed, then re-forming at night.
This video shows how male Red-winged Blackbirds appear during breeding season- they look like they could be pretty darn aggressive, especially when they get all puffed up and belch out their loud calls!
I adore the beautiful things of our earthly home. Mountains, forests, lakes, the moon, flowers...and birds. I see them all as gifts. Thank you, God for the wonderful creations you have given us to enjoy!
Just look at the natural beauty of this White-throated Sparrow...
The White-throated Sparrow breeds mostly in Canada but during winter they are known to migrate into the United States. What I find interesting about them is that the White-throated Sparrow comes in two color forms: white-crowned and tan-crowned. The two forms are genetically determined, and they persist because individuals almost always mate with a bird of the opposite morph. Males of both color types prefer females with white stripes, but both kinds of females prefer tan-striped males. White-striped birds are more aggressive than tan-striped ones, and white-striped females may be able to outcompete their tan-striped sisters for tan-striped males.
Too bad they're not that common in my neck of the woods. I had the fortune of watching this one for a little while as he nibbled on a few seeds near my front porch. I was able to capture a few images of him on my digital camera. That was the first, and last, time I've seen this species of Sparrow in my yard. How unfortunate because he is such a beauty! These birds have a pleasant song as well...
I can depend on seeing these little birds every day at our feeders, mostly foraging around on the ground but sometimes picking seeds off the porch rails. They are cute with the characteristic tan or white and black stripes around their eyes, rusty brown caps, short beaks and round bodies. I've read that during summer Chipping Sparrows look clean and crisp, with frosty underparts, pale face, black line through the eye, topped off with a bright rusty crown. During winter, they are subdued, buff brown, with darkly streaked upper parts. The black line through the eye is still visible, and the cap is a warm but more subdued reddish brown.
Chipping Sparrows are one of the first sparrow species to nest during spring. The males loud, trilling songs are one of the most common sounds of spring woodlands and suburbs. I'm expecting to hear their songs soon, as the mating season is just around the corner...
Here what the males "trilling song" sounds like:
Chipping Sparrows typically build their nests low in a shrub or tree, but every once in a while they get creative. People have found their nests among hanging strands of chili peppers, on an old-fashioned mower inside a tool shed, and on a hanging basket filled with moss. The nest of the Chipping Sparrow is of such flimsy construction that light can be seen through it.
Particularly in fall and winter, watch for small flocks of Chipping Sparrows feeding on open ground near trees. In spring and summer, listen for the male’s long, loud trill, then look for the male in the upper branches of a nearby tree.