It's nearly time to call this year done. On to the new!
On Sunday 12-20-20 about 7 a.m., I heard a thump on the roof of the breakfast room, then saw a fluttering of feathers off the gutter. The prey was taken down to the compost area by an Accipiter species. I think this is a male Cooper's Hawk, similar in size to a female Sharp-shinned. The shape of the head, the eye position and larger bill point the i.d. in that direction. It is often a tough call between these species. Cooper's nest in the neighborhood, whereas Sharpies are seasonal visitors. Either one strikes fear into the other birds! The prey looks like a Mourning Dove. No other birds came out in the open for several hours.
The following day was nice, breezy and topped out at 58.6 degrees. It was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. I took advantage of the day and was outside for a while. This Northern Cardinal was rather curious. A flock of 15 Rusty Blackbirds came in to forage in the wetland. At sunset, we went out to find a spot to view and photograph the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. It was fairly clear, pretty breezy, but still around 50 degrees and we felt fortunate to have been able to view it.
Tuesday brought in a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker for the first time in 3 weeks. A Tufted Titmouse splashed and preened on another 50+ degree day.
Change was coming and temperatures began to drop after a high of 62 degrees on 12-23-20. By Christmas Eve, the high was only 23 during the day. We watched birds coming in to feed heavily and drink, all day long. We both saw this Northern Flicker, with an injured or broken leg. How in the world was it able to hold onto the feeder? We both were amazed. 'Tiny Tim' came to mind. This bird's presence seemed to sum up a lot about 2020. It may have been broken, but it was definitely a survivor! It rested after getting some bark butter. Another flicker chased it from that tree and it flew lower. Somehow, it has found the strength to, literally, hang on. Nature inspires us!
The bitter winds continued to blow from the west and then northwest. Thank goodness for extra feathers in winter, it was going to be a cold night. Rusty Blackbirds came in, Pine Siskins were on the feeders and in the garden, chowing down.
Christmas morning arrived with a low of 9.6 degrees. We had not put the de-icer in the bubbler pond yet and there was a lot of ice formation, but the water still flowed underneath. Birds like this Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove and Pine Siskin gathered at the spillway, where they could drink. A Downy Woodpecker used its bill to chip the ice away. An unlikely pair were on the Bubbler rock together, a European Starling and a Blue Jay. Smart birds use their energies wisely in tough conditions.
The female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker returned, puffed up to keep warm, and glowing in the morning sun. An immature male sapsucker was seen later on Christmas Day, sporting new red feathers on its throat and crown.
Our first of the year Northern Mockingbird arrived in the yard on Christmas Day, too. Yes, this species is common, but it likes more open habitat than we have. There are years that it does not make it onto our year list. I had seen one a few days before in the yard next door. So, this bird was #119 for the year and #85 at the Bubbler, giving us a new year record of species. The bird returned and warmed itself near the south facing wall of stone, then drank at the stream bed.
A female Purple Finch was seen on two consecutive days, then a male showed up on 12-28-20 and was seen again briefly the next morning. Purple Finches and Pine Siskins are considered to be irruptive species, coming south when there is less food for them in the northern boreal forest. We may see more as winter progresses. Look for them at your feeders, but don't be fooled by House Finches. Here are a couple comparison photos first. Female House Finch is on the left in the first photo, female Purple Finch on the right with the white eyebrow and well-defined cheek patch. The male Purple Finch is raspberry in color, not red or orangey. It also lacks the stripes on the flanks.
Female and male Purple Finches that have been here lately are shown below.
As we look to the long winter, there may be other irruptive species showing up. One could be Red Crossbills, which visited our yard on 2-20-2013 and 2-21-2013. The upper bill crosses over the lower bill, and they have distinctive coloring. Females are greenish. There is also a White-winged Crossbill species that could come in.
Another possibility is the Common Redpoll. This is also an irruptive finch, similar in size to the Pine Siskin, but with a yellow bill and a red cap. This female showed up on 12-29-2008 and was seen a couple other days.
The real prize that we yard-birders are waiting for is the Evening Grosbeak, which has been showing up in Missouri this winter for the first time in 20 years. It is a species of conservation concern. It's large, beautiful and eats lots of black oil sunflower seeds! So, make that available and you just may help these colorful birds get through the winter.
To read more about the irruptive species: Winter Finch Forecast 2020-2021
Happy New Year!