Winter settles in...
Our typical winter species have been busy foraging for food, which may be insects, bark butter, or seeds. A White-breasted Nuthatch and female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker worked opposite each other. A female nuthatch found a bit of bark butter to stash. A Red-bellied Woodpecker probed for insects while Northern Flickers (male has the mustache) and a female Hairy Woodpecker waited for turns at the feeders.
There is one American Robin here every single day, and it claims the bark butter for itself, chasing away any number of other species. This bird also will eat small sunflower chips and probes the ground a bit for insects. Rusty Blackbirds come in and sometimes stop at the bubbler on their way to turn over leaves in the swampy wetland.
Dark-eyed Juncos have been using the salvaged Christmas tree for cover, both at night and during the day. Northern Cardinals and White-throated Sparrows have been seen going in and out of it, too.
It was a nice surprise to find a Song Sparrow also using the tree for shelter. It came out to get a drink and went off to forage.
Pine Siskins have been here every day as well. They are using the feeders, fountain and basin.
On Friday,1-15-21 when it was snowing lightly most of the afternoon, some of the birds were in our Pond Cypress (Taxodium ascendens). The birds were finding something to eat on the slender, pendulous green catkins, or male flowers. This tree is not native to our area, but just south and east of Missouri. It was planted as an Arbor Day tree by the original owners. The Pine Siskin will spend winters even farther south of us, so it must be familiar with this food source. Can you find them in this first photo?
For more on this irruptive finch species: Pine Siskin
Mourning Doves took their naps near the Bubbler. A Tufted Titmouse came in to drink and Northern Cardinals brightened the woodland, waiting in the snow showers for turns at the feeders.
Tired of winter already? The 2020 Native Plant Garden Tour was cancelled, but you can view this video mini-tour by Mitch Leachman of
one of the featured Native Plant Gardens, chock full of ideas. DaveTylka is a consummate teacher and authored the MDC book:
Native Landscaping for Wildlife and People. He shared his garden on a hot July day, enjoy!
A Slippery Start
Temperatures hovered around 29 degrees, freezing rain gave way to melting droplets and ended with snowflakes. Bedraggled birds came in by the dozens to forage, and we had 24 species on this first day of the new year.
The Pine Siskin count was 22, a pair of Brown Creepers were seen, and American Goldfinches numbered 13. A Blue Jay looked to be encased in ice as it rested in a viburnum.
A Red-bellied Woodpecker was challenged by a pest but held its ground against this European Starling. The immature male and female Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers both came in looking for bark butter.
Rusty Blackbirds were seen in the woodland, tossing leaves and looking for insects. American Crows came in low, near the Bubbler, hoping for a handout the next day. Even in these miserable-to-us conditions, Pine Siskins held a pool party.
A Hairy Woodpecker took some time to nap on the bark butter feeder. Northern Cardinals, Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows were seen going in and out of the still fragrant Christmas tree, salvaged from our neighbors. We thank you, Nick, Courtney and George, and so do the birds! We staked it for additional cover, and just in time before the first snowflakes fell.
On Sunday, 1-3-21, a female Purple Finch stayed long enough to be documented. However, the resident House Finches did not make the bird welcome at all. They harassed the Purple Finch at each feeder.
Meanwhile, the Pine Siskins continued to take advantage of bathing time after lunch.
On the next day, another female Purple Finch came in. To me, this bird looked a bit brighter, with more contrast in its plumage. At the same time, a very striped female Red-winged Blackbird was near the feeder, FOY#28 for the year.
Tuesday, 1-5-21 was a much nicer day. It warmed up to 50.2 degrees, the 'Yellow-shafted' Northern Flicker female seemed to thoroughly enjoy a dunking. See the shafts of its feathers? The western sub-species has red shafts.
A Red-tailed Hawk was seen soaring and heard calling, FOY#29. Carolina Wrens were singing, and insects were dancing about. All of the insect activity brought in Eastern Bluebirds, FOY#30.
We took an idea from our friend, Wally George, to re-use a storage container as a tray feeder for the birds. It took a few days, but quite a few species now have used it. Sixteen Pine Siskins were on it on Thursday, 1-7-21, and as we added up the Siskins on the other feeders and in the Bubbler Basin, we came up with 43. Today's count was 48, our highest ever.
Blue Jays, a Song Sparrow and today, a Common Grackle have visited the Bubbler, bringing the year total to 23 and overall yard total to 32. As counting birds goes, it has been a good start to the year.
We have gained 11 minutes of daylight since the Solstice, have you noticed?
As the Brown Creeper says, "Hang in there, please stay safe and well!"
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!
"I love what you've done with your yard and I love walking by - you always have so many birds!"
...a neighbor who made our day last week
This year in the midst of the pandemic, many neighbors have walked by. Twin girls, maybe 6 or 7 years old, collected the blossoms of the coral trumpet honeysuckle as excitedly as if finding fairies. One girl proudly showed us her new camera, waving it in the air, saying she wished she had butterflies like ours in her garden. The youngest neighbors have grown from being carried or pushed, to pushing, pedaling and running on their own. These are a few of the positive things we try and remember about this year. Those small ways of connecting have helped us all.
December continues with the usual suspects along with less typical ones. We have several Northern Flickers around, coming in daily. A female seemed to thoroughly enjoy a good bath last Wednesday. A Blue Jay took a turn a couple days later. A female Red-bellied Woodpecker has been coming in to look for bark butter and seed.
Pine Siskins have been consistently coming in, though daily numbers have fluctuated. On Saturday, 12-12-20 we had 40 birds, our highest ever count. They were at all the finch feeders with a mix of fine black oil sunflower chips and thistle seed. Fourteen of them had a pool party at the Bubbler. They are pretty tame, and I was able to get this photo and a video of them. You can hear their unique buzzy "brrrzeerr!"call.
Rusty Blackbirds have been coming in small groups on different days. They'll forage and visit the water features.
Just as I was about to start another batch of cookies one day, I saw a large flock of blackbirds drop down into the swampy thicket. I was very lucky to be able to get out onto the deck before they noticed my movement. They were so focused on foraging, that my presence didn't bother them at all and I was able to get these videos. It was a mixed flock, mostly Rusty Blackbirds 50-60, a few European Starlings and Common Grackles, maybe 30 or so total, along with our FOS Red-winged Blackbirds, numbering at least 30 that were on and under the feeders. It's pretty easy to tell the Rusty Blackbirds from the Red-winged.
The garden beds may look dull to some in our Missouri winter, but they really are a treasure trove of food for the birds. Take a closer look and the seed heads of Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) sparkle in golden splendor. The goldfinches and siskins had been visiting them before they moved onto those of the Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa). As the seeds drop, juncos and sparrows, like this White-throated Sparrow will work the areas under the plants.
The native plants in and around the yard also provide much needed cover for the birds to shelter in from the cold. On Tuesday, 12-15-20, the northwest winds were brisk. I spotted this Song Sparrow in the Coral Trumpet Honeysuckle near the pond. It finally came out to forage again after a rest, then went to join another. After an overnight snow, a Mourning Dove took a little winter nap on a perch near the bubbler.
Now, from both of us and the Merry Brown Creeper,
we wish you all a healthy and happy holiday season!
Birds, birds, birds...foraging, feeding, drinking, bathing and resting every day.
Feeders have been busy with the woodpecker group: Northern Flickers, two Red-bellied, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers.
Finches of several kinds have been visiting, too. Northern Cardinals, House Finches, lots of Pine Siskins and a female Purple Finch has been seen on two days.
A Brown Creeper has been here almost every day, looking for tiny larvae to feed on.
Rusty Blackbirds have shown up, a pair on Thanksgiving Day, then a flock of about 30 on Wednesday, 12/2/20. They were easier to see in the sunny areas. In the swampy thicket, their preferred habitat, they looked almost like the dark wet leaves they were foraging in.
Eastern Bluebirds were hoping to catch insects one day when it reached 53 degrees. American Robins are still working the patch of American Beautyberries.
As soon as the sun pops out from behind the clouds, the birds head for the water. A Tufted Titmouse and White-throated Sparrow shared the basin. Pine Siskins get drinks at the fountain or the bubbler, and bathe in the basin or stream bed. A Dark-eyed Junco followed suit.
The most interesting thing to occur in the last two weeks happened yesterday. I had heard Barred Owls 'conversing' on Sunday night, about 9:00 p.m. and they were close by. The next day around noon, I saw some cardinals on the seed heads of the mallows so I went to get the camera. On the way, I heard two Blue Jays making a fuss. By the time I returned, everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY had left the garden area and headed to the woodland. When I walked back through the house, there were 30 birds or more, clustered in the rough-leaf dogwoods by the deck. There were at least a dozen male Northern Cardinals, six females, assorted sparrows and juncos, chickadees, titmice, wrens and a Northern Flicker in these trees. "Oh my gosh, look!" I called to Dan who could see this from the other room. We just had never seen anything quite like this, and I couldn't begin to capture it in a photo. All the birds were looking down at the ground area. We couldn't see what they were looking at so we went downstairs to look out the basement door. Something flushed the large bird, which was a Barred Owl. It flew past us, under the deck to a branch of the pond cypress where it stayed all afternoon. The small birds would check on it and squawk or chatter, but the owl rested, yawned and waited until dusk, when it finally flew. It was a good thing to know the large bird felt safe and comfortable enough to stay.
This is only the second time I've been able to photograph Barred Owls this year. Perhaps we'll be seeing them more often. In the meantime, here are the photos since the last post.