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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

For the Birds

I like watching birds--though I'm not a bird watcher.

To explain: I'm not the kind of person who goes on birding treks to find exotic species. Instead, what I really enjoy is sitting in my family room--or outside when it's warm--and just simply watching birds.  To paraphrase Opus the penguin, I'm talking about "plain Jane, home grown, bare bone, two-part, Kmart, no frills flappers." Generic birds that don't mind hanging out in my back yard.

Some folks like to keep an aquarium and to watch the multicolored fishies swim 'round and 'round; I enjoy looking at pretty birdies as they fly, hop, flit, jump, eat, drink, bathe and fluff their feathers. I love watching them build their nests. I love watching them court, whether by singing a special song, offering gifts of food, or pecking on our gutters first thing in the morning. (Though Corinne hated that when she lived here, as the gutter of choice was by her bedroom, and mere inches from her head as she slept--make that attempted to sleep--in her loft bed. )

I love watching birds choose a nest site, move into our bird houses and set up housekeeping. I love watching them bring their young ones around in the spring. I love watching the "teenagers" still beg for food from their harassed parents.

At any one time, I may have as many as a dozen different types of bird feeders stationed around my patio. I could sit and watch my winged visitors for a very long time. Though Dawn and Athena could probably watch even longer. The window is like Kitty TV for them, always tuned to their favorite channel.

Athena and Dawn watchin' birdies.

From the inside, looking out.

Lilah and Tucker are also bird watchers. Though I think Tucker is more interested in the squirrels.

I am also a fan of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and have in the past participated in their Project Feederwatch, as a citizen scientist, counting the birds that have visited my yard through the fall and winter. Every year in February, the lab also supports the Great Backyard Bird Count, where, along with other organizations, they encourage anyone who can to simply count the different bird species that visit their backyards. As little as 15 minutes of bird watching is all you need to contribute. (Though I'm sure more is appreciated.)

The information participants gather is pulled together and analyzed to help scientists understand all kinds of things about our feathered friends. And I'm happy to help.

So, in honor of the GBBC that will be held this upcoming weekend, February 17 to 20, here are a few pictures of some of the birds I've seen at my feeders this winter.

Male and female house finches belly up to the bar to feed on shelled sunflower seeds.

A male Downy Woodpecker (you can tell he's a guy by the red spot on his head) hangs out on branch.

Nuthatches tend to skitter down a tree trunk head first. This white-breasted nuthatch is feasting on suet, which also attracts woodpeckers.

A yellow-shafted northern flicker--a type of woodpecker--sits on the ground below the suet feeder, pondering his next move.

Woodpeckers also eat seeds, like this red-bellied woodpecker who, along with a gold finch, is enjoying a sunflower seed snack.

Northern cardinals--a familiar sight in many northeast US birdfeeders--really like this type of feeder, as they prefer to feed head-on, facing the food. A house finch has his back to the camera.

A duller-colored female cardinal eyes the sunflower seeds spread out before her--sure to chose just the right one.

Unfortunately, it's not just featured creatures who like sunflowers--and I often have to devise ways to discourage the squirrely thieves who eat way too much.

While some of our feeders are squirrel proof, this one is not. Birds that like to eat from the ground--or on flat surfaces--love this hanging seed tray, so I make sure there is enough food for feathered and furry diners.

Many beaks--in this case all house finches--can sup at this feeder at the same time.

One of my favorite feeders, this one is made from old traffic light lenses. Female house finches dine beneath a green roof--that used to mean "Go."

Gold finches, wearing their dull winter dress, love this squirrel-proof feeder. And it truly is squirrel proof; anything heavier than a cardinal will cause those little perches to tip down. And squirrels are definitely heavier than cardinals, as they all learn when dumped unceremoniously on the ground. Some squirrels need a few lessons to really get it.

Blue jays are one of the few birds large enough--and sassy enough--to chase away the squirrels. Most of the other birds, too, will give way when they hear the noisy squawks as they come in for a landing. Jays will also harass any birds of prey that come by; mobbing the predators until they leave.

It's difficult to get a picture of a tufted titmouse on a feeder. These birds always grab a seed and quickly fly to a branch where they eat it.

Black-capped chickadees are tiny birds with a distinctive call that gives them their name.

A trio of mourning doves huddles on my garden wall, facing into the wind. When it snows, I often spread seeds there for the ground feeders.

Lots of sparrows come to visit, particularly after a snowfall. They can be a little tricky to tell apart. This one is a song sparrow; the black spot and streaky breast are clues.

A white-throated sparrow grabs a seed that has fallen from one of the feeders.

A ground feeder like the sparrows, the dark-eyed junco is also a common eastern visitor.

Though this little Carolina wren looks a little irritated, he's probably quite happy to eat the seeds scattered on my patio.

Even though it's still officially winter, you can tell spring is around the corner when the Canada geese start to fly north.

Another sure sign is the sighting of an American robin, this one taking a drink from a puddle on my table cover.

As the weather starts to turn warmer and the days get longer, fewer winter birds appear at my feeders; the spring and summer species begin to show up. The first songs of spring come bursting forth in the morning. Male goldfinches trade in their dull feathers for their dress-up bright yellow. Woodpeckers knock against our gutters, making as much noise as possible in the hopes of attracting a mate and scaring off competitors with the size of their sound. Hopefully, a few birds will like one of the birdhouses we've placed around our yard--and maybe they'll move in.

And I'll be enjoying the show.

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