Monday, January 11, 2010

Winter is a Great Time to Watch Birds!

For beginning birders it is often easiest to learn to ID your basic, year-round resident birds during this season, when there is no visual competition with other breeding or migrating birds...and certainly no obstruction from foliage.

To attract a variety of birds to your feeders, you need a variety of foods...sunflower, millet, corn and suet are the basics...but you can also add nuts, old bread and dried fruits. The finches, such as cardinals and house finches will eat the sunflower seeds, along with chickadees, titmice and squirrels. Sparrows, doves and juncos will peck at the millet, and woodpeckers will primarily feast on suet or peanut butter. You can also attract mockingbirds (below), catbirds, robins and bluebirds with dried apples, raisins or cranberries. If you have bluebirds on your property, meal worms will give them extra help through winter.

In general, insect-eating birds will feed on the high fat content foods, but other seed-eating birds will partake in winter due to the increased need for energy-producing resources. The best way to attract birds all year round is to plant native seed, nut and fruit producing grasses, shrubs and trees.

It is also important to have a variety of feeders located on or near trees or shrubs. Some birds will frequent feeders, while others prefer to feed on the ground. And some birds, such as this Cooper's Hawk sitting in our sweet gum tree , feed on other if you notice not one bird at your feeder (or several sitting completely frozen) just minutes after you saw flocks of them...look up in the trees.
No sentimentality is just the food web in action.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


I'm like an old dog that can't be taught new tricks. So many times, I take a walk, sans my binoculars and my camera, then see the perfect shot or a strange-looking bird high in a tree. This morning I made myself walk back to the house from the creek and up the basement stairs to retrieve them both (did I mention that I want to exercising more in the new year?) because there were flocks of robins, house sparrows and cardinals dodging back and forth from limb to rock to get a drink from the creek. I wanted to get some photos...knowing full well that once I got back to the same spot they would be gone. But nature exploration is a continual exercise of faith.

To my great joy, when I did return, their were two male mallards sitting perpendicular to the current just taking in all the scenery I guess. I got off about 4 shots before they saw me and floated on downstream. And eventually a few robins came back and landed for another sip.

There is so much to see on just a brief walk around "the grounds." Winter seems to make certain things more interesting or poignant, like a hand-made gravemarkers for Rowdy Scout Vunder Pup, one of the last three pets we needed to put out of their misery, or the old, rusted wagon wheel, left here when we bought the place. They are exposed, and the snow that lays on top of them makes it seem like they have been there for a very long time

Another outdoor issue I deal with, as many do, is the outwitting of squirrels at the bird feeder. I have one great feeder that seems to keep them frustrated and gone. It is a very old style and one I got for free from a neighbor when it didn't sell at a garage sale. It has a spring-loaded ledge that covers the seed when something as heavy as a squirrel sits on it.

At the other feeders, it's a crap shoot. I try to lure them away with old bread or put seed out at night so it is available for the birds first thing in the morning... squirrels tend to sleep in alot. Or sometimes I wait until after the they leave and put more seed out. But most of the time I open the door and scream like a banshee. We have the whole thing choreographed.