Sunday, December 23, 2007

Birds Today

We had ice and snow yesterday, but today dawned sunny and clear. Our home is in an urban, residential area, an older neighborhood that thankfully is near several parks and some bluffs which cannot be developed and are overgrown with trees and shrubbery — ideal habitat for birds. When winter weather strikes, birds like white-throated sparrows, which rarely venture away from the wooded areas, visit our backyard feeders.

This morning I surprised a Northern Mockingbird (above) when I stepped out on the front porch to check our rosemary bush to see if some of the sprigs are still good for cooking. It is next to our porch steps, with a southwest exposure. We have been surprised to find it generally lasts the whole winter. Rosemary is a very hardy plant, I guess.

The mockingbird was sunning itself in the hedge in front of our porch, which faces south. The stone facade collects heat from the sun. Many birds like the spot.

I took some fun pictures of this goldfinch and downy woodpecker on our feeding station in the afternoon sunlight. I saw the goldfinch in the morning, but the feeder was strongly backlit, not good for pictures. It often happens that birds which show up in the morning come back for more in the afternoon when the lighting is better for pictures. The downy is a male, indicated by the red marking on the back of its head. He is a regular visitor, seen often every day. It has been some time since we’ve seen a female downy, but one showed up a few days ago. The goldfinch may be a male or female. The winter coloring of the males is similar to that of the females, but in the spring the males turn brilliant yellow with jet black markings on their foreheads.

Here is a closeup of the goldfinch.

The male downy left and the female showed up on our peanut feeder, but had only been on it for a few moments when a starling zoomed in. This picture was taken the instant before the starling landed. Pretty funny.

The downy decided it was too crowded on the peanut feeder and joined the goldfinch on the sunflower chip feeder. In warmer weather, goldfinches confine their attentions to our niger feeder, which is just to the right of the super starling shot above. The feeder is constructed so only smaller birds can get the seed. In the winter, though, goldfinches switch over to sunflower chips, I guess because they need the energy boost. We have noticed that when grackles show up in late April (they mostly go south in the winter), the goldfinches immediately abandon the feeders and are not to be seen in our yard again until the grackles head south in the late fall. We have found a number of young sparrows killed by grackles. Their aggressiveness is undoubtedly the reason goldfinches (which are smaller than sparrows) avoid them.

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