Backyard Brief: What’s New?

This spring I’ve added a new bird feeder to the party, and there are some new arrivals not before seen, plus others not seen in a while. Some migratory, some residential. Most of the birds that visit seem to prefer the finch seed mix to the black oil sunflower seed, but they are two different brands, so I suppose quality could be a factor. I’ll have to mix the two in both feeders to spread the sights and delights. Happy Earth Day.

New this year
  • song sparrow – Smaller than the house sparrow, with a narrower beak, buff and brown streaking with a black chest spot and eye line stripes, he makes beautiful music all day. The song sparrow perches in our weeping cherry tree beneath the bedroom window, in the tops of the trees (hazelnut?) lining the street sidewalk, in the evergreen of the neighbor’s yard behind us, and hops in the grass below our large backyard feeder. I think there may be more than one. He just seems to be everywhere these days, and it’s a welcome addition.
  • brown-headed cowbird – brief glimpses in the vicinity, seen and heard (loud, bright, high-pitched chip) 4/21/17 on our gazebo structure. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to the camera in time. Shy fella.
New this season
  • chipping sparrow – Two males! Also petite like the song sparrow, with a ruddy skull cap and grayish cheeks with an eye stripe, he can easily hide even in the freshly mowed grass. I might have seen females without realizing they weren’t female house finches or house sparrows. Those all tend to blur together. Although I did see a male chipping sparrow last June, the one I thought I saw in May 2016 turned out to be a female red-winged blackbird. These guys appeared 4/21/17.
  • red-winged blackbird – Usually a transient visitor, this time with female in tow; several males spotted, three at once on one occasion this week.
Other less regular visitors seen lately
  • downy woodpecker – Sometimes upside down as necessary, feeding on the suet. Female downy confirmed and pictured below. The other possibility was female hairy (longer beak, larger bird, no black bars on outer tail feathers). 3/31/17
  • common grackle – He keeps trying to alight on the squirrel-buster feeder without success. I haven’t captured his image yet, though. 4/21/17
  • European starling – Usually in flocks, they tend to prefer the suet as well.

starling triptych

American goldfinches are in the process of molting for their brighter seasonal black and yellow. The rosy house finches and house sparrows are as ruthless competitors as ever, northern cardinals have come around now and then in mated pairs, and the docile mourning doves have made themselves at home in the bed below our pagoda dogwood. The American robins continue to dominate, as expected.

Backyard Brief, January 2017

January 18, 2017 – Titmice, chickadees, house finches, and the ubiquitous house sparrow have been competing with squirrels for our backyard fodder. Hubby watched two squirrels crowd the suet feeder, one impatiently waiting for the other to get the bushy tail off.

Of sparrows, mice, chicks, houses, tufts, finches, caps, food, tits and a squirrel-proof feeder –

Happy backyard birding and squirrelling, and remember, brevity is the soul of tit.

P.S. To All Scots, Scotch Descendants, and Lovers of Scotland and Poetry, Happy January 25th. Have an excellent Burns Night supper!

ICYMI: Here’s my post about Burns’ “To a Mouse” poem.

Backyard Brief: Sparrow Sparring

Fierce  feathered  flying  feeding  frenzy

Backyard Bloodshed

cutting flowers in sun
a pinched caterwauling
no sign of a child
peek around the dogwood
glimpse a grey cat passing
in its mouth
a small eastern cottontail
now silent limp
dangles by the neck
the cat walks
body beneath
to the evergreen shade
rips at its prize
I am near
trying to see
cat disappears
I go around
fence's other side
wide-eyed rabbit
sees me
begins to move
from side lying
to upright
and staggering
comes toward me
toward the fence
pokes nose through slats
where a sale flyer rests
it retracts
stops in the sun
I back away
look over the fence
see the bright red
hanging out
along its side
toward the back
muscle bone or organ
I don't know
second wound behind
it stays put
I curse the cat
not finishing off
am I to blame?
not my place
not my yard
no one home
and no gun
only hammer shovel spade
and would not reach
I walk away
the robins hop
the sun shines
the flowers beam
I go inside
write this

Backyard Brief: Mystery Bird Unveiled

In my post last Monday about the wildlife in my backyard, I mentioned I was uncertain about the identity of one of the birds frequenting my feeders. As it turns out, it was neither a chipping sparrow nor a white-crowned sparrow, as I had conjectured. In fact, it wasn’t a sparrow at all–it was a female red-winged blackbird!

Using my bird guide books, I was able to sleuth it out and identify her. The books mentioned that female red-winged blackbirds are commonly mistaken for sparrows. Here’s what Mrs. Red-Winged Blackbird looks like in my backyard.

She’s the first of the 4 birds from top in the above group photo, followed by a mourning dove pair and a male house sparrow.

She was darker than I had remembered, with heavy brown streaking along breast and belly and a bright white eyebrow against that darkness. A buff or gray cheek and reddish shading on her throat also help to distinguish her. The beak is longer, narrower, and pointier than a sparrow’s, and the tail is longer and more fanned. There is also the distinctive tail bobbing behavior, and she is a larger bird.

Although of similar shape and behavior, her mate, in addition to being larger than his lady, looks rather different. . . .

Another male is hanging out with these two, but it is a duller black, almost brown, and without a prominent yellow wing stripe of maturity, so I think that’s a juvenile.

Mystery solved!

Backyard Brief, May 2016

The red-winged blackbirds have grown bold and frequent in their visits. I counted two males at once about the feeders this morning. I keep singing the Beatles–“Blackbird singing in the dead of night . . .”–and recalling Wallace Stevens’ poem “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” There is something magical about them. And that distinctive call; I hear it, grab the camera and go hunting.

Another visitor of late seems to be a female or juvenile chipping sparrow. She has a barred or striped breast, and the stripe over the top edge of her eye distinguishes her from the house sparrow riff-raff. Pig birds, I call them. Numerous and sloppy in their feasting. The chipper’s beak is too narrow to be a house finch female’s. I’ll try to snap a shot of it. It was something like this:


Image credit: Brian E. Small.

I had hoped the suet feeder would attract at least that one remaining woodpecker I keep hearing throttle in the woods across the street, or a white-breasted nuthatch, but so far, no luck. The starlings, usually in flocks, have started coming around for the suet, along with the red-winged blackbirds and the grackles. Even the robins have ventured upwards from the worm-rich yard. The flying pigs, of course, will go for it as well.

Resident mourning dove pairs, two of them: They sit in the grass or the flower bed beneath the dogwood, relaxing but with wary black eyes. They are relentless in seeking out leftovers.

The diminutive goldfinches are few, but their feeder is large. I keep hoping for a flock. Even one is a treat to me. Too bad I broke my CJ Wildlife mug with the American goldfinch and sunflower on it the other day. I’ll have to order more.

Patches of red come in the form of house finches and cardinals.

I spotted a dark-eyed junco a couple of times in early April.

Black-capped chickadees darted in and out in March, but I’ve seen none since. I did change the birdseed. Perhaps a return to the previous variety. . . .

Interestingly, no squirrels or chipmunks yet, though I’m sure the nocturnal rabbits are active.

Barn and tree swallows were snatching bugs low across the grass at the Silver Springs soccer field yesterday for my niece’s game. Canada geese flew overhead, and the red-winged blackbirds abound in the reeds beside the field.

So, let’s see, the spring tally for the backyard so far:

  1. red-winged blackbirds – 2
  2. chipping sparrow (?) – 1
  3. house sparrows – so many, they hardly count
  4. starlings – 5 or more
  5. grackles – 2
  6. American robin – up to 3
  7. mourning doves – 4
  8. goldfinches – 4
  9. house finches – 6 or more
  10. cardinals – a couple of pairs
  11. dark-eyed junco – 1
  12. black-capped chickadee – 1 or 2

That’s quite a few different species! Upwards of 50 individuals.

It brings a smile–and lots of droppings, but I’ve got it covered.

We planted a serviceberry tree (Amelanchier canadensis) at the dog’s grave on Saturday. The berries should pop out in summer. For now, after the drench of the past few days, some delicate white flower bunches, like little balls of popcorn, remain. The tree is about 8 feet tall. Autumn should bring red and gold foliage.

Forget-me-not seeds will nestle soon there, too. Rest in peace and beauty, bird dog.

30 Minutes of Sunset Photos

A setting summer sun viewed from our back deck on Sunday, July 19, 2015. Akron, Ohio, USA. After I selected shots, it worked out to about 1 for each elapsed minute: 8:53 – 9:20 p.m. Do any of these look like the surface of Jupiter to you?

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