by Patti Muzny
Our winter so far has been a potpourri of extremes and each one of these dramatic changes brings about a different challenge for our feathered creatures, as well as for the humans who provide food, water and habit for them. While I know the bitter cold, angry winds and precipitation make life so much more challenging for the birds, I look forward to some of these changes because the dynamics of life for the birds and their feeding habits change as well.
During the summer and even last winter, we rarely saw a White-winged Dove in our back yard. This winter we’ve had as many as 20-25. They’ve displaced some of the Collared Doves we usually have. They swoop in famished in the morning and consume large amounts of bird seed. With them are several Cardinals, a Brown Thrasher, Bewick’s and Carolina Wrens, American Goldfinches, Blue Jays, Mockingbirds and dozens of English Sparrows. And I finally saw a House Finch on the thistle feeder, a species that has been conspicuously absent this summer and winter. This menagerie attracts the resident Cooper’s Hawk and an occasional Sharp-shinned Hawk. These fierce predators create total havoc around the bird feeders.
The weekend of January 25th and 26th was one of those beautiful, calm, warm weekends and everything was out foraging. While gathering pecans along our back fence, we found Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Cedar Waxwings, and a Red-shouldered Hawk. Brian also found a pair of Merlins and a Harlan’s Hawk near I-240 and South Western. I keep waiting for one of those Merlins to visit our feeding station. It’s only a few blocks away.
On that weekend I noticed Robins were chirping and feeding in the neighborhood. The neighborhood also still has Eastern Bluebirds, although we have not seen them inspecting our bluebird houses yet.
A trip to our Byars cabin on the 26th of January was filled with great birding. On our way to the cabin we spotted three Roadrunners and heard one on our property. The Barred Owls were hooting at 1:00 PM. Robins were chattering throughout the woods. Carolina Wrens were extremely happy with the warm day. I also found the first Field Sparrows we’ve seen in a while on our property. There were small flying insects that had come out to add a little dietary protein for the insect-eaters, including several Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. The Golden-crowns are such friendly little woodland ornaments. They will flutter within about three feet of me, doing their flycatching routine, while I stand there and just absorb their incredible beauty!
Male Eastern Bluebirds were already perching on the rooftops of our bluebird houses along the walking trails. Brilliant flashes of blue rivaled the crisp blue sky overhead. The Turkey Vultures were patrolling the skies for something ripe enough for a snack. Armadillos were rooting through the deep leaves, oblivious to anything else but their mission. Brian noticed Otter tracks along the pond again. There goes what’s left of our diminishing catfish population. Oh, well.
As this article is being written, the skies are gloomy, it’s cold and windy and we’re promised some potentially treacherous winter weather. It’s a weekend and we will have the feeders stocked and the heated water bowls filled and will be spending a lot of time looking out the window to see what Ma Nature brings in. Now if Ma Nature would just freeze off the mosquitoes and ticks and leave the birds and animals out of the equation, that would suit me just fine!