Friday, March 28, 2008

A Larger Buffet

As the weather warms, it becomes time to add more feeders to my backyard array. This week I added a trio of basic niger seed (thistle) feeders; simple tubes with single perches on each. I have them positioned near a pair of good observation windows, since the finches who patronize them tend to be smaller birds as well as a bit more shy, at least at first. Last year both pine siskins and house finches made use of the single tube feeder, often fighting for space. Thus, the expansion to three feeders.

While the siskins haven't appeared in the backyard yet -- I have seen them at a nearby park -- the finches are here daily. They don't seem to have sampled the new feeders as of yet, but that may be due to size. House finches are a shade too large for these tube feeders, and they go through considerable acrobatics to help themselves to the delicacies within. If they haven't yet discovered how tasty this seed can be, they may not be as interested. Furthermore, I wasn't offering as high a concentration of black oil sunflower seeds last year, and that may be more of a favorite choice.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More Visitors

Some new visitors have appeared at the feeder; a pair of dark eyed Oregon juncos. They're hyperactive little twitters, and like all juncos, seem to be more abundant in the winter when they're more apt to visit feeders. They're a bit smaller than the house finches who are daily visitors, and they're less frequent guests in my backyard, though they're easy to identify. Despite reports that dark eyed juncos are among the most popular feeder birds, they're much rarer in my small niche -- possibly because of a lack of cover to assuage their nervousness. Theoretically they can visit Utah feeders throughout the year, so we shall see if they return as spring progresses.

Feed-wise, they seem to prefer smaller seeds (not sunflower seeds), and they're platform or ground feeders rather than perching on the feeder itself. I regularly sprinkle mixed seeds that include millet and corn on the patio near the birdfeeder, so hopefully that will help them become comfortable with a new food source.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring Pause

Today may be the first day of spring, though you wouldn't know it by the weather or the landscape -- chilly temperatures and no discernable growth still gives today more of a wintery feel. Nonetheless, the birds know its spring and they broadcast it loudly -- mating songs and other tweets of joy are most discernable between 5:30 and 7 a.m. and their sweet notes can be heard for tremendous distances for such tiny lungs.

Progress is slowly being made on the landscaping. We've gotten bids on the work and plan to make final arrangements within the next week or two, and after that the work should progress quickly. Within six weeks I hope to have the project finished, or at least this phase. Likely we won't be planting much this year, but we'll be prepping the soil with composting material so it can be richer and more nourishing for plants next spring. Since much of the new bed has been continually exposed to the elements, the soil isn't as healthy as young plants would like.

This early in the season, the only visitors have still been sparrows, house finches, and Eurasian collared doves. I have spotted California quail and Western scrub jays in the nearby park, however, which bodes well for them visiting the backyard again this summer. As the days warm other species should begin to reappear, and hopefully they'll be interested enough in the changes to the yard to stop and investigate. I've switched to a richer birdseed mix -- more than five parts black oil sunflower seeds -- and with the birds who have already found it, it's popular for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I just wish breakfast weren't quite so early some mornings.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Rainbow of Finches

Spring is finally edging into Utah Valley and with its return come the house finches, always the first and most ravenous guests at my backyard feeders. As of yet they're still timid, but the male finches are showing their dramatic mating plumage.

Standard coloration is a red forehead and neck with eye streaks and a wash onto the chest, but I've had both orange and yellow color variants visit in the past. Thus far this season only the standard red males and one yellow male have made appearances at the feeder, accompanied of course by the more camouflaged buff females.

There is no definitive explanation for the color variations; some ornithologists speculate that it may be due to regional separations, while others favor the idea of a dietary influence or even poor nutrition. Neither explanation seems suitable to me: both colors share the same feed and territory regularly in my backyard. My theory is that it is no more complex than the genetic hair color variations among humans: some people have red hair, others blonde. Regardless of the scientific explanation, I find the different colors to be a beautiful palette to enjoy as spring strengthens.