Sunday, December 6, 2009

Return of the Jays

Western scrub jays are one of my favorite birds, and I put whole peanuts out for them frequently in the summer. For the past few weeks, however, the peanuts have sat forgotten in their small dish on the patio table, only occasionally being disturbed or vanishing, though each time I've missed the perpetrator. Walking outside to finish putting up Christmas lights earlier this week, however, I saw one lone jay hunkered in our neighbor's apple tree, just surveying the neighborhood. I immediately replenished the peanut supply, and within just a few minutes that jay and one of his friends were eagerly picking over the nuts and caching them wherever they could.

Too often, birders remove feeders long before they should, leaving birds one more food source short as winter approaches. I urge you to keep your feeders filled and fresh, even if you don't see the birds as often or if your favorite species seem to have vanished. They are around, even if they visit less or are more unseen, and different foods in a ready supply will be very welcome. Once they realize they can continue to count on you for a tasty meal, they may return even more frequently, as noted by the jays that have visited much more often in the last day or two - always picking clean the peanut dish I'm keeping filled.

Granted, many birds migrate and you won't see them again until spring, but in the meantime, why not share your backyard buffet with their winter cousins? Keep those feeders filled!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sparrow Spa Day

Winter is slowly descending upon northern Utah, and despite warmer temperatures for the past few weeks the nights are positively chilly and I’ve had my birdbath heater in position for several weeks. After all, there’s nothing more pathetic than watching a house finch peck at a frozen birdbath and look at it as if puzzling why they can’t drink the ice, but fortunately my backyard flock of sparrows and finches has a ready supply of water.

Of course, they haven’t treated that water quite as I anticipated. Within days of putting out the heater, my birdbath became quite the spa getaway and the surrounding patio is frequently splashed from flocks of bathing birds - and splashed more because they are so skittish that no bath lasts longer than a few seconds. Now, it’s important to note that while the temperatures have been decidedly warmer than normal for late fall, the birdbath is in the shade on a north facing patio. The resulting 40 degree or lower temperatures there aren’t what I’d call perfect for a cooling dip at any time, but the birds, especially the sparrows, can’t seem to get enough. It’s hilarious to watch them juggle positions in the basin and along the rim of the birdbath, and I’ve seen as many as a dozen birds at once crowded around what becomes an increasingly shallow puddle.

Of course, this does mean that you’ll see me several times a week shivering on the patio as I refill the birdbath with a bowl from the kitchen – the outdoor spigots having been sealed for the winter some time ago. Cleaning the birdbath is also an ongoing necessity, what with the leaves, dirt, and other debris getting into it from so many eager bathers. Nonetheless, it’s a thrill to watch the birds enjoy their makeshift spa, and I can’t recommend enough that you get your own birdbath heater or fully heated model so you can invite your backyard flock for a fun spa day.