Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Winter Storms, Winter Foods

The past couple of days have seen nearly nonstop snow - light but relentless. The snow is only heavier in sudden flurries near the feeders, as the finches, sparrows, chickadees, and doves land, snatch a seed, snap at one another, shuffle for position, munch another seed, and abruptly yield position to another hungry bill.

Birds can easily find food in winter and there are many things winter birds eat, but there is no doubt that feeders are helpful and appreciated. Just before a storm, or during a lull in inclement weather, activity at the feeders is more than busy, it has a frantic, frenetic pace as the birds stock up, adding a few more calories to their diet before snow and cold keep them more confined. I feed a range of different winter foods to my backyard flock, including...
Without a doubt, the most popular item on the menu is the hulled sunflower seed - rich in fat and calories but easy to eat even with smaller bills. I have three large hopper feeders filled with these nutritious kernels, but they're all emptied every 2-3 days, and every bird seems to fight for a sample. I happily refill them, even tromping through snowdrifts, moving branches and covering myself in loose snow, and slipping into a gully to reach each feeder and increase its bounty. Depending on the time of day when I am able to tend the feeders, the birds may be visiting one before I even finish filling the others. I'm happy to do it, and always happy to see how popular it is. I've even recently stocked up, and have nearly 50 pounds of hulled seeds waiting to be served up - and in this weather, that will be soon enough!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Life in the Gutter

When we say someone's mind is in the gutter, they woke up in the gutter, or just feel like they're in the gutter, it's always a negative meaning - but for birds, a gutter can be a wonderful thing. After his adventure in the firebox, I wouldn't have thought my neighborhood northern flicker (or one of them) would want to be anywhere near my house again, but while it's not technically my house, he is dropping by occasionally to the neighbor's gutter. But why?

Gutters can be bountiful for birds. In summer, a gutter may have delicious insects, fresh water or nesting material collected in its corners. In winter, a bit of water may be there, as well as windfall fruit, nuts, or other food. This was a southeastern corner, and it's my bet that the bird was probing about for food, since she and her mate haven't been shy about visiting my heated bird bath whenever they need a drink.

Birds adapt. Take away the trees or stumps where they would hunt for insects, and instead they'll search chimneys and gutters. Remove snags perfect for nesting cavities and they'll investigate bird houses. Destroy habitat with development and they'll learn to seek out bird feeders and flowerbeds. Of course I'd rather see birds as "natural" as possible, but the birds in our backyard, doing what backyard birds do, are just as natural in their way. I just wish being in the gutter was as good for me some days as it is for my flickers.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Sparrow That Shouldn't Be Here

I have several platform and dish feeders on my covered deck, where I offer a variety of foods - millet, cracked corn, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and dried sunflower heads. A wide range of birds take advantage of this sheltered restaurant, most notably house finches, house sparrows, mourning doves, Eurasian collared-doves, California quail, and at this time of year, dark-eyed juncos. For the past few weeks, however, I've caught scattered glimpses of another visitor - a little brown job that looks the same as but different from my regular patrons.
It took a few views to verify the sighting, but a song sparrow has added my deck to its repertoire of fine dining. The breast spot, malar patches, longer tail, and warmer colors are all evident, though the bird is quite shy and always flits away as soon as it has been spotted, so it was difficult to see it clearly enough to be certain. Ever since that first quick view I've been trying to get a photo, and only managed when the bird hunkered down in our western neighbor's tree long enough for me to snap a shot.

It might be "just" a song sparrow, but its an interesting guest in my backyard, far from the wetter, marsh-like habitats this bird typically prefers. I do have one overgrown section of yard that I've seen it flitting to, and I intend to preserve that area of the yard and add to it (the less lawn to mow, the better). Who knows what other surprise guests might visit?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

My Empty List

The holidays were too hectic with packed schedules, illness, and deadlines, and unfortunately birding and birds fell by the wayside more than I would have liked. But as I settle in to 2013, I just know this will be a lucky birding year, despite the less than lucky connotations many people give to this year's numerals.

I'm going to make it lucky, and that starts with a list. I have a beautiful poster - The Birds of Utah Checklist - from the Utah DNR that I won for a great bird sighting (red-breasted merganser) during a field trip with the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival several years ago. That poster is framed without glass in my office, with the idea that I can use the checklist to mark off the species I've seen. Granted, it won't be a complete life list - there is no record of the Jamaican tody, green jay, or black vulture ever in Utah - but it will be a fun way to keep track of how many of Utah's birds I've seen, even if I haven't seen them in Utah.

Beginning the year I have a meager (or at least I consider it meager) 333 birds on my life list; as I haven't yet filled out my poster Utah list, I can't count those (watch for a future update) quite yet. But how many will I end the year with?

Let's get lucky, '13!