Friday, February 21, 2014

A Little Thinking on Juncos

It has been a strange winter - very early and fierce in December, then holding back for just a few random storms, but we haven't had much snowfall or bitter cold in over a month. This does not bode well for summer - fire risk and drought are sure to be extreme - but for now, I'm thinking beyond the snow, to the snowbirds.

Some areas are privileged to have visits from dark-eyed juncos year-round, but these small, perky sparrows only seem to visit my deck and feeders when there is snow on the ground. It is amazing how well they match their snowbird nickname - when the snow vanishes, so do they, but if there is just a little dusting of white powder, they will be back, with a vengeance. For now, it seems as though they're gone for the season, and I miss their feathery tracks on the deck, their energetic hopping on the stairs and their voracious appetites for small seeds. It may be months before they reappear, but when they do, I'll happily brave the snow and cold to keep their feeders full.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Glint of Gold

It has been a strange winter. Western mountains are usually known for harsher weather and a longer cold season, but this season has been far from white - brown and drab has ruled the landscape, and with the absence of the more colorful birds of summer, it can be quite drearier. Fortunately, though, the landscape glittered a few days ago with the random passing of a flock of goldfinches.

Both American goldfinches and lesser goldfinches like to make themselves known at my feeders, and while they will casually peck at the Nyjer seed in its mesh sock, their preferred repast is the hulled sunflower I offer in several hopper feeders. For a few days it was a crowded buffet with multiple goldfinches, as well as the resident house finches and house sparrows, not-so-patiently waiting their turn to munch.

And munch they do - snagging seeds and briskly breaking them into bite-sized pieces, as often as not tossing chips and bits to the ground, where the juncos, quail, doves, and other ground-feeders will appreciate them. Nothing goes to waste in such a bleak landscape, when the next food source may be unknown or unreliable.

While the goldfinches have already moved on to different areas, that soft glint of gold at the feeders helps make winter seem much less drab, and serves as a reminder of the colorful season that may be closer than it seems.