Finches and Hummers and More

How pretty! I look out at the bird feeders and see goldfinches and house finches, too. The goldfinches are getting their yellow on and they are just gorgeous. And if the feed runs out, as it did this morning, a goldfinch will fly up to the window to let me know.

I’ve been asked what I feed the birds. I’ve used different things, but I always have black oil sunflower seed. Some folks think you have to buy thistle seed for the goldfinches, but I’ve run out and they are happy with the sunflower seed.

I get raw peanuts for the blue jays who usually make an announcement from the sweet gum tree before swooping down to grab one. When I hear them, I tell my cat, “Incoming!” so he knows to watch for them. We call all this bird activity kitty movies. Well, I call it that; the cat is pretty quiet, but happy.

I have some safflower seed that I got for a special treat, but I probably won’t buy that again. I put it on the platform feeder. The doves didn’t read all the books that say they are ground feeders and they are up there eating safflower seed. Those silly birds even get on the hanging feeders although they’d rather eat off the platform. If they wipe it clean and all they are left with is what’s hanging, they will flutter up against the windows trying to get me to put more seed out for them.

Sometimes, I’ve bought a mix of different seed, but still it’s not necessary. I guess if a person wants to discourage certain birds, maybe that’s a good idea, but if your budget is tight, sunflower seed (black oil seems to be best) is fine for everyone, even for the buntings that come through in spring.

Speaking of migration, it’s time to brush up on those birds that we only see once or twice a year. I really like to use Cornell Lab’s site. This morning, I used this to look at hummingbirds. I like the way they have it set up so you can see birds that are similar and compare them.

Last week, I watched the male rufous hummingbird sit on a branch near the feeder. He was constantly twitching his head from side to side, watching as if there was another bird that wanted to come to the feeder.  After a few minutes, sure enough, another hummer showed up. I’m almost positive it’s a male ruby-throat.  I figured he must be a scout. I’m not sure why they send a scout to find the groceries, when all they are going to do is fight over feeders once everybody gets here. The two of them spent a few days chasing each other and then the rufous left.

Now a female ruby-throat is here.  There was some confusion when I saw streaks on her throat, but as she sat on a branch preening, I saw that she has the forked tail of a ruby-throat. Yesterday I saw three different hummers and I’m not sure I can identify all of them. I’m really having to watch this closely and not assume anything since so many others are here in the winter. I may call a lady from the Audubon Society who gave a talk on hummers, and see if she makes house calls.

I’m really new to this as far as these other species goes. We used to put up feeders in the spring and take them down in fall after everyone left. I started leaving mine up four winters ago, hoping for a rufous. The first two years there was no rufous, but there was a buff-bellied hummingbird who spent the whole winter here both years. Last winter, I may have misidentified a few birds that I thought were female ruby-throats. This winter I learned there are several hummingbirds that the books used to say didn’t come here, but they do in the winter. If you live near the Gulf of Mexico in the Southern US, don’t ever take your hummingbird feeders down. Mine are staying up all the time, unless there’s a hurricane or a freeze. No one will stay through the winter who should be leaving, and you just never know who might show up.

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Great Birding While Gardening

Wow. I’m really late getting my garden in this year. I’ve expanded it and we – my husband, son, my dad and myself – had to move some heavy things and cut through some clay that had my dad’s cultivator bouncing. It has been a lot of work but I like being outside, so that’s OK.

About all I have left of the many different seeds I started back during the winter is tomatoes. My cat didn’t like the tomato plants and that’s why. I’ve also planted beans and cucumbers. I sure hope this stuff comes up. An armadillo did a bit of his own digging in my garden and I hope I didn’t replant any sprouted beans too deeply.

Yesterday afternoon while I was planting tomatoes I was listening to a pileated woodpecker who sounded like he was laughing as he flew from tree to tree in the woods. Then I heard a single sound, “Peek!’, then in a minute I heard it again, and then once more. I wondered who that was and looked up at the mulberry tree and there was a rose-breasted grosbeak! Man, I wish there was a way to rig up binocular lenses that I could flip down over my glasses! I was pretty close, but binoculars would have been wonderful.

As I was watching him, I noticed another bird moving around in trees and brush near the mulberry. I knew that wasn’t one that I usually see but couldn’t identify it. Last night I looked in my book and I think it was a female summer tanager, but I’m not positive. I’ll have to watch for more of them.

At my feeders, I’ve had a female red-bellied woodpecker, two female house finches and one male, and yesterday evening an indigo bunting flew (probably from the feeder) into the window and knocked himself a bit silly. He sat on the fence awhile and waited for the stars he must have been seeing to go away. A couple weeks or so ago, I had a painted bunting on the feeder. Along with those birds, we have also had plenty of mourning doves, white-winged doves, sparrows of various types, cardinals, blue jays and chickadees.

I’ve been inside today catching up on things in here while I give my foot and knee a little time to rest. I flipped a heavy concrete thing over on my foot yesterday and really didn’t feel like using a shovel or standing a whole lot today. And my knee is just old and is complaining about all the bending. I may still get out there this evening a do just a little more. I have six more tomato plants that need to go into the ground.

Goldfinches are Here

I live about 20-25 miles inland in Southeast Texas and we are seeing the first goldfinches at our feeders today. We have a friend a bit north of us who has been seeing them the past several days. She saw them in the trees for a few days before they decided to come down and eat her bird groceries.

We did some bird watching from our windows this morning. Here is what we saw: 2 Yellow-rumped warblers, Orange-crowned warbler, a Red-bellied woodpecker, 2 Northern Yellow-shafted flickers. All those guys and gals were in trees. At the feeders we had a White-throated sparrow (he was on the ground near the feeders; he generally won’t get up on them, but with birds, never say never), lots of House sparrows, Carolina chickadees, Tufted-titmice, Cardinals, Mourning doves, and our rarely-seen-in-these-parts Buff-bellied humming bird. This morning the humming bird sat on a branch outside the kitchen window and talked to us in his little staccato bird language. It was a different pitch than Morse code, but that’s what it reminded me of. My friend videoed him and we hope it picked up the sound. As cold as it was, we had the window raised.

I just love being able to see all these fine birds while looking out my windows as I watch the frost melt and enjoy my hot coffee. I hope you are having some good birding experiences, too.

Feeding and Watching Birds in December

Thought I’d give a little update for those of you who watch birds and like to keep up with what other folks have at their feeders. I’m in Southeast Texas, in case you are a new reader.

Finally, I have been seeing chickadees and tufted titmice at my feeders. I don’t know why their numbers had decreased for a time, but I’m glad to have them back. Sparrows are here in abundance. I’m still watching for white-throated sparrows because they come for winter but I haven’t seen any yet. We always have the bright red cardinals and, although not high numbers of them, I’m glad for even just a few. The blue jays have left and I miss them. They are so colorful and sassy. I think they are hilarious to watch as they practically yell to announce that they are coming to the feeder, and then they try to act like they own the whole place.

Yesterday and today I sat in my backyard for a bit to watch for warblers and other birds that don’t come to the feeders. I saw a Wilson’s warbler yesterday and another bird that I think was some type of vireo but I couldn’t get a good enough look at him. I also heard an owl in the woods both days. Someone out there is waking up early!

I’ll be glad when the gold finches show up. They are close, so it’s just a matter of time.

In case you wonder what I’m feeding everyone, it’s mostly black oil sunflower seed. I put out some mixed seed that has dried fruit and nuts in it, but no one at my feeders seems to be interested in dried fruit and nuts right now. This reminds me that next spring I want to put a feeder closer to the back of my yard near the woods to attract orioles. Orioles will eat dried fruit and nuts. They will also eat oranges and grape jelly. My husband saw an orchard oriole last spring in the woods, so there’s hope that we can draw at least one into the yard.

I make up suet blocks sometimes with shortening or lard, crunchy peanut butter, cornmeal, quick-cooking oatmeal, a little flour, mixed bird seed, raisins and if I have them, I’ll add other dried fruits. There are recipes for this at http://www.birdsandblooms.com. You don’t have to have all of those ingredients either. I feed more suet in the winter so the birds can get the extra calories to help them stay warm. In spring and summer, I occasionally put crushed egg shells (from boiled eggs) on the platform. The calcium is good for them because it helps to strengthen their own eggs shells.

If you are new to this, just set up a feeder in your yard and put out some black oil sunflower seed. That is all you need to get started as most birds like that seed. And you don’t need binoculars just to watch them at your feeder. You may be pleasantly surprised at who shows up in your yard. If you see a bird that you don’t recognize and you don’t have a field guide, http://www.enature.com has online field guides, including the songs of some birds. Happy birding!