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.

Advertisements

All Those Hummingbirds Will Come HERE?

I’m so excited about this it’s hard to get my thoughts organized (plus, it’s Monday), but I’m going to try. Saturday, I went to a talk on feeding hummingbirds through the winter. I learned that there are more different kinds of hummingbirds that come to the Texas Gulf Coast in the winter than I ever knew! And a lot of them are difficult to identify.

We’ve had a buff-bellied hummingbird spend a couple of winters here. He was easy. He’s bigger than other hummers and he has a curved orange bill. We’ve missed him the past two years. Or, her. It’s impossible to tell the male from the female.

My son saw what I thought was a female ruby-throat in January, and he said it was most likely a female black-chinned. What? That bird comes here? I had no idea. Those two females are difficult to tell apart. Plus, I didn’t look at my book; I thought only the ruby-throat and the rufous were common here.

On Saturday, I learned that there are eight different hummingbirds that have been seen in Jefferson County, Texas. Ruby-throated, black-chinned, Anna’s, rufous, Allen’s, calliope, broad-tailed, buff-bellied, broad-billed and green-breasted mango hummingbirds. That is quite a list, and as I was reading over the material we were given, I realized that I had a male black-chinned hummingbird at my feeder. He had black under the bill and purple under the black, and I thought it was the way the winter light was messing with things. Another way to distinguish the ruby-throat from the black-chinned is the black-chinned will flick it’s tail while feeding. My neighbor and I both remember seeing a hummer do that at our feeders.

So, who has identified all those birds? People from the Audubon Society, and they know their birds. The lady who was giving the talk told us that  her husband takes a photo of each bird at their feeder each morning. He takes the photos (right through the kitchen window), then puts them on the computer and enlarges them. This way they are able to tell each bird apart by little details in their markings. They can also see distinctive characteristics of each species with a photo that it’s really hard, if not impossible, to see through binoculars. Several of these birds are very similar.

And, it seems my books are really out of date as far as their range maps go. I need to get an up to date book, and you do, too, if yours are not the latest. Some birds have changed their addresses, and that, along with programs that allow any of us to report what we see, has really changed what we thought we knew.

Here is a website my son told me about so I could read up on identifying the black-chinned and the ruby-throat. I can hardly wait until next winter!

A Short Note About This Winter’s Birds

My bird feeding has been erratic the past several weeks, mostly due to my misadventures with my back. So, there has mostly not been any bird feeding. My back is fine now and the other day I put some seed out. Finally, I’ve got a goldfinch. I even saw two of them while ago. My neighbors down the street haven’t seen any yet and they have had seed out, so I guess I haven’t been missing anything and these are the first ones.  Last year we started seeing them in November. Not sure if that was unusual, or if this year is unusual.

I’ve had a few hummingbirds. There are at least two rufous hummingbirds and at least one ruby-throated. I think one of the rufous is a young male, the other is female, as is the ruby-throated.

I have no idea where the blue jays went. I haven’t seen one in months and I wish they would come back. They have attitude and they are so pretty; I love to watch them.

Mostly, there are tons of sparrows. Well, birdtons anyway. I think they are pretty; the shades of brown are nice to look at. There are doves, too, of course. I’d just like some variety. I have seen a few warblers in the vines on the fence, but I’m so out of practice identifying warblers that I can’t tell you what kind are out there.

I sure miss putting out the lard, peanut butter, flour….all that good stuff mixed up. It’s got gluten in it, so I can’t have flour and cornmeal in my kitchen. I could feed them gluten-free flour and cornmeal, but that is pretty expensive. So, I can’t. I’m keeping an eye out for substitutes though. If I find anything, I’ll try to post it here in case someone else is in the same boat.

Well, I just thought that if anyone is wondering where the goldfinches are and what else might be making an appearance on the Upper Texas Gulf Coast, I’d give y’all a little report.

Happy Birding!

ADDENDUM: Be sure to read “All Those Hummingbirds Will Come HERE?”, written on March 11, 2013. I misidentified some birds!

Hummingbird Season Won’t End at My House This Year

Oh, how exciting! This morning I was on my front porch when I looked around and saw a small brownish hummingbird in the non-bearing pomegranate shrub. At first, I wasn’t positive if it was a rufous or if it was the female ruby-throat that was here yesterday. Was I sure about that color? Is it really a rufous? Am I seeing what is really here, or just what I want to see?

I walked over closer to get a better look, and it sure looked like the rusty color on its side just in front of the wing. Just to help me out, the little bitty bird hopped around in the branches giving me a better look. Oh, my goodness! It’s a rufous! It was like God was saying, “Happy Birthday, Diane.” I certainly said, “Thank you! This is great!”

If you live on the upper Texas Gulf Coast don’t take your feeders down. Even if the last of the ruby-throats has left, you may get a rufous or even a buff-bellied hummingbird. I used to have to go about 10 or so miles north of here to see a rufous, but last year I finally had not one, but two of them. Not bad for the first time to have rufous in my yard. They are pretty aggressive and may chase Little Miss Ruby-Throat away. They may even be why I didn’t see a buff-bellied last year, whereas I had one spend two winters in a row here before last year. You may get a buff-bellied, too. They will sometimes hang out along the Gulf Coast during the winter.

I like seasons. I like the cooler temperatures, the changing leaves and even no leaves on trees, the color of the sky, and the different birds. We never had hummingbirds in winter until recently. This is the fourth year in a row for us to have a hummingbird in the yard who came specifically for this season. If you haven’t had them in the winter before, don’t give up. These little winged creatures are on the move and may show up at your house, too.

ADDENDUM: Be sure and read “All Those Hummingbirds Will Come HERE?”, written on March 11, 2013. I misidentified a few birds!

Lost My Flying Flower Garden

I regret to have to tell y’all that Bubba (the male painted bunting who spent 11 days at my feeders) has left. His lady is gone, too. The last time I saw him was the day he landed on my windowsill. I guess he wanted to let me know he needed groceries so he could fill up his little bird tank for a trip to someplace else. I miss him! It’s like a whole flower garden is gone; he was so colorful. We’re back to our brownish, grayish with a bit of green winter. I’m not seeing enough cardinals to make up for his absence.

However, there are lots of other birds around here to appreciate. There is a flock of robins who are out in my backyard at this very moment eating Ligustrum seeds. I didn’t know they would do that. I always think of robins and worms, and I never see them on a feeder, so I just assumed they were carnivorous. I guess not. They sure are pretty. Have you ever seen one’s face straight on? I was looking through the binoculars and saw one of them turn his head so that his beak and eyes were what I was seeing. The way his markings are on his eyes and throat, he looked like a cartoon character.

One morning, I opened the blinds to see a Northern Flicker up in a tree on the other side of my neighbors’ house. He is so pretty! And another morning, I saw a pileated woodpecker. We had one of those several years ago who was pecking at his reflection in side mirrors on vehicles in the neighborhood. He broke two of my dad’s mirrors down the street. My cousin (next door) saw it on a truck at his house and said he never would have believed it if he hadn’t seen it himself. That bird even saw his reflection in one of my windows and went after it. I was torn between shooing him away so he wouldn’t break the glass and staring at him in awe. I’d sure never seen a pileated woodpecker from just a few feet away! I guess you know I just watched him. No shooing here.

Everybody I talk to is wondering why we don’t have many goldfinches. The most I’ve seen at once is nine. We have tons of sparrows. I like them but they sure like the expensive food. I got some safflower the other day, so they can eat more black oil sunflower seeds and just a little of the millet. That way the other birds can have something to eat without so much competition at the table.

OH! There is still a lady rufous hummingbird coming to the feeder. She sure is hard to photograph! As soon as I get ready, she flies. Last time it warmed up she sort of disappeared, so I’m glad to still have her during this warm spell we’re having. Shoot, most of this winter has been a warm spell. Birds are singing like it’s spring. I wouldn’t get too comfortable though; I’ve seen snow on roses around here.

ADDENDUM: I just saw the female bunting!! It’s now about 8am on the 21st of January, one day after writing the above post. Maybe Bubba is still out there!! It’s been a week since I’ve seen either one of them. Oh, wow. How cool!

About Those Hummingbirds…

You know (if you have been reading my bird posts) we have been watching more than one hummingbird at our feeder the past few weeks. Last week, my son who carries binoculars and a bird book in his car, (my other two are what I would call ‘incidental bird watchers’ but this son is deliberate about it) was here to visit for Christmas. He took the window screen off so we could get a better look because we really need to see detail so we will know who we have here. He asked if I was sure that both of the hummingbirds were female rufous hummers. I told him I was wondering about one of them because I’ve noticed the throat is dark-colored, but not orange. (Females have a bit of what my friend likes to call “beading” on their throats, except our female’s throat is pretty much white. It’s rows of teensy tiny spots that go from their chin down the throat just a little ways. The female also has a dark spot below the “beading” that males don’t have. Males have a solid orange throat.) My son said it may be an immature male rufous. He noticed the rufous in front of his(?) wings goes back over his shoulders a little ways, too. This bird is also a little bit smaller than the aggressive one.

A few days later in the week, my friend who has been watching birds for decades and is very good at identifying them, came to take a look. She said it’s possible that my son is right. We will have to watch and see if he(?) changes and begins to look more like the mature male.  So, maybe we will be watching a little boy hummingbird grow up this winter. That would be so cool!

Another thing I’ve noticed is that the female, who is so aggressive she chases off sparrows, has never showed up to chase this bird away when it is feeding. She does chase a hummingbird, but it’s hard for me to tell if it’s this one before it lands, or if it’s a different bird entirely.  I’ll be getting some new batteries for our new camera in a day or two, and I hope to get some photos so I can compare these birds, especially their throats. Then, I want to learn how to put them on here so you can see, too.

One more bird thing – yesterday, I finally saw two goldfinches on the thistle sack at the same time! Won’t be long and there will be a crowd. Winter sure is a great time for watching birds in the Southern US. I hope you are seeing some great things out your windows, too.

Rufous Hummingbird!

All right! Two years ago I got it into my head that I wanted a Rufous hummingbird to come to my feeder in the fall and stay for the winter. They do that on the Gulf Coast, although the closest ones I know of have been seen about 10 miles from me (that’s 10 miles as the crow flies, which is important when you’re talking about birds).

Two years ago, I left my hummer feeder out past the Ruby-throated migration in hopes that a rufous would find its way here. I didn’t get a Rufous, but got something totally unexpected. A Buff-bellied hummingbird showed up. Boy, I had no idea what that bird was until I looked him up. That’s when I learned the male and female Buff-bellied hummers look alike.

Last year, I left the feeder out still hoping for a Rufous, but also wanted the Buff-bellied to come back. Mr. or Mrs. Buff-bellied did show up and spent the second winter here. It was really nice, but still no Rufous.

This year, I left the feeder out hoping the Buff-bellied would come back. No Buff-bellied hummer this year, but about a week and a half ago, we saw a hummer at the feeder. It was small and I thought it was a female Ruby-throated straggler who would only be here for a day or two; she was busy doing other things when everyone else left and now she was running way behind. I don’t really know how a person would tell if a bird was old and too weak for the trip, but she looked fine to me.

Then came the surprise! When I was washing dishes and she was feeding, I would be watching her. That is when I noticed a flash of rufous coloring on her sides and tail when she flew. The first few times I saw it, it didn’t really register in my head that this was not normal for a Ruby-throated. After about a week of watching her, it dawned on me that even though she didn’t look like any Rufous I’d seen before, she just might be one. So, I looked in my bird books and that is when I discovered the male and female don’t look alike. What I had seen before were males. I needed one more good look to make sure who this bird is.

Then, along came a cold front. We had rain and a cold north wind and it got down to freezing last night. I read that the Rufous might stay for a week or two and then move on, and I was afraid she would leave if she didn’t like the climate, and I’d never be positive about her identity. Well, she didn’t leave and today the lighting was just right, and I finally got a good look with binoculars at her side, belly and flank and she is a female Rufous! I am so happy! My friend who lives 10 miles away has had them stay all winter, so I expect that as long as she likes the groceries and I can keep them coming, she will hang out with me this winter. I’m so happy.