Monday, September 27, 2010

Northern Harriers

Earlier this summer, a family of Northern Harriers took up residence, identified by their white rump patch and their call, a weak nasal whistle. They liked to perch in my maple tree and watch the little birds servicing the suet block. For several weeks I could often hear them calling from other trees in the neighborhood, or see one or two take wing.

One morning I looked out my front door window to see four of them: Two in the maple, one on the ground, and one perched on my car!

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My chickadees were wiped out by the back-to-back blizzards of last winter. Only one pair set up housekeeping this spring, and they were from out of town.

I am training their chicks, however. :o)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Another smarty

A chickadee, this time.

I have for some time had some tamer chickadees that will come down and eat from a small custard dish of seed held in my hand. One in particular is quite demanding, and will hover right in front of my face if I'm headed for the car -- like: "I'm here. Feed me!"

Yesterday, I saw my chickadee family in the tree, and extended my arm and the seed cup outside with the door only partly open, it being rather cold out. One of my guys came down and perched on the edge of the dish for a moment, turned, and gave my finger a couple of pecks, then flew off.

This had never happened before. On bringing the cup in, the reason became apparent: The dish was empty! I had forgotten that I had tossed the remnants in the yard with the intention of refilling it.

So: here was this bird giving me hell and saying "What are you trying to pull here! Fill the damned dish!"


Thursday, May 04, 2006

One Smart Jay

I noticed a lone Blue Jay this morning doing something peculiar. S/he would peck at the ground a few times, then fly up to a low-hanging limb of the maple and appeared to lay something down, then pick it up and fly to a smaller branch suitable for opening seeds like sunflowers. My binoculars revealed that he would pick up three or four sunflower seeds, lay them out in a neat row on top of the broader branch then take them one by one to the smaller branch to open and consume them. I watched him do this trick a number of times before a crowd of Grackles chased him away.

I knew that Corvids (Ravens, Crows, Magpies and Jays) were smart, but I thought that most of the smarts had been given to the bigger birds. It seems that my Jay may have gotten more than his share!

I had previously noticed a Chickadee do something similar. It would pick up two of the black sunflower seeds, then appeared to be searching for something in the tree, flying from branch to branch. I had observed them do this before, searching for a suitable twig for opening such seeds, but this one was examining only larger branches. It finally found a branch with a crevice into which it stashed one seed while it flew off to open the other. It then returned to reclaim the stashed seed.

Chickadees and some other birds do hide seeds in bark crevices for later use, especially in Winter. I see the above performance as a simple modification of that behavior.

But the Jay's trick was uniquely clever.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


A few weeks ago, I saw a large flock of Canada Geese heading North -- but what do they know? Silly geese.

The radio weather folks have been saying for several days now that "Spring is in the air!"

Today I saw my first Robin. Three, in fact. Now I believe it!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Birds of a Feather

March first. Soon I'll start seeing the Spring Returns. One of the great flocks will be the Blackbirds: Starlings, Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds. Icterids all -- excepting the imposter starlings -- they always travel together. When they arrive, Spring cannot be far behind. Do they know that they are related? How?

The Professional

I hang a suet block in a little cage from a limb of the maple a few steps from my door. A number of different birds visit it, including several woodpeckers, or similar. Many of them have become tolerant of sharing the block, allowing another bird to feed from the other side -- as long as s/he is not right in their face. And they line up on the branch, taking turns. If someone is taking too long on the block, they may get pushed off, but patience seems the general order.

This will give you an idea of the incredible reaction times and speed of these guys. The suet hangs only about 5 Ft. (1.6m) above the ground. I have seen, say, a Nuthatch, lose a piece of suet and fly down to catch it before it hits the ground. By my calculation, that works out to a little over ½ second to estimate if it can be caught and then fly down to catch it before it hits the ground. I'm impressed!

The normal feeding mode is peck, peck, nibble, nibble. But not the Red-bellied Woodpecker. When s/he swoops in, being a bit larger, the others vacate. Chop, chop, chop -- and s/he flies off with a big chunk.

It's always a pleasure to watch a professional at work.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Merlin!

Two years ago, I guess it was. I happened to look out the front door window to see what was going on at the feeding station. Nothing. Not a bird in sight. Then a motion at the edge of my field of vision captured my attention.

It was a small hawk! Just starting to tear into a Junco, not four feet (ca 1m) from my front stoop, under a cedar tree! A quick trip through Peterson's identified her as a Merlin, a/k/a Pigeon Hawk, which identification was confirmed by telephone with the Raptor Center. They are uncommon in this area, but not unknown. I watched for the half hour it took her to dispose of the Junco, leaving only feet and feathers! What a beauty she was.

She hung around for a while, because I saw her again in my front yard with another bird, but she took it away before I could identify it. I have never had another good sighting, but there have been a number of instances where something has swooped down on the ground crowd, but too fast for me to eyeball, so I suspect she is still about.

I notice that the Downy Woodpeckers seem particularly vigilant before alighting on the suet block.

The Gang of Three

I get plenty of Chickadees, but these three always travel together. I'm sure they are unmated nest-mates fledged last Summer, with lots of the pushing and shoving you see among siblings.

Some Chickadees will come to my hand to eat, but not these guys!

Carolina Wrens

I have a pair who have shown up each winter for the past few years, and disappear come Spring. I don't know if they stay in the area or move on, but I'm sure they're busy on wren business!

They love the suet block I put out and only occasionally hit the seed that I toss on the ground. They're cheeky little things, almost as bold as the Chickadees, with a unique trilling song. A recent article I read leads me to believe that what I perceive as a single song may in fact be a tight duet!

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yes, there really is such a bird, a sort of woodpecker.

It's a female, and I only ever see the one, and only in the worst of winter weather. This morning was only the second time I've seen her this winter, and it was really cold last night, ca 11°F.

Since we are at the northern edge of their winter range, it's my theory is that her winter home is somewhere north of here, and the extreme cold drives her temporarily south -- to my feeding station.

Thursday, July 20, 2000

2000 July

  1. Some of the older Squirrels are getting a distinctly moth-eaten appearance. Half-tail is losing his fur around his shoulders.

  2. Had some black cherries, and tossed a couple to the Squirrels. Suspicious at first, but they were soon eaten.
  3. Put some mango rinds out. Squirrels loved it!
  4. I now have 4-5 Chipmumks who come by. Still, one or two don't know about peanuts. One 'munk has lost half his tail.

  5. As a family of Jays, adult + fledged chicks, flew off, I saw that one of their member was distintly orange in color. As they were flying directly away from me (to the sycamore tree), I couldn't tell what sort of bird it might be. By the time I got my binocs, it was too late.

  6. A Sparrow is forraging and feeding a fledged chick 2-3 times its size, and gray in color. A Cowbird chick? I have seen Brown-headed Cowbirds in the vicinity.