Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

The past few weeks have been an exciting time!  Many of the winter regulars have finally settled in, and a couple of winter irregulars have decided to stick around.

The White-throated Sparrow (above) that was first spotted in the yard on November 11th appears that it will likely overwinter in the neighborhood.  I wasn't expecting this, as most WC Sparrows winter closer to the coast.  In fact, the last individual that I hosted (late Novemeber/early December, 2009) only hung around for a couple of weeks.  But the brightly-colored individual shown above has been showing up multiple times per day since then and doesn't appear to be moving on any time soon.

While winter sparrow numbers have been down overall this winter (no White-crowned, Lincoln's, or Fox; and just one Golden-crowned last month), the presence of year-round sparrow species has been impressive.  Specifically, we've hosted at least one semi-regular Song Sparrow since early November.  Even more impressively, there are at least two local Spotted Towhees that are now feeding in the yard regularly.  This is the first residence where I've had the fortune to see towhees on a regular basis.  And I'm very thankful for that, as they're one of my favorite yard birds.

A Song Sparrow feeds on a mixture of white millet and cracked corn.

A Spotted Towhee cautiously stops in for a quick morning snack.

When we purchased this house, I was pretty confident that the yard and surrounding area would support warblers, kinglets, and wrens.  And my instincts were relatively accurate.  Before the moving truck brought over our furniture, I had spotted one or more Bewick's Wrens, and there were several sightings of migrating warblers (Wilson's, Yellow, and Black-throated Gray) from mid-August through September.  When late October rolled around, Yellow-rumped Warblers could be seen hawking insects around the neighborhood.  Townsend's Warblers soon followed.  While the YR Warblers became frequent visitors at the suet feeders and the Wax-myrtle bushes, the Townsend's Warblers continued to visit only occasionally (perhaps once a day) and largely avoid the feeders.  And then it got cold.  With lows in the mid-20s in early December, much of the insect population was eliminated and we currently have at least one regular male and one female at the suet feeders.  Townsend's Warblers are another one of my favorites and these bright yellow friends are always a pleasure to see on a gray, overcast winter day.

This Yellow-rumped Warbler sits atop one of our Wax-myrtle shrubs on a cold December morning.

A male Townsend's Warbler hits up the caged suet feeder.

We have also been fortunate with kinglets and wrens this fall.  Both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets exhibit major movements through our area in November.  This year was no exception, as both were frequently observed in mixed flocks with Bushtits and Chickadees last month.  As is usually the case, GC Kinglets move on to winter in more rural areas in December, while some RC Kinglets stick around suet feeders in urban and suburan areas.  Though I'm seeing far fewer RC Kinglets than I did a few weeks ago, one was taking suet at one of the feeders earlier this week.  Hopefully it will become a semi-regular this winter.  The Bewick's Wrens that frequented the yard late this summer became far less conspicuous in the early fall.  However, they've made a major comeback and seem to enjoy my new peanut feeder.  I had hoped to get a good photo of at least one of these three species, but they're all rather difficult to capture.

A Western Scrub-Jay stops in for some cracked corn.

This Pine Siskin is one of two that have visited the yard recently.  Will more winter finches be on the way?

This male Downy Woodpecker checks out the magnolia tree after enjoying a suet lunch.  Woodpeckers have been scarce here so far.

After being regulars in the late summer, Red-breasted Nuthatches seemed to drop off the face of the Earth this fall.  Thankfully, they're resurged over the past two weeks and can be seen at the feeders about once or twice a day now.  Chestnut-backed Chickadee numbers dropped a little over the same time, but there has always been at least one around over the past four months.  Now there are two regulars.

On the other hand, winter regulars for this area, such as Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and Pine Siskins, have all been in low number this season.  Siskins numbers are always unpredictable, but I'm somewhat surprised to see so few woodpeckers.  Perhaps January and February will provide us with more.  Evening Grosbeaks, Purple Finches, and Varied Thrushes - all of which were regular to semi-regular last winter due to irruptive movements - have been absent this season (save for one Varied Thrush).  I would expect to see a Purple Finch or two in March or April, when they typically exhibit local movement, but probably not the other two species.

So, that's it for now.  I hope to have more good news in January.  Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Unknown said...

I love your blog. the photos are amazing.

what would you recommend for a novice who wants to put out a feeder to attract small birds--do you have a preferred feeder/feed mix?


BJG said...


Thank you for the kind words. If you're just starting out, I would feed four things: sunflower, nyjer (thistle), cracked corn, and suet. (I'm not a fan of the commercial mixes.) For medium/large finches, chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice, I would get a hopper-style feeder and fill it with a mixture of black-oil sunflower and sunflower chips. For the small finches (goldfinches, siskins, redpolls), get a basic thistle feeder and fill it with nyjer (thistle) seed. For woodpeckers and nuthatches, chain a suet basket around the trunk of a tree and fill it with suet cakes. Sparrows and towhees like to feed off of the ground, particularly near cover. Sprinkle some cracked corn on the ground near a bush and they'll eventually show up. In the summer, you can attract hummingbirds with sugar-water feeders (be sure to change the solution at least twice a week). If you're west of the Cascades/Sierra-Nevadas on the West Coast, you'll get hummers year-round.

I'd suggest going cheap with the feeders at first. Many of the aforementioned feeders can be purchased rather inexpensively from Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc. "Upgrade" to the more expensive ones when you're ready. If you get sick of the squirrels taking over your sunflower and suet feeders, there are higher-end squirrel-proof feeders that you can purchase, as well as squirrel-proof pole systems. (Duncraft and Wild Birds Unlimited are good retailers for the more elaborate feeders and accessories.)

I hope that helps a little. Feel free to let me know if you have more questions.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info!

I'll let you know how it goes.

We're in Eugene and have a lot of juncoes in the yard right now (and crows--so many crows)