Thursday, January 19, 2017

Winter Birds

With a name like Chickadee Gardens, we'd better have chickadees, right? Rest assured, we do. We have more than chickadees; a multitude of bird species visit year-round and the last several weeks of intense winter weather has had them desperately seeking food. With more than a foot of snow on the ground for a week now (as well as frozen ground and bouts of snow since November), it has been especially difficult for wildlife to forage. This part of the world does not usually see this kind of weather; we have all been caught off-guard. Fifty pounds of black oil sunflower seeds and bags of corn kernels later, our feathered friends have made it through the worst of it. 


Red-breasted sapsucker. Although not a feeder visitor, we have seen quite a lot of these colorful birds. We are leaving a few trees that have either died or had major trunks broken off in storms for snags. This bird is on one of the snags in progress (not quite dead yet!), a favorite hang out.


These two were having lunch together. Not sure if they are a pair, but they were friendly with each other. 



Varied thrush. We have seen an abundance of these medium-sized birds. They are not visitors year-round, rather in the cooler months. The last few weeks they have come to heavily rely on the sunflower seed offerings we put out several times a day as they are ground foragers, picking through fallen leaves for insects. Since there has literally been no ground to pick through nor a leaf on the ground to be seen, they were desperate. Don't worry, they were very well-fed. In fact, they all seem quite plump and orangy.


Such rolly-pollies! They chase each other off while foraging or waiting in a branch for another go at the bird feeders. Not the most welcoming within their own species.


Ha! It looks like a candy corn, but it's a regular corn kernel in her mouth. We've been sharing the chickens' treats with the wild birds, too. The chickens don't mind.



In this shot she's standing on the frozen birdbath that has become another platform for seeds. 



Here, the varied thrush (or V.T. as we call them) shares seeds with a black-eyed junco.


Speaking of juncos, here is one of about 3,793 currently living at Chickadee Gardens.


They come in droves this time of year even without the cruel weather.


Western scrub jay - appropriate as we live on Blue Jay Lane. We love these guys. This one is kind of the boss of the larger birds around here.


Steller's jay - a beauty. He loves the corn, but is kind of weary of the scrub jay so comes in quickly to grab his fill.


Here he is sunning himself. We have about three couples that live nearby, they are all regular visitors.



Downy woodpecker feasting on suet. These little ones have very little fear of us. We see them regularly year-round, always going for the suet. Speaking of suet, there's a great recipe out there to make your own from a wonderful blogger Real Gardens Grow Natives. You can find the recipe here.


Northern flicker, another regular visitor. These birds are very nervous and are easily spooked. Slightly larger than blue jays, they are related to woodpeckers, and they often search for grubs and insects in trees. They also love ants, so will ground-feed when they come across a colony.


Their long tails are used for balance. Here you can just see it curled under its body. Sometimes suet feeders come with a little plank at the base, this is to help the woodpeckers and flickers have something to balance their tails against.


American crow. We've befriended the crows here, very slowly. It will take time for them to totally accept us. This weather brought large numbers of them looking for the daily pile of kitchen scraps we leave for them. They have been bringing buddies in this weather. We also have one or two raven visitors. They are twice as large as the crows, very impressive birds. FM heard one before dawn the other morning calling as it flew down the valley. Perfect.



Anna's hummingbird, a year-round resident in the Pacific Northwest so in these frozen months, it's especially helpful to have clean, fresh hummingbird water available. The recipe is one part sugar to three parts water. No honey, no molasses, nothing but plain white sugar. Organic is great, but make sure it's white. Boil for one minute, let cool and store in the fridge. No red dye! Keep it fresh by changing it every several days, more often in hot weather. If you start, they come to rely on it so you have to keep doing it through the winter. If you don't have time for it, don't start. There are a few plants that provide winter nectar - many native Mahonia species (Oregon grape), Ribes species or flowering currants are another. Chime in with your favorites in the comments section if you have a successful flowering plant for hummingbird nectar.

Facilities Manager has done the hummingbird feeder shuffle every day - bringing them in at night and out before first light to keep the nectar warm enough to stay liquid. One of my readers wrote me to say hello and tell me about a great product, the hummingbird feeder heater, the Hummers Heated Delight. Click here for a link, I am in the process of ordering one. Thank you, Jackie! It makes a lot of sense to me, I'd love to try it. After all, FM needs his sleep!

Seeing this hummingbird brings to mind our friend Jimmy the Hummingbird. He was a little guy who was left for dead a couple of winters ago by another hummingbird trying to kill it -- the competition is fierce when it freezes. You can read about that to find out what happened here.


Here, the birdbath heater keeps the water just above freezing to allow birds to have liquid in these frozen days for drinking and bathing. Providing water in the winter is not something we have to think about usually, but when it's frozen, it can mean life or death for many small critters. The birds really appreciate it as it helps them through these tough days. The heaters are fairly inexpensive at around $20 (I bought mine at the Backyard Bird Shop here's a link), well worth the investment I made several years ago. The rocks in there are to give traction for the little birds as the sides of this particular birdbath are quite smooth, they tend to slip right off. It also provides shallow pockets of water, something the really little guys and bees appreciate.

I have written posts about birds before, you can visit those here and here. This week it's all about the winter birds and helping them in this especially difficult time. Usually our winters are mild and snow lasts a day or two at best and wildlife has a fairly abundant variety from which to choose. This time around, as well as plant losses, I'm sure there will be plenty of wildlife losses unfortunately. We normally don't put out four giant overflowing bowl fulls of extra sunflower seed every day. Our regular protocol is simply keeping the feeders well-stocked and providing plenty of plant material to attract insects to eat. This has proven to be an exceptional winter, however, as anyone who lives here can lament, so perhaps we've helped one or two little guys along the way.

As of today the snow has started to melt and the flooding has begun. At least our feathered buddies can now forage in the few green patches for worms and other bugs, back to their regular diet.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening and bird watching! 


16 comments :

  1. Fabulous - such beautiful little friends you have. : )

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  2. What a wonderful variety of birds you share your garden with! My own feeders are being emptied at record speed this winter so I can only imagine how much greater the activity is up there in the frozen north. As I write a squirrel is trying to find his way into the feeders, all now effectively squirrel-proofed - he'll have to make do with what the birds leave on the ground (or my Gazanias).

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    1. That's great, you feed them too. It's very rewarding. Squirrels...those are a whole other subject! You'll have to share your squirrel-proofing methods!

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  3. Your birds are fat. Great post!

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    1. Fat and happy. Indeed. Thank you Amos!

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  4. Article in Eugene Register Guard today re feeding Anna's was very clear ratio should be 4 to 1 and anything higher was dangerous to birds' health as they dehydrate. Article by U of O professor of ornithology and owner of our lical Wild Birds Unlumited store.

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    1. Good to know, Beth, thank you. I give a little more this time of year for more energy in the freezing months and the 4:1 ratio in summer. I go by what the Cornell Lab of Ornithology sates - here's the link:

      https://www.allaboutbirds.org/feeding-hummingbirds/

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    2. And here is the link to the article I mentioned. http://registerguard.com/rg/life/homeandgarden/35107757-72/humming-along-through--winters-cold.html.csp

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  6. We love watching the birds. We have most of the ones you mentioned except for the sapsuckers and the thrush. I dutifully kept the hummingbird feeder thawed during the cold temperatures. I should purchase the heated one. I tried wrapping the feeder in bubble wrap - that does not work! I also have a heater for the bird bath.

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    1. That's wonderful to have so many birds in an urban/suburban environment. Great also for having the bird bath heater. Did you have these things when you lived in the SE or are they new since living in the PNW? Every little bit helps those feathered friends of ours.

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  7. Oh the hummingbird shuffle was a familiar dance here too during the freeze. You've got a lot of beautiful visitors to your garden!

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    1. You too? We all do it around the Pacific Northwest, don't we? Here's to all the sweet hummingbirds in our gardens!

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  8. The snow makes a nice backdrop for the beauty of the birds but we were less successful at getting photos to prove it. You and FM deserve medals for your heroics in keeping the little guys fed and watered.

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    1. That's a great way of looking at it, Ricki - regarding the snow. Well, you are very kind about the medal comment but I don't think so, they pay us in such enjoyment. But you can't let the little guys down in such harsh weather.

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