Birds & Blooms

My already award-winning photo of an airborne Tufted Titmouse is competing for the Grand Prize in Birds & Blooms Magazine’s backyard photo contest. Voting has begun online at
The news on the home front is that our backyard has turned into a wild turkey habitat. I saw five turkeys in the still snow-covered yard this morning. Their footprints are all over our yard and even close to our garage. Pretty soon they’ll be ringing our door bell, demanding to be fed! We’re hoping that they’ll go somewhere else once the snow melts. Spring can’t come soon enough around here.

Late Winter Update

When I first saw a turkey in our snow-covered backyard I was excited. Next thing I knew three female turkeys have become regulars at our bird feeders. They time their appearance precisely when my husband puts a feeder out with food for ground eaters. The plan is, of course, to feed songbirds (such as cardinals, white-throated sparrows, fox sparrows, Carolina wrens and anyone else who is more comfortable eating on the ground). We had not anticipated to feed gigantic turkeys and hope they’ll disappear once the ground is free of snow. What’s a photographer to do? Take photos, of course. However, they tend to disappear once I get out there.
I have another reason to wish the snow gone. I just got a Wingscapes birdcam and hope I can field-test it soon. The camera has a motion detector and a flash and I hope to capture birds with it that just aren’t comfortable with me being around photographing them. I plan on posting it near our hummingbird feeder and/or our birdbath during the summer.
Until then, I watch the birds from a window. Lately, we’ve observed a flock of red-winged blackbirds, more starlings than we dare to count, a robin, and all the other species I mentioned during the bird count. I have also noticed that, despite the cold weather, the birds are singing more and more often. I even heard the red-winged blackbirds call this morning. Can spring be far behind?

Turkeys Away – Not

My favorite episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati” is the Thanksgiving show “Turkeys Away.” The joke is that the station manager drops domestic turkeys out of a helicopter, thinking they can fly. Around our house, we have wild turkeys and they’re flocking to our bird feeders more and more often. Until today, I had only seen one at a time. Today, I spotted three turkeys at the same time and did what any shutterbug would do: I photographed them.
As the snow melts away it reveals the sunflower seeds – and their shells – that have landed on the ground recently. It’ll be a chore to rake them up, but otherwise they will attract rodents if left unattended. As the weather gets above freezing it is also imperative to clean the bird feeders. We usually clean the feeders in the evening so they can dry overnight before they get filled again. For cleaning we use one part bleach to ten parts water. If you don’t have bleach, vinegar will do too. It is important to rinse the feeders thoroughly to remove any trace of bleach. Diseases can spread easily at a heavily frequented bird feeder. That’s why it is important to keep up with cleaning and/or removing moldy seeds.

The Great Backyard Bird Count – Day 4

I love it when things go according to plan. This morning I was thrilled to see our “resident” wild turkey show up at our feeder, just in time to be counted. It spent a considerable time in our backyard and returned around lunch time. I took some photos through the window. Then I attempted to mosey around our house to photograph it but it detected me and flew off. It is hard to approach anything through frozen snow that reaches over my knees.

The Great Backyard Bird Count – Days 2 & 3

Yesterday morning things were eerily quiet around our feeders. A couple of cardinals sat motionless in a pear tree and a squirrel practically hugged another tree. No one was at the feeders. That could only mean one thing: A predator was out there. And then I saw a Cooper’s hawk landing on one of our trees, the squirrel not too far above him! After a few moments it flew off again. It did not take long for the birds to return to our feeder.
This morning I spotted 17 cardinals in our backyard. I stopped counting them after that, because what was the point? I didn’t even know we had that many around. A less pleasant surprise was counting 18 starlings. Where do they all come from all of a sudden? I am pleased, though, to see a flicker returning to our feeder regularly. And after seeing a turkey at our feeder twice this week it isn’t showing up at all to be counted.

Great Backyard Bird Count – Day 1

The Great Backyard Bird Count is on. Here is a list of the birds I observed today:

10 Northern cardinals
5 Starlings
1 Northern flicker
1 Black-capped chickadee
1 Tufted titmouse
1 Carolina wren
1 Downy woodpecker
1 Red-bellied woodpecker
1 Hairy woodpecker
1 Blue jay
2 Dark-eyed juncos
2 House sparrows
1 White-throated sparrow
2 Fox sparrows
1 White-breasted nuthatch
2 Mourning doves

This list is by no means complete. While driving through our plan I saw dozens of birds (possibly mourning doves) on a powerline. I couldn’t count them, though, because I was driving. I am also hearing quite a bit of bird chatter outdoors today despite the weather.

Feeding birds and other creatures

On Friday and Saturday our region was hammered with more than 21″ of snow. My husband had filled the bird feeder before the yard became unpassable, but the ground feeding birds were out of luck. However, our resident fox sparrow managed to dig a hole in the snow–something we had never seen before. After the snow fall ended my husband stalked through knee-deep snow to put out a platform feeder filled with corn and seeds for the ground eaters on top of the mass of snow. Needless to say, our yard is very busy.
Birds are not the only creatures taking advantage of our outdoor cafe. Last evening we saw a doe at the platform feeder. And today I observed a turkey for several hours eating happily away. In this weather no one wants to expand energy looking for food. I managed to take a couple of photos through our window glass, but when I ventured outside to take a sneak shot it must have heard me coming and flew away.
Hanging a bird feeder is a bit tricky. Put it too far away from the house and you have to trudge through snow and ice to fill it. Put it too close to the house and the birds might crash into your windows and perish. It is absolutely essential to provide the birds with shelter near the feeders (no more than 8-10 feet away) so they can escape if a predator lurks nearby. Lately, we have observed a hawk that often dive bombs through our driveway to make a surprise attack. Hawks have to eat too, but I would like the playing field to be level. Of course, if it was up to me they could eat all the starlings they like…

The Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count is now just one week away. It will take place from February 12-15, 2010. Where, you ask? Wherever you feel like watching birds. That could be at your feeder, your school, a local park or a wildlife refuge. As long as you write down the times you watched the birds and tally your count it doesn’t matter where you view them.
Sometimes the best place is right at home. This afternoon I looked out the window and saw a female turkey under our bird feeder. Too bad it was a week early for the count…
In order to whet your appetite for the bird count I am enclosing a list of all the bird species we have seen in and around our yard over the years:
• American Goldfinch
• American Robin
• Baltimore Oriole
• Black-capped Chickadee
• Blue Jay
• Brown-headed Cowbird
• Carolina Wren
• Chipping Sparrow
• Common Grackle
• Cooper’s Hawk
• Crow
• Dark-eyed Junco
• Downy Woodpecker
• European Starling
• Eastern Towhee
• Great-horned Owl (heard only)
• Hairy Woodpecker
• House Finch
• House Sparrow
• Mourning Dove
• Northern Cardinal
• Northern Flicker
• Pileated Woodpecker
• Red-bellied Woodpecker
• Red-tailed Hawk
• Red-winged Blackbird
• Rose-breasted Grosbeak
• Ruby-throated Hummingbird
• Song Sparrow
• Tufted Titmouse
• Turkey
• Turkey Vulture
• White-breasted Nuthatch
• White-crowned Sparrow
• White-throated Sparrow

Winter Notes

It is bitterly cold today and the birds were already at our feeder before daylight broke. Three crows descended on our yard, probably remembering that my husband throws out some peanuts every morning. They’ve been stopping by more and more often. Perhaps they figure that the best food is the food that takes the least effort to find.
How do our backyard birds survive the frigid nights, other than fluffing out their feathers? They roost, I’m told. They huddle together to give each other warmth or hide in tree cavities or vacant bird houses. Brush piles and evergreen bushes also provide habitat for birds. We had to cut down a shrub last fall and threw it at the edge of our hill side. That brush pile is now teeming with sparrows, juncos, and wrens. Shelter is also important for birds to hide in when our resident hawk lurks around.
In the morning birds have to replenish the energy they expended throughout the night. That’s why our feeders are busiest in the early morning hours. Late afternoon is another busy period. While birds cannot afford to totally rely on a particular feeder (they would be doomed if you moved away or went out of town) it is important to keep up the feeding throughout winter once you started feeding birds.

Watch Out, Cardinals!

I often say that watching birds is much more entertaining than television. Today is no exception. This morning I spotted a bird on the ground and grabbed my binoculars. It was a Cooper’s Hawk! I had never seen one on the ground before. It flew on the trunk of a felled shrub nearby and looked around. Then it flew into a pear tree that edges our yard. Against my better judgement I grabbed my camera and stepped outside the front door. I knew they are pretty shy, but thought that I could approach our side porch to take a shot. When it spotted me, however, it flew off–much to the relief of the cardinal that was perched on the other side of the tree. The other day the hawk had better luck, since we found a large pile of feathers on the ground. Apparently, the hawk had snatched a mourning dove, which happens quite often. Hawks need to eat, too, but I would be sad if it caught a pretty singer such as a cardinal.
According to a book I bought recently, Cooper’s hawks feed mostly on birds and small mammals, hunting by stealth. They usually move from perch to perch in dense cover, then using a burst of speed to overtake prey. Their habitat are mature forests, open woodlands, and wood edges. Since there is a wooded ravine behind our house there is plenty of habitat to choose from.
Years ago I was more successful with my camera when I photographed an immature Cooper’s hawk at our bird bath. Yes, it really was just taking a drink. Back then, our garage door was already open and I used it as a cover. Many photographers also shoot from their cars, but I have never tried that. Perhaps I should, once the weather gets a bit warmer. The best advice, though, is to be ready all the time because you never know what unexpected visitors will pass through your yard.