Starting Over

12175 Howells Rd viewI miss my birds. Until a month ago, we lived on almost five acres outside of town, with huge Ponderosa pine trees and a two-acre field. My yard list numbered over 60 species. I could stand at the kitchen window and watch three species of hummingbird at the feeder hanging from the eaves, and enjoy the antics of the Bluejays, Steller’s Jays, and Scrub Jays as they competed with the magpies for peanuts left on our balcony railing.

Lesser Goldfinch_BCNC_LAH_6460White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches abounded, with an occasional Red-breasted cousin making a cameo appearance. Lesser Goldfinches and Pine Siskins swarmed the Nyjer feeder. House Finches and Black-headed Grosbeaks preferred the black oil sunflower seeds on the platform feeder, while Spotted Towhees, Mourning Doves, and Chipping Sparrows sorted through the mulch for millet.

Tree and Violet-green Swallows nested in the boxes spurned by the Western and Mountain Bluebirds. House Wrens preferred the hanging wren box, and Mountain Chickadees used whatever cavities they could find.

Then we moved into a brand new house.

2015-05-26 09.49.21As with most new construction, particularly on a city lot, the entire yard has been scraped bare. There is nary a weed to be seen, much less plants for cover, food, and nest-building. As the first house on a new street, we don’t even have neighbors with landscaped yards. The only redeeming feature is that we’re directly adjacent to a small open space with scrub oak, grass, and weeds, and three pine trees (below). There’s hope.

2015-05-027While we have plans for a bird- and butterfly-friendly yard, there’s a lot of work that comes first. Retaining walls must be built, paths paved, and drip irrigation installed. We won’t get to the plants for weeks, and even then, a 1½ caliper tree doesn’t offer many places to mount a nest box. On top of that, the weather remains cold and rainy. Any sensible bird would know better than to venture into a yard offering no shelter!

I underestimated the birds.

American Robin_FCNC_LAH_1593We were sitting at the dining room table, looking out at the view of Pikes Peak when I realized there was a robin singing from our fence post. Yard bird number one! Shortly after that, I sighted a magpie overhead, and added it to the list.

On a rainy afternoon a few days later, we were sitting at table, taking a short break from unpacking, when I noticed a very disgruntled, sopping wet bird sitting on the scaffolding of the house being built next door. It was a female Yellow-headed Blackbird! Note that we’re miles from the nearest marsh, so I could only assume that she was heading north and just happened to stop here for a rest. As she crossed our property line on her way out, I happily claimed yard bird number three.

We had just settled back down at the table when we realized that a Say’s Phoebe was calling from our back fence. I’ve seen him a few more times since then, so he must have claimed as his territory part of the open space next door.

The next morning I was arranging some pots full of flowers on our back deck (I just had to plant something!) when I heard the distinctive buzz of a Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Rushing into the house, I dug through boxes until I found the feeder, then quickly mixed up some sugar water to fill it. By the time I got it all put together, the bird was long gone, but I left the feeder in plain view on our deck railing. I’ve heard hummingbirds a few more times, but have yet to see one at the feeder. Unfortunately, until I actually see a bird, I can’t be sure it was in our yard.

2015-05-26 09.49.39I added pole with two more feeders, in an effort to entice some birds to visit. You’ve got to start somewhere! So far, no one has accepted the offer, even with a cake of suet and shelled peanuts and sunflower seeds. Here, birdy, birdy….

Bird number five was a male Mountain Bluebird, hawking insects from our back fence (really, the only perch in the yard). By next spring I’ll have a nest box waiting for him and his mate.

A number of other species have passed by without actually dropping in. Canada Geese and ducks, House Finches, Northern Flickers, and crows can all be seen from our deck, but with no reason to stop, they aren’t yet yard birds.

I realize that we’re at the height of migration, but for the most part, these are all resident birds, or at least summer nesters. If it’s this birdy now, just think of the species we can attract with a wildlife-friendly garden!

2 thoughts on “Starting Over

  1. Your resilient optimism is inspiring. I thoroughly enjoyed your talk for the Horticultural Arts Society this spring and have been seeking out and reading your Mountain Plover blog ever since. Thank you!

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