If spring brings mating displays and nest building, then summer is sure to be filled with baby birds. Lately, everywhere I look I see frazzled parents bringing food to their ravenous offspring. No sooner have they stuffed the moth or grasshopper or beetle or dragonfly down that bottomless gullet than they’re off looking for the next morsel.
The bee balm (Monarda) and mint hyssop (Agastache) won’t bloom until mid-summer, and the flowers on my California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) appear even later. Yet, despite the lack of these hummingbird favorites, the birds are on the move, heading north to nest. While I like to think that I’m aiding their survival, I know they will do fine without me. Still, I’m hustling to fill and hang my feeders. It isn’t that the birds need me—I need them!
I’m gazing out my frosted window at the birds in our backyard. In the four hours since sunrise, the thermometer has only climbed from 13 to 15 degrees. Tiny snowflakes waft down onto the deck and bird feeders. The predawn fog has frozen onto every twig and blade of grass, turning the landscape into a fairyland of hoar frost.
The birds—House Finches, Dark-eyed Juncos, a few pigeon—are devouring my black-oil sunflower seeds as fast as their little beaks can crack the shells. A flicker has staked out the suet feeder. (I miss the nuthatches and chickadees from our old house, surrounded by pines.) But as popular as the feeders are, the birds are also flocking to my heated birdbath.
We gave our daughter and son-in-law a birdfeeder for their wedding anniversary. They were delighted. We filled it with black oil sunflower seeds and hung it on their backyard fence. It didn’t take long for the local House Finches to discover the new food source. My daughter enjoyed watching the pretty red birds gather around the feeder, politely taking turns at the narrow tray.
Then, a few weeks later, a huge flock of red-winged blackbirds realized dinner was available in my daughter’s backyard. They seemed to know every time she filled the feeder. As they jostled for position, they displaced the more subdued finches. Within minutes, the feeder was empty. Clearly, something would have to be done. (more…)
The tiny bird fluffs its feathers against the cold, while the north wind whips sleet into the pine branches surrounding its perch. With all water sources frozen, it has to use precious body warmth to melt the snow it eats. Last year’s crop of seeds is buried under a layer of white. Wild birds are amazingly hardy creatures, but even the sturdiest Mountain Chickadee (above) finds conditions like these a challenge.
There are a number of ways we can make our yards more hospitable to wintering birds. They need food, water, and shelter to survive. With increased urbanization, all three of these are becoming more scarce, so our efforts may make the difference in whether or not a bird survives until spring.
Is that a hummingbird nest? I had to look carefully to find the tiny cup nestled among the ponderosa branches. Sure enough—a female Broad-tailed Hummingbird stared pointedly back at me, as she dutifully sat on what I could only assume were a couple of pea-sized eggs.
What really impressed me was the way the secretive bird had camouflaged her home. Lichens grew on the tree branches, and covered the outer surface of the nest. It looked like just one more bump on the bark, although with a diminutive bird sitting on top.