As you probably know from my Nature Notes, we are always on the lookout for birds - whatever the season - but winter is probably the most intensive time for bird "study" in our home. Partly because there is not a lot else to do for nature study at this time of year (well, there is, but birdwatching is very convenient when it's cold and you have young children), and partly because our feathered friends seem so very plentiful in the winter garden. Their colors and motions stand out against the stark landscape and always catch our eye. Nothing is quite so cheerful as watching the vibrant cardinal perch himself nearby on a cold winter's day, especially when the wind is blowing and the flakes are flying.
From The Beginning Naturalist:
"If you'd like to begin learning about nature this winter, the first thing you might do is put up a bird feeder near a window. Invite winter birds close to your house in order to see them better. If you offer sunflower seeds, you will probably be visited very shortly by black-capped chickadees, blue jays, and evening grosbeaks ...
Watching winter birds is only one way to acquaint yourself with the natural world. But the nice thing about birds is that they will invite you to notice many other things - such as the trees they perch in and the plant and animal foods they eat. Finally, an interest in birds will help you begin to understand how everything interacts in the natural world."
Our current feeding stations include:
- Four hanging tube feeders with black oil sunflower seed
- One tube feeder with niger seed for the finches
- A hanging tray feeder with the black oil (the red squirrel loves this)
- Two suet cakes
- One Birdola seed cake
- One Our Lady of Grace feeder with black oil
Our birdwatching/feeding goals:
- Replenish seed and suet cakes as needed (check daily).
- Set up heated water dish (currently in storage).
- Plan bird-friendly plantings for the spring.
- Hang a birdhouse or two - this time well away from the feeders.
- Better familiarize ourselves with birdsong.
- Read through The Backyard Birdfeeders Bible with the boys.
- Create a personalized field guide this year.
All-time favorite go-to guide for bird identification: Birds of New England
And so we begin a new year's worth of nature study. Next week we will crack open new nature notebooks and start our annual weather tree. We like to closely follow the nuances of the natural year, but I also plan to follow the lead in a few wonderful books like New England Nature Watch, The Kids' Nature Almanac, A Field Guide to Your Own Backyard and the aforementioned Beginning Naturalist.
I'd like to be more organized with our nature study this year. I am still toying with the idea of starting a separate nature journal blog. This way, all those Nature Notes won't just disappear! Ideally we would keep lots of hand-written notes and sketches in our notebooks, but sometimes it is so much easier to type and upload pictures! So, we'll see ...
For now, the days have been mild and tame around here, but the birds are sure acting otherwise. They have been flocking to the feeders in such great numbers you'd think a blizzard was on its way! Yesterday the boys and I noticed how great a variety of birds we have coming to our feeders and so I tried to catch a few of them on film. (Film being a rather outdated word, but you know what I mean.) All of these pictures were taken through windows so please excuse the lack of clarity.
Above you see the tiny Carolina wren. He was positively frozen on this branch for several minutes. I can only imagine there was a predator nearby.
This lovely lady is a female cardinal. We had several cardinals yesterday. I'm wondering if they might be a family because I thought cardinals were territorial. Maybe that's just in the spring when they're breeding.
A titmouse pausing to give me a second look before grabbing a seed and flying off.
Another view of the titmouse. We get lots of titmice and they are almost as gregarious as the chickadees.
Of course no bird study is complete without a picture or two of a squirrel. This is our Blackie, who is positively gorgeous and very robust looking.
I love this picture of the male cardinal - he's looking right at me as if to say, "Is this my best side?" :)
Another cardinal at our tray feeder, which as you can see is getting very low on seed. (ETA I refilled it this morning!)
The cardinal looks especially striking against drab shrubbery like this. Notice the sparrows around him?
Two goldfinches at the thistle seed feeder. They have their winter coats on.
Another cardinal here, but if you look closely you will see two mourning doves on the branch there.
A woodpecker at the suet cage - I cannot tell if this is a hairy or downy woodpecker (I think downy). No red at the back of the head means he is a she.
And here is the male! Again, not sure if this is a downy or hairy. I know downy woodpeckers are smaller, but I don't have anything to compare them to.
A pair of purple finches at the black oil seed this morning.
These last two pictures were taken outside as I filled the feeders this morning. Whenever I perform this morning chore, the birds naturally take off as I enter the gate. But very soon, as I move about rather quietly, a few of the bolder types move closer again. This is a slate-colored junco. Sorry the picture is a bit dark.
And of course we all know the famous little chickadee - he will come the closest of any!
Before I wrap up, here is my Christmas gift from my boys - a birdhouse that will suit a titmouse, tree swallow or warbler family. We have both titmice and warblers (so far no tree swallows that I know of) so it will be interesting to see who moves in. :)
Are you watching the birds this winter? We'd love to hear about your backyard birding adventures - stay tuned for more of ours!