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032This is the weekend of The Great Backyard Bird Count, and for the first time in the four years I’ve known about it,  I remembered it!  Not only did I remember it, but I prepared for it in advance, not shirking on refilling the feeders when they were empty, making sure I knew the proper identities of the most frequent visitors, and doing some practice counts in advance.  138

I even removed the window screens and the plastic grid that gives the illusion of panes, and, on the one day this week that the temperature approached the freezing mark, I washed those windows, inside AND out!  Makes for much nicer pictures!

My vantage point is the office window, which looks directly out to the section of the front porch that is sheltered by the rhododendrons and arborvitae.  I have two hanging feeders, one of which is simply a large plastic plant saucer placed on top of a hanging basket, one suet cage, and a long rectangular plant saucer placed on a small table. I use a mixture of food, including millet, black sunflower seed, safflower seed, and thistle seed.

So far, I’ve counted eleven species of birds, including one that the folks at the Cornell Ornithology Lab classify as rare for my location and time of year.

I’ve seen Black-Capped Chickadees, often at the suet cage:Black-Capped ChickadeeA White-Breasted Nuthatch comes by two or three times a day.  Its beak is longer, thinner, and more pointed than the chickadee’s, and its black cap does not extend over its eye or down its neck.  It has a tail that is short in proportion to its body.  The nuthatch almost always feeds at the suet cage and is often spotted upside-down:White Breasted NuthatchThe Downy Woodpecker loves the suet, as well, though I occasionally see one on the hanging feeder.  The male sports a small red patch on top of his head which the female is missing:Downy Woodpecker, MaleDowny Woodpecker, FemaleHere’s a soft gray Tufted Titmouse, with a jaunty crest on its head and soft buff-orange coloration on its flanks.  It occasionally feeds at the suet cage or hanging feeder, but seems to prefer the ground.  This is one of my favorite birds:Tufted TitmouseAlso preferring to feed on or near the ground is the charcoal-gray, plump Dark-Eyed Junco, whom I generally see in groups of three to five at a time.  It features a distinctive pink bill:040The  American Goldfinch will eat Nyjer seed anywhere it is offered!  Here’s a male in his duller winter garb:American Goldfinch, winter

Drum roll please, for here is my “rare” bird, a Pine Siskin:

Pine SiskinThis is a tiny finch, only about five inches long from head to tail.  Its tail is short and its bill thin and pointed.    Strong brown streaks cover its body, and its wings feature pale white bars.  The real clincher in identifying a Pine Siskin, though, is the glints of yellow visible in its wings and tail feathers, which are sometimes not evident until the bird flies away.  Here is a sad specimen who had the misfortune of colliding hard with my nice clean window.  It fell to the ground and lay stunned for several minutes, but I am happy to report that it eventually gathered its wits and flew away:Pine Siskin Pine Siskins visit in large groups.  It’s not unusual to count over a dozen at the feeders, on the ground, or on the table:017They can be rather contentious with other birds at the feeder! 087

The Pine Siskin very much resembles the female House Finch.  However, the House Finch has no yellow highlights or distinct bars on her wings, and her tail is longer.  Her head is almost solid brown, rather than streaky, and her bill is thicker and more conical:Female House Finch.The male House Finch is easier to identify.  I love spying his rosy red head and chest as he perches in the rhododendron:032The red coloration on the Purple Finch can be a lighter shade than that on a House Finch, and it covers more of its body.  Brown streaks along his flanks and his brown back and wings are distinguishing markings of a House Finch: Male House FinchA few larger birds stop by the porch regularly, like this Mourning Dove.  This bird feeds exclusively on the ground, usually on the outskirts of the main dining area.  It tends to be a loner, though today I did see four or five briefly congregate.  It features a thin, pale blue ring around its dark eyes:Mourning Dove
Here is a big bully of a bird!  It unfailingly proclaims its arrival with several loud, raucous caws that send all the other birds flying away.  It perches on the feeder and messily nibbles a few bits and pieces before noisily announcing its departure.  Even though it brings a bright flash of color to the bushes, I’m happy that its appearances are short-lived.  Perhaps you have guessed that I am speaking of the Blue Jay:

Blue JayBlue JayA bird I am always happy to see is the Northern Cardinal.  There are two pairs who visit regularly, happy to eat the expensive blend of sunflower and safflower seeds, dried fruits, and nuts I buy for them:Male CardinalIf I see the bright red male, it is a near certainty that the less flamboyant female is nearby:Female Cardinal029The cardinals keep me on my toes.  If I am neglectful in refilling an empty feeder, I will likely be notified by a cardinal’s loud, urgent chirp outside the window!  Chip!  CHIP!  CHIP!  Once in a great while I am rewarded by the sweet sight of the male carrying a bit of food from the feeder to the bush and passing it into the female’s bill.

The last bird I want to show you visited about two weeks ago, early in the morning, as dawn was just beginning to break.  (I took the liberty of brightening up the picture.)  I believe this is a Sharp Shinned Hawk, the smallest of the hawks:  007 (2)I don’t know how long it had perched here on a low rhododendron branch; perhaps it roosted there for the night.  Perhaps it was stalking the mice that I have seen burrowing about under the snow.  About twenty minutes after my husband and I noticed it, the hawk flew off into the neighbor’s yard, and we haven’t seen it since.

Watching the birds come and go is one of my favorite ways to pass the time through the long winter.  I enjoy observing all the different species and learning about their characteristics and varying personalities.  I’m happy this year to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count and recommend that you click the link to learn more about it, perhaps even submitting your own counts over the next two days!  030