Member Rara Avis
Kit and I were conversing recently about birds and landscaping and such things, and I sorta kinda promised her some pictures. Coincidentally, my new camera arrived this afternoon, a Canon Rebel XT, so I sat on the back deck for a few hours playing with its 300mm zoom lens, and ended up shooting nearly 200 photos.
The goldfinches don't actually charge me any rent, but they clearly think this place is theirs. In truth, I don't think they're very happy with the hired help right now because I've failed to properly discourage a neighbor's cat from prowling too near their feeders. The result is that I typically have only a few dozen birds at any given time right now, as compared to the few hundred I had throughout most of the winter months. My yard was one of the few with a heated bird bath during Michigan's cold season, so this all-season resident came from near and far. From November through early March, they (and a few other winter birds) ate 100 pounds of black sunflower seeds and over 400 pounds of their favorite thistle seeds. In the past month, the male goldfinch, often called a wild canary, has molted into his courting clothes, the bright yellow tuxedo you see in these pictures.
Much to my surprise, the bluebirds who, last summer, came every day at dusk to take turns bathing in their favorite birdbath, also stayed throughout the long winter months. That's unusual, as they generally migrate farther South, but not unprecedented, I guess. I put out a bluebird feeder for the little fellers, but haven't had a lot of luck with that. Bluebirds don't generally eat seeds, like my goldfinches. They prefer meat, live wiggling meat at that, and my attempts to order mealworms through the mail hasn't met with a lot of success. Yuk. I also put up five bluebird houses, in hopes at least one pair of birds would take up permanent residence. They're very territorial, so it's unlikely I'll get more than one pair. I've seen bluebirds inside one of the houses at the far end of the property, but it's still too early to know if they'll sign the lease.
However, a pair of tree swallows, cousins to my barn swallows from last year, have most definitely claimed one of the bluebird houses as their own. Another pair is "trying" to claim a house at the back edge of the property, and still another pair is "trying" to set up housekeeping in the fifth bluebird house across the street, on my brother's property. The tree sparrows, a non-native species imported from Europe (and often called a London sparrow), keep getting into the houses, though, and are making it tough for the less aggressive swallows. I keep evicting the sparrows, who can nest just about anywhere, but so far, the swallows haven't been able to get a toe-hold.
I put up two platform nesting boxes, too, the kind preferred by robins and mourning doves, but there's been no interest at all in them. It's still early in the season, though. There's a string of wren houses back by the woods, and two chickadee boxes, even though I've seen only a handful of those at my feeders in the past year. Interestingly, I had a dump truck load of top soil deposited way in the back, for the plants I'm putting in this Spring, and I've spied quite a few killdeer wandering those parts. Killdeer are unusual birds in that they don't build nests, but instead lay their eggs in stone and gravel areas (and their mottled eggs blend right in). I don't think there's near enough stones in my top soil to interest them, but I hope I'm wrong because they appear to be fascinating little critters. Then again, I've discovered they are also very LOUD critters, with a very irritating cry, so maybe I hope I'm right.
The mourning doves and red-winged blackbirds in these pictures are very common visitors to my feeders, and there's usually a large handful in the yard at any given time of the day. Though both are too large to easily get to the feeders, they do a very admirable job of patrolling the ground for what the finches and sparrows drop. The cardinals, this bright red male and a duller female, have only come to the yard in the past few weeks, but they appear to be staying. It's still much too early in the year for my hummers to return, and though I watch closely every day, I haven't seen hide nor hair of my barn swallows either. There are quite a few birds I've seen at my feeders that didn't appear in the few hours I had my camera out today, including blue jays, chickadees, dark-eyed juncos, tufted titmouses (seems like that should be titmice, but it's not), and an assortment of long-necked and long-legged birds that frequent nearby Adam's Lake. The nice thing about these digital cameras, however, is that film is REAL cheap, so I suspect I'll be getting a few more pics in the coming months.
* For those with a faster connection and a bigger monitor, the pic above links to a larger version of the same.