Winter Texans

There’s a term for northern folks who come to Texas to enjoy a milder winter: winter Texans, also known as Snowbirds.

Some actual birds are winter Texans too, and in my Austin garden they’re unlikely to see snow (not impossible, but less common in these past few decades). Nonetheless, these winter birds are here for rest and good food sources, and to gear up for spring/summer breeding season. In my garden, they enjoy the pond and its surrounding trees and shrubs.

No snowbirds here, but the warblers are warbling and the phoebes are phlying.

Groan. That was bad. Really bad. Apologies.

As these winter Texans settle in for the next months, joining local, year-round birds, they’ve been active in their everyday lives, which thankfully provides nice a distraction for my everyday life.

I’ve seen a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula, and have observed one–or more–Orange-crowned Warblers, Leiothlypis celata. But the stars of my wildlife garden show recently have been a crew of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Setophaga coronata. I’ve counted as many as 8 at a time, all fluttery and flighty in the trees and zippy around the pond. They come, hang out, and eventually make their way to the public bath–a favorite spot for birds of all kinds. It’s hard to count the Yellow-rumps as they’re in nearly constant motion, but I have been lucky with the camera a few times, capturing some brief, quite moments in between the winged energy that defines these busy birds.

I was excited when I downloaded this photo. It’s a nice capture of an adorable little Yellow-rumped Warbler face, avian colors complementing arboreal hues. But what interested me is the shading of the throat.

There are two subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warblers: Audubon’s and Myrtles. Audubon’s have a yellow throat, Myrtles’ throats are white. I’ve seen both kinds of Yellow-rumps in the past, but in winter and spring, it’s the Myrtles I see around here. I thought that the shading might indicate that this one is a juvenile Audubon’s, the yellow coloring just beginning. Yellow-rumps here during winter and lack their breeding plumage, so they’re softer in coloring, less showy than during the spring and summer when they’re attracting a mate. After looking at photos on Cornell’s site, I’ve decided that this one is a Myrtle and probably a juvenile, its adult white throat not quite established.

It’s a cute face, though–and Myrtle or Audubon’s–nothing changes that! Until my Red Oak tree loses its leaves (soon!), the little warblers are hard to see. It’s movement I look for, and I was pleased to follow this one as it darted, hither and thither, in the tree. Once it landed, I trained the camera to its perch.

This one waited in the wings for a dip in the pond, but landed closer to its target as it checked out the surroundings for crafty cats or other dangers. Two years ago I planted a Rough-leaf Dogwood, Cornus drummondii, by my pond and, while still only shrub sized, it’s proven itself as a good stopping-off point for birds going to and from the pond.

Here we are–arrived at the pond and rocking the yellow rump! The yellow dab of feathers, noticeable at a quick glimpse when the birds are in flight, are more challenging to see once the bird lands. Unless they turn just so, I don’t always see their namesake.

I like these three bathing beauties, each with their yellow highlights, under the wings and at the rump.

I think the one at the left is a mature female, mostly because of white streak along her eye and patch of beige across its cheek. The one at the bottom/middle is probably a juvenile female. She looks similar to the first one, but lacks the eye streak and defined beige ear patch. All I know about the one on the right is that she has a yellow butt.

Butter butts. That’s what wacky birders call Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Not that I’m a wacky birder.

Here’s a couple with differing views. The female, looks left and the male, looks right.

The male is definitely not in its breeding colors; his dark eye patch would be more obvious and dramatic. He’s probably another juvenile, spending his winter here as he matures. As much as I like to see the yellow side patches and yellow rumps, I like this shot because none of those spots of butter yellow are visible on either bird. One may appreciate their pretty faces, graceful forms, and dark/light markings.

This adult male Myrtle Yellow-rump Warbler splashed with vigor and fluffed his feathers with fanfare.

While he’s not in full breeding regalia, you can see that his plumage is richer in color than the other birds of these photos, females and juveniles all.

The Yellow-rumped Warblers enjoy the pond, but they also bop along the branches of trees and shrubs, nibbling insects as they go. They’re known as birds who catch insects as they fly (both the birds and the insects). Impressive as their aerial antics are, they’re outmatched by the flycatcher acrobatics of the Eastern Phoebe, Sayornis phoebe. One of these has been looping about my garden, diving here, perching there, for several days.

I often see one or two during spring migration, but have never had one in my garden at any other time of year. The maps suggest that Central Texas is in the ‘nonbreeding’ area, bordering the ‘year-round’ region, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m thrilled to see this swooping charmer and even happier when he rests. Then, aside from admiring his flying skills, I can appreciate his good looks.

I hope you find time to go outside, weather permitting, or just look out the window. Even in this dark time of year, as plants go dormant, days grow shorter, and we all hunker down, it’s remarkable how much wildlife activity there is in the garden. That activity wants only observation.

This post ends my garden blogging meme, ‘Wildlife Wednesday’. I’ll still post-n-photograph wildlife in the garden, but not necessarily on a first-Wednesday-of-the-month schedule or as a formalized garden meme, but rather, as I’m inspired.

I hope that hosting this meme was enjoyable and educational for participants and readers alike. I hope that learning how easy and gratifying bringing nature to your own garden inspired some gardeners to abandon dependence on chemicals and limit turf in favor of a healthier ecosystem. How, by gardening with native plants and plants which increase and sustain diversity of life, the novice and experienced gardener helps heal the world.

Thanks for reading!!

37 thoughts on “Winter Texans

  1. You did a great job capturing photos of the birds. You must be able to be far enough away from your pond. I am pretty sure I have a little flock of yellow rumps, but they are so skittish I haven’t been able to get very close.

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  2. Tina I’m so glad you have so many Snowbirds in your garden this year, enjoy them. The photos are magnificent. The yellow-rump warbler is gorgeous and as it looks at the camera. The Yellowtail Reinets in the pond are wonderful, I love them. The male Mytle Yellow-ramp Warbler in the water and with fluffy feathers is a charm. The Eastern Phoebe is divine, I love it. Tina you have a garden that is a haven for wildlife: keep it that way for many years! Take good care of yourself and your husband and stay safe. I hope you are both in very good health. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita.

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      • Tina thank you for your kind words. My Mother and I are safe and sound. Tomorrow Friday it will snow in Madrid: it is very cold: we will have to bundle up well. Tina you are in my thoughts. Hugs. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita 😀🤗✨🌼

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  3. Lucky, lucky you to have such flocks available. I’m going to have to look more closely at something I assumed was a goldfinch. When I listened to the songs and calls online, they most definitely aren’t goldfinch, so I’m going to have to listen to some of these warblers. I did see something unusual yesterday; I looked up from my computer just in time to see a hawk swoop through. He landed in a tree and seemed willing to stay put for a while, so I grabbed the camera and went out. Everything’s still so leafy that a nice, full photo wasn’t possible, but at least I confirmed that a nice, healthy hawk is lurking. That may help to explain some of the dove feathers I’ve seen drifting around.

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    • Speaking of window-watching, I’ve had a little wren in a platform feeder for the past hour. It’s a bit out of the wind, and when she flew in and discovered fresh meal worms, she clearly decided she’d found a place to hang out. She may not leave for another hour!

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    • Yes, I do feel lucky and they’re so fun to watch! At first light this morning (well, not quite first light, but close) one little YRW landed just in front of my kitchen window to peck-n-hunt for…whatever it was pecking-n-hunting for. I keep my window blinds pulled down, but open, so that the little wintering birds (and migrants, during those seasons) can see the slats. (I do have window stickers, but have found having the blinds pulled down seems a better, or at least, additional deterrent to window strikes.) I love having the blinds open, but don’t want warblers to crash. Anyhoo, just as I was standing there, looking out, there was the obvious movement of this little one to the ground, so I had to adjust the blinds so that I could watch. That’s my life…:)

      I’m impressed that you’re going by their calls for identifications–that’s something I’m not very good at, though I can hear the chirps and generally tell if they’re in the trees and the difference between the YRW, Orange-crowned, and the Ruby-crowned. So, I guess I’m not so bad at it afterall!

      Hawks are fun to watch, though your other birds aren’t happy, I’m betting!

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      • Well, if it’s a red tail, it might prevail. The comparatively small Cooper’s wouldn’t have a chance. A few weeks ago, late on a Saturday afternoon, I was sitting in a open area of my front garden, when a noise caught my attention in my SIL’s tree. Our neighborhood Cooper’s landed with a squirrel in hand. Somebody ate well that night!

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    • Thanks, Chloris. The birds are cute, there’s no doubt about it, and I’m so glad they find my garden a respite! You have some pretty ones too, though–birds are fascinating, where ever they are.

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  4. It’s encouraging to know our sweet little avian summer friends have a safe, warmish place with you in the winter. The Eastern Phoebes are among my favorites. Sometimes we see/hear them in late winter, and then we know springtime isn’t far away.

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