Late Winter Birds

The late winter garden is a palette of muted colors marked with skeletal trees and shrubs. The evergreens, big and small, contribute welcomed dots of green, plus there are others who offer various reds to the garden environment. The tidiness of a pruned, simplified landscape has a certain appeal, but it’s also easier to bird watch in this season of leafless trees and mostly dormant plant life.

Here in Central Texas, bird colors span the rainbow: Blue Jays, Cardinals, Red-winged Black birds, Gold finches and other color-tagged critters. Along with the showy birds, there are birds whose understated plumage blends well with the winter environment, like this winter visitor, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata. Her dabs of sunny yellow are surely highlights in her feathers, but most of her colors and markings are warm and subtle, making her sometimes hard to spot in a tree. But at the suet feeder–which she loves–she is more easily observed and admired.

A beakful of suet is a yummy thing!

As she digs into the suet cake, she doesn’t realize that the sticky stuff…sticks—and stays!

A year-round native resident, this Carolina Wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus, echoes winter browns and tans in his patterned plumage. He may not wear loud colors, but he sings with volume and gloriously for his territory and family; wrens are tiny birds with mighty voices. Wren song is the first birdsong I hear each morning throughout the year.

He posed with a strand of freezer-burned tendril of Star Jasmine vine, appearing as a weird appendage attached to the wren.

As he sung at the end of a day, he hopped along the fence, eventually creating distance from the plant part.

Wrens bop right and left in time with their chirps, tails flicked, eyes watchful.

A significantly less pretty bird and certainly a much larger bird than the two above, this Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura, perched for a while in my SIL’s backyard tree. Turkey Vultures are common in the southern U.S. and throughout Central and South America. They soar majestically with the breeze and low to the ground looking for carrion. Though I see them all the time in the air, I’ve never seen one perched in nearby trees. It sat for a time and I wondered if there was something dead in my SIL’s back garden.

Dead squirrel? Opossum? Rat? Who knows what lunch was for this huge bird.

Turkey Vultures are scavengers and important links in a healthy ecosystem as they clean up the dead. Gentle creatures, they’re only interested in a nice meal of carcass; they are not predators. I was tickled to observe this one so close, but it eventually took flight, spreading impressive wings wide, circling over my garden as it gained altitude, moving along to find its next meal.

I appreciate the quiet of winter. I look forward to pruning last year’s growth and its revelation of the “bones” of the garden. I am witness to both successes and failures in the garden and of plants that I’ve chosen to create it. As with a muted landscape, even in a plainly colored bird, there is still much beauty in a darling face or in the pattern of the plumage, when hues are neutral and soft. That said, after many freezes this year and as March approaches, I’m eager for spring and daily observe signs of its arrival.

18 thoughts on “Late Winter Birds

  1. I love hearing Carolina wrens’ “teakettle-teakettle-TEA!’ They have only recently made it this far north (MA). Our increasingly mild winters help, I suppose.
    When, on average, does spring growth start in your garden?

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    • Carolina wrens may be my favorite bird, so curious and charming and musical! Typically, some of our early spring trees are blooming by now, though early March isn’t too odd. We’ve had a couple more days of below 32 with a warming trend in the forecast. I’m hoping we’re done with the freezes, but it’s not unusual to have a freeze in March or even April, though the April freezes are rarer these days. My spring blooming evergreen perennials are perking up and lushing out, blooms won’t be too far away!

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  2. You have certainly gotten some more great bird photos. I always have a pair of Carolina Wrens and they have been picking bugs from my porches. My community is some kind of meet-up place for vultures in the winter. They especially like hanging out near the high school and yesterday they were finishing off roadkill by local restaurants. I think we are finally warming up next week and I’m anxious to get back to the garden.

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    • Frick and Frack! I’ve loved your posts about those two. Carolina Wrens are such charming birds and their songs are delightful. I like the vultures and was happy to see this one just hanging out!

      I’m so ready for spring. I hope March is cool and wet, but I also hope we’re done with freezes!

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  3. Tina as always the photos are magnificent. The Yellow-rumped Pippin is gorgeous and loves eating suet. The Carolina Wren is adorable and with its beautiful daily song it must be wonderful to have in the garden all year round. Fantastic turkey vulture perched on one of your trees: I love it!!!! Tina I’m sure your garden will be divine in spring! Tina, I hope you and Bee Daddy are in great health. I have not written before because I continue with my great depression. I miss reading your wonderful blogs. I wish you all the best. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita.

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    • Thank you, Margarita. The birds are very active now, making an interesting show in the garden. I hope you will feel better with longer days and warmer weather. Take care and I wish you the best, always.

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      • Tina, thank you very much for your kind words. Here also in Madrid the birds are more active and more so with the abnormally high temperatures that we have had throughout February: Climate Change is already manifesting itself throughout Spain. I send you hugs from my Mother and me. Take care of yourself. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita.

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  4. I laughed at your vulture. There are two black vultures that seem to enjoy perching on a neighborhood street light, and I see them two or three times a week. I think they might see it as a ‘favorite tree,’ and just hang out there.

    I’ve yet to hear any bird sing this year. The occasional dove will coo a bit, but that’s it. For that matter, I’ve not seen a wren yet this year. I have cardinals, bluejays, starlings, white-winged doves, house finches, and some sort of sparrow(s), but no wren yet. Of course there is the Cooper’s hawk; I’ve been feeling a little sorry for him in this cold weather, as he sits on his branch looking hungry. Of course, he may have found a meal elsewhere, and is simply sitting around after his lunch — hard to say. He surprised me a couple of days ago. I walked into my living room, glanced out the window, and there he was, sitting in the middle of the platform feeder. Too bad I couldn’t get to the camera fast enough!

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    • The birds are ramping up for nesting season, so lots of activity recently. We’ve figured out that the Cooper’s Hawk couple are building their nest right behind my SIL’s house–next door and at the back. I’d seen them around there and there’s a nest that looks like the description of their build style from Cornell Lab. There are other nests, several squirrel nests, in that big tree. Could be tricky for prey.

      This morning I heard the birds having a fit and both hawks were perched on our swing beam (to the playscape we built when they were little)–now it hosts two vines. One of the hawks had what looked like a starling in its talons. My photo of both hawks just didn’t work, but I have a pretty good shot of the one with its meal.

      Apparently last year a squirrel built a nest along the main branch of my oak tree, just down from our owl nest box. I didn’t ever realize there that one, plus a couple of others, were in the tree until the tree began to lose its leaves. After the bad freeze last year, the tree leafed out oddly, clusters of leaves along main branches, so the nests were hidden. Anyhow, if I were a mama squirrel, I might relocate my home.

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  5. I do love wrens. Such adorable birds and so industrious. I don’t see Carolina Wrens here and our common wren is hard to spot except for their call. Many birds returning but most are taking it slow to return with winter still here.

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  6. I never hear about wrens without thinking of Edward Lear’s quatrain:

    There was an Old Man with a beard,
    Who said, “It is just as I feared!—
    Two Owls and a Hen, four Larks and a Wren,
    Have all built their nests in my beard.

    That doesn’t seem to be a problem in your garden.

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  7. I wish I had eyes like a bird. They have exceptional color vision, and pick up a much larger part of the spectrum than we humans do. They may look brown and gray to us, but in their own eyes, they are far more exuberantly colored. It just about floored me to learn that! I almost felt cheated, because I can’t see what they see. LOL!

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