Winter Birds

As spring is almost upon us and wildlife is ever more active, I realize that it’s been a while since I’ve published a variety-of-birds post. I’m still an active Project Feederwatch participant and remain interested in the urban bird population here in Austin, especially those who spend time in my gardens. I haven’t taken as many photos of birds as I typically do during winter as cataract surgery with down-time afterwards, followed by a gardening year’s worth of winter pruning has kept me busy and away from the camera. But avian antics are ongoing and I’ve caught a few of those to share.

For the first time in several years, I’ve enjoyed the presence of more than just one Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata and one Orange-crown Warbler, Leiothlypis celata. These charming song birds over-winter in warmer climates of North America and I always have at least one of each hanging out in my garden. This winter, I’ve observed as many as four Yellow-rumps together, all nibbling nicely under the peanut feeder. I should have grabbed the camera, but opted to simply watch and appreciate. Mostly, it’s been two or three, zooming around the garden, perching in the trees and chasing off competitors. One in particular–this guy,

…is the self-appointed Badass Bird King of the Garden, chasing the other Yellow-rumps and Orange-crowns away from “his” feeder. The little stinker dominated the icicled suet feeder during the ice storm in January.

Lots of birds were active during the ice storm and I made certain that they had plenty of seeds during those cold days. I also dripped outdoor faucets so water remained available.

This Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, safflower-seed-in-beak, brightened those dull days of ice. All of last year, two different Cardinal couples were regular visitors to my garden, though both couples nested elsewhere. So far this year, I see only one male and one female.

Both common woodpecker species show up for their daily dose of peanuts. This male Downy Woodpecker, Dryobates pubescens, comes rain or shine, warm or cold. I haven’t seen the female in a while; is she already on the nest? I can only tell them apart as the female lacks the red hat that the male sports so handsomely.

Year-round there are always plenty of chatty House Finches in my garden. The House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus, ranges throughout the U.S., Mexico, and parts of Central America. They may be common birds, they’re fun to watch and are, wings down, the most talkative of any of my resident birds.

This couple didn’t mind dining amongst the icicles. Their favorite food are safflower seeds, but they also eat sunflower seeds and sometimes, peanuts.

Like the Yellow-rumped Warbler, the Orange-crowned Warbler, Leiothlypis celata over-winters here in Central Texas. Both Orange-crowns that have spent winter in the garden are females; they don’t have the orange “crown” of the male. Males flash their crowns to impress females, establish territory, and warn predators. I really like this tiny bird. It’s not as colorful as many other warblers, but it’s lovely to observe as it flits through shrubbery or in trees looking for insects and takes offerings from the peanut or suet feeder. Look at that sweet face!

In these next two photos, you can see bits of yellow underneath the tail feathers on the Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Birders have affectionately nicknamed Yellow-rumped Warblers Butter Butts because of these yellow feathered bums. This winter I hadn’t made much effort to photograph the yellow rumps, but before these cuties migrate north to their breeding grounds in the central part of the U.S. and southern Canada, I really should snag a shot of a butter-colored butt.

Of course I should!

One last showy resident bird, the Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, is noisy, gregarious, and typically I see seven to ten of these characters everyday, snitching the peanuts-in-the-shells that I put out each morning at sunrise. Later in the day, they settle for the shelled peanuts and sunflower seeds–and spend time yelling at other birds.

The Eastern Screech Owl couple were in the garden until their nest box was raided. I suspect that a Grey Fox (I’ve spotted one, or more, in our neighborhood) is the egg thief. I grieved for the couple’s loss, but they started their family very early this year and still have plenty of time for another clutch. I hoped they might return our nest box, but so far, except for two days, mama owl hasn’t chosen to spend time in our nestbox, trying it out for her next family. I doubt that they’ll return to our garden this year and it’s likely they’ve found another, safer place to raise their chicks. I wish them all the best–but I’ll miss watching them.

Spring is on its way and change is inevitable. Migratory birds have begun their movement northward, local birds are wooing and nesting. Winter, the dormant time of year, sees the garden active with birds, but spring brings new life and the promise of a future.

18 thoughts on “Winter Birds

    • Thanks, Beth–you’ll be seeing these migratory birds very soon! I think it’s begun; I now have some Red-winged Blackbirds–and who knows what else will be winging through here!


  1. Fine photos of your garden companions, Tina. I’m glad you kept them well fed during that wicked storm. It must have caused a lot of damage, I imagine. It gladdens my heart to know that the migrants are on their way. Of course, they won’t get here for months yet, but it is enough to know they will get here eventually!


    • I enjoy having these migrants here for winter, but I’d love to see them in their breeding colors and with their chicks! It must be fun to observe.


  2. Your expression “wings down” is a clever transference from the manual phrase to an avian one.

    I wonder how the male orange-crowns know that they have orange crowns to flash; have they somehow inferred it from seeing other males?


    • Haha–thanks! It seem to make some sense to use ‘wings down’ in the sentence. As for the males’ crowns, I imagine it’s like breathing for them, they just do it! I didn’t mention it, but I’ve also had a Ruby-crowned Kinglet visit from time-to-time. The males’ crown on that tiny bird is really something, truly ruby colored.


  3. This has been my year for Yellow-rumped Warblers; at least a half-dozen have been regular visitors. I do wonder now whether I might have mistaken Orange-crowned for something else. There’s a small, olive-ish bird that flits around in the shrubs, and that never comes to the feeders. That makes me think it’s an insect eater, so it might be.

    One of my long-standing mysteries is why I can’t entice any bird to my peanut feeder. I just took it down again, since everything, including the bluejays and red-bellied woodpecker seems to prefer the platform feeders. Maybe they just like an easy meal!


    • I’m so jealous!! I’d love to see that many yellow rumps! I’ll bet that the little bird you’re seeing is an orange-crown. They’re really tiny and they do flit through the plants more than the yellow-rumps, at least from my experience watching them.

      Interesting about your birds not liking peanuts. Almost every bird who visits my garden like peanuts. Of course, the peanuts are the most expensive of the bird seed to buy…of course. I’m frustrated because the nasty European starlings showed up in the last week or so and have plowed through the two suet cakes I bought. That’s the favorite food of the warblers and the first one I bought (pre-starling) was still at least half there a month after purchase because the warblers don’t plow, they nibble. (And, they’re tiny.) Grrr. Last year, the starlings stayed around until July. They’re such bully birds, I always hate it when they arrive.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating to see the diversity of your winter visitors. Interesting to discover that you have European Starlings which are not my favourite bird either. We can have as many as 3000 on the croft in winter and you can imagine the mess they make!


    • Texas is the major flyway of North America for migratory birds and they funnel mostly through the Central Texas area–where I live!

      Ugh, the Starlings are such pests. They make beautiful mumurations, but I sure don’t like them in my garden; 3000 is quite a lot. Would you like some more? Maybe I could ship them to you. 🙂


  5. Thanks for yet another wonderful post, Tina. And good for you for keeping the feeders stocked. I used to try harder, but we have rats in our neighborhood, and I was afraid it would encourage more of them – and keep them well fed rather than the birds – so I stopped. Ugh… Anyway, I have failed the humming birds too, this winter. Most of my hummer feeders blew down and broke in the storms, and I have yet to replace them. Feeling a bit guilty now… Hope others on our street did better than I. 😦


    • Awe, thank you, Anna. I understand about the rats, we’ve had that problem too. When the Screech owls are around, there aren’t rats and I can leave the feeders out overnight. Once the family moves on in late spring/early summer, I have to bring the feeders in each evening. It’s a drag. I wish the owls would stay around for the whole year!

      I don’t usually put up a hummingbird feeder, as I have so much in the garden that they like. I do have one, though, and fill it from time-to-time. Feeding birds is time (and pocket!) consuming, so I understand when it gets dropped. I’ve done the same.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We had a Barred owl here for a while. I could see it silhouetted against the night sky, sitting on our garage roof. I haven’t seen it in a while. I hope it will come back – there should be plenty for it to eat back there. Both rats and bunnies – LOL!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. This post delighted me with comments and photos of birds that are in my backyard this winter. I have them all but the Eastern Screech Owl. I don’t typically see owls.

    I was thrilled to identify the Orange-crowned warbler this year with help from birders on the North Texas Birdwatchers’ Facebook page. He’s a new one for my life list.

    About safflower seeds, you said your house finches love it. I have added it to my mix but don’t know whose eating it, if anyone. I leave some on the ground for ground feeders. I’ve heard cardinals like it, but I haven’t seen them eating it. Do your cardinals eat it?

    Thanks for a wonderful post.


    • Glad you meet you, Jeanette–and thanks for reading! I imagine we share many of the same bird species and like you, I’ve learned so much from the Birds of Texas FB group. (Probably the ONLY thing that FB has ever been good for!:) )

      Yes, my cardinals do eat the safflower seeds, though their favorite remains sunflower seeds. Give it some time; often birds will take days, or even weeks, to get used to a new feeder and feed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for your comments about bird seed. I had to do this post on my PC, still had to sign in to WordPress, but my comments went immediately to your blog page. There might be an issue with commenting from my tablet.


      • These things are wonky sometimes. I’ve recently had some problems responding to comments. I suspect an internal WP bug, which they seem to have fixed.


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