What a Bum

A Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata, has finally arrived in my winter garden!

Most years I begin observing winter warblers in November. This migratory season, I’ve spied a zippy, hard-to-photograph Ruby-crowned Kinglet (a few times) and a female Orange-crowned Warbler, who is now making daily visits to the the peanut and suet feeders. But the Yellow-rumps have been tardy, or maybe just elusive.

This Yellow-rumped is a Myrtle Warbler, easily identified because of its white throat. During breeding and nesting season, Myrtle Warblers tend to spend time East and North, the Audubon species hangs out in the West. In winter, I’ve seen both species in my garden, but usually, it’s the Myrtle that is more common. I also think this one is a fella bird, given the little dab of yellow on his head. He isn’t yet in breeding colors, so perhaps he’s a hatch year dude, not quite out of his juvenile stage?

But he does rock that yellow rump. What a cute bum!

I’m glad to see the yellow rump flashing in the trees and hope that, instead of being a flash-in-the trees, he’s a daily visitor and that some of his butter-butt buddies will join him.

Wet Winter Warbler

The birds in my garden are quiet now, as is typical for late autumn. The usual suspects show up early in the morning for their treats: Blue Jays are all-in for the unshelled peanuts; Black-crested Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, and Carolina Wrens favor sunflower seeds and shelled peanuts. The White-winged Doves flap around the pond and bobble in the garden, but at the moment, aren’t interested in what feeders offer. When spring approaches, that will change; doves are piggy birds. House Finches and House Sparrows are mostly about keeping clean in the birdbaths and at the waterfall feature of the pond.

Winter songbirds haven’t settled in yet as seasonal residents. These are the birds who migrate south from somewhere north and visit through winter and early spring, until the instinct to nest is paramount and they fly northward again–to mate and raise chicks, a timeless and universal cycle. These wintering birds are only here for a few months. I always look forward to their arrival and grieve when they leave.

I’ve had a couple of quick glimpses of a tiny, energetic Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Corthylio calendula, but it hasn’t stopped long enough for me to get a good photo. So far, no Yellow-rumped Warblers, Setophaga coronata, also known as Butter Butts, have appeared. It should be any day now that one–or several–come to my garden. The winter warblers see the garden as a safe haven for cover, water, and food.

I have enjoyed a few visits from an Orange-crowned Warbler, Leiothlypis celata. It hops along the branches of the Shumard Oaks, often hidden behind foliage, but probably snacking on insects. The small warbler is too high and covered up for me to see it clearly. When it wants a refreshing bath, it’s out in the open, wary of all, careful and alert. Garden paparazzi takes advantage of the warbler’s bath time.

I think this one is a she-bird, though it could be a juvenile he-bird. There’s no sign of the orange crown that would indicate a male; the orange top is noticeable during bathing, as well as during the impressing-the-gals-time.

I haven’t seen the Orange-crown at any feeder, though they typically favor suet, which I haven’t bought yet. It’s on my to-do list.

As it finished up its bath and fluff, the little beak is open; I wonder if it chirped its approval (I couldn’t hear from where I sat), appreciating the splash of the water.

This winter warbler was wet. Other winter warblers are on their way.

Dinner

Sitting in my new, husband-made Adirondack chairs, I mulled needed changes to the back garden. As I gazed outward toward the targeted area, considering what needs to go, what needs to stay, and what replacements are best, or desired, I glanced to my left, up and over my privacy fence, to my back neighbor’s mostly dead Arizona Ash. The poor ash might be dead, but it regularly hosts plenty of life, including this gorgeous, immature Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, who was enjoying dinner.

(Just a warning: there’s a slightly gross photo coming, not too bad, but if you’re squeamish, you might want to move on to some other reading.)

I watched this magnificent bird for about an hour, by far the longest period of time I’ve ever observed a hawk. I’ve seen this hawk plenty of times, swooping through the trees and gliding over the neighborhood in search of prey, but it’s a rare treat to watch a raptor for such a long time, relatively up close and personal, and not startle it away. A few years ago–in the Before Times–I spent some time observing a hawk in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, dining on some of SF’s finest. That was bird nerd entertainment, but this observation of the Cooper’s Hawk’s meal time, comfortably in my own garden, was fascinating and revealing. As the hawk pulled and stretched its meal, I could hear the slight snap of skin and sinew. As it plucked its prey, feathers, big and small, sleek and fluffy, floated down, probably settling in the neighbor’s pool. I imagine those feathers are still floating. During the meal, some small, downy feathers attached to the hawk’s sharp beak–as in the first photo. The hawk didn’t mind the bit of fluff as it ate.

The hawk was focused on this meal, hungry no doubt. I’m sure its hunting isn’t always successful; I’ve seen it swoop through the neighborhood trees, scattering birds, but flying off empty-taloned. This time, the hawk was victorious; the poor White-winged dove a victim of the hawk’s hunger and hunting prowess.

At one point, something startled the hawk and it mantled over the meal, keeping a keen eye out for someone intent on stealing. I didn’t see anything that would threaten dinner, and within a minute or so, Hawk was back at it: pulling, eating. Later, a group of noisy Blue Jays voiced disapproval of the hawk’s activity, but none ventured too close and kept a respectful distance while Hawk continued its meal, undisturbed and unimpressed with the Jays’ cawing. The Jays flew off in a huff.

Such a beautiful hawk. As it matures, the streaking on the chest and tummy will become more of a red and white checker-board pattern. Its wings and back feathers will turn slate grey. The hawk’s eye color will morph from its current golden to burnt orange. Cooper’s Hawks dine mainly on birds, but I’ve seen one with a squirrel, and I’m sure when hapless rat comes within catching range, they eat them, too. Raptors eat what they can catch. Cooper’s Hawks are common in urban settings and have adapted well thanks to the number of people who feed birds; there are plenty of birds to pick from, especially fat doves!

While I watched Hawk, someone else was at dinner, too. This juvenile or female Black-chinned Hummingbird, Archilochus alexandri worked the flowers of nearby Turks’ cap. As it’s early October, most of the males have migrated, but I’m still enjoying the zooming, chirping, and chasing of the females and juveniles. They’ll be gone soon too, headed south to Mexico and Central America.

Just as I acknowledged my own rumbly in my tumbly, being ready for dinner, Hawk flew off, the remains of his catch firmly in talon, ready to settle in for the evening with snack for later.