Peanut Gallery: Wildlife Wednesday, July 2019

In my garden, I’ve never hung loads of feeders.  I’ve limited the feeder frenzy to one, occasionally two, black-oiled sunflower seed feeders at any point in time, augmented during the cool season with one feeder for commercial suet cakes.  Recently I began offering peanuts at my backyard bird buffet.  Peanuts are power food for birds.  Packed with fat and protein, as well as plenty of other avian-appropriate nutrients, peanuts pack a punch for bird nutrition, and often, for the bird-lover’s pocketbook.

Last summer I began filling a ceramic pot I’d made with unshelled peanuts.  The pot was originally crafted for a succulent (I even placed a hole in the bottom for water drainage), but I decided that, given my poor history of watering container plants and especially where I placed the pot, that it might make a more successful  bird feeder.

The Blue Jays, Cyanocitta cristata, squawked, flapped their feathers, and applauded–and then they ate!  Now, each morning, bleary-eyed and before coffee, I pop a couple of handfuls of peanuts in the little square pot and the jays have at it. There’s usually at least one Jay in the tree under which the pot sits, waiting patiently for me to deliver the goods, and then vamoose.  There have been times that the jays line up on the fence where the pot is affixed, politely taking turns swooping to the pot, each grabbing a breakfast bit and swooping off to enjoy in some neighboring tree.

I’ve seen photos of Titmice and other birds enjoying unshelled peanuts, but in my garden, it’s only the Blue Jays who partake.  Squirrels never eat the peanuts either, though I know that may bird lovers complain vociferously about the peanut-stealing squirrels.  I guess I should count my peanut blessings that it’s only the Blue Jays after the peanuts; they certainly consume enough of them.

A few months back, I purchased a feeder for shelled peanuts because I wanted to provide this yummy, healthy food to a greater variety of birds. (No dis on you jays, but I like some bird diversity munching my offerings.)

And munched they have!  The peanut feeder is the place to eat now, so much so, that I’ve had to limit the supply of peanuts.   The male Black-crested TitmouseBaeolophus atricristatus, pays no attention to me snapping his photo, as he’s focused on his snack.

He works the wire with claw dexterity.

 

The neighborhood Red-bellied WoodpeckerMelanerpes carolinus, is a shy-guy (as is his mate), but when he lands on the feeder, he is the master of the peanuts and defends his meal.

While his head is red, it’s the blush on his belly which gives him the moniker red-bellied.  And he likes his peanuts!

The female partner also visits and snatches her share of the legume.   Not as flush with blush, she still rocks that red hat and snazzy plumage pattern.

 

The biggest boon to providing the shelled peanuts is that I now observe a family of Downy Woodpeckers, Dryobates pubescens, regularly in my garden.   Daddy Downy dons the jaunty red beret.

Hang on there, buddy!

Mama gets her share of protein, too.

The pair of Downies had one chick (that I’m aware of)  this spring.  I watched Daddy Downy feed his fledgling and show her the ropes on maneuvering around the feeder. Baby looks like Mama, but with shorter tail feathers.

The number of Downy visits have lessened in the past few weeks, but I still spy furtive visits, especially in the evening.  It’s good dinner-time entertainment.

Green goblins!  Austin hosts several colonies of Monk Parakeets, Myiopsitta monachus.  Not native to this area, these gregarious greens fly over my house often, squawking their squeak, but rarely stop in my garden.  One afternoon, I spotted two in the oak tree where the peanut feeder hangs.  One popped down for a nosh.

 

This ninja bird is otherwise known as a Great-tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus,  the Gracks have become nuisances at the peanut bar.  Like the so many others, these brassy birds share a love of the nut, but also scatter the smaller birds like titmice, chickadees, and Downy woodpeckers when  they zoom in for the feed.

Peanut in beak, ready to eat!

 

I usually see Red-winged Blackbirds, Agelaius phoeniceus, in spring, but this handsome dude has hung around all June because of the available peanuts.  Red-wings breed in this region, though none have ever spent time during summer in my back garden.  I’m glad there’s something to attract him.

I hear him before I see him because of  his melodic, high-pitched call as he perches in the tree where the feeder hangs.  He’s cautious about flying to the feeder, but once arrived, he’s is all in.

 

The tiniest is the the quickest!  Carolina Chickadees, Poecile carolinensis, are nut lovers too, but so quick at their snacking that it took some time for me to get an unblurred photo.  This little one picked bits of peanut from those behind the mesh.  Do you see that peanut mush at his beak?

Scoping out choices: which peanut should I grab?

 

An unwelcomed visitor is this fella, a European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris.  It’s rare to see only one at a time and this summer there’s a whole clan swooping in daily to gobble up the peanuts.  I  admire Starlings’ beautiful plumage, but they are bullies and I don’t like them muscling in on the peanut action.  When I first offered peanut pickings, I filled the feeder in the morning and it was empty by late afternoon.  Per advice from Wild Birds Unlimited and since the native songbirds mostly nosh mornings and evenings, I’ve mitigated the Starlings’ peanut gluttony by offering only a small amount of peanuts in early in the day and another small amount in evening, leaving the feeder empty for the afternoons.  The schedule change has allowed a slight decline in Starling visits and I’m not emptying my bank account keeping them in peanuts.

 

The poor, hapless White-winged Doves, Zenaida asiatica, have no game at the feeder.  They land on top, bumble around trying to figure out how to work the mesh. Inevitably, fluttering to the ground because they can’t hang on to the cylindrical feeder, they feed on fallen peanuts.. Doves are ground feeders and competently snatch up leftover peanut bits–as long as they’re terra firma.

The feeder hangs close to this ceramic pot holding graceful Basket grass, Nolina texana.  The doves (and some other birds) root around the plant, pecking and picking peanut droppings.  There’s no peanut mess for me to clean up, but birds poop on the foliage.  It’s always something.

 

I started this peanut gallery with Blue Jays and will end with them.  Jays like peanuts:  shelled, unshelled–they love’m all!

How is your wildlife?  Are they foraging in your foliage or feasting at your feeders?  Please share your wildlife garden stories and remember to leave a link when you comment here–happy wildlife gardening!

Juxtaposition

A White-winged DoveZenaida asiatica, looms over a House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus.       .

Considered a medium-sized dove, this member of the bird family Columbidae, looks huge when paired against the smaller finch.  Both bird species are common here in Texas, especially as backyard birds regularly visiting feeders.  The dove’s gender is unknown to me, though I’m sure other doves can tell whether its male or female.  Proliferation of dove babies will be proof of the gender identification and the spring and summer socialization that will follow.   The finch is male in winter breeding colors.

There was no purposeful looming by the dove.  It was just two birds hanging out in winter-barren tree, each awaiting its turn at the sunflower feeder or water feature.

 

Bird Parade: Wildlife Wednesday, June 2018

The month of May sees the peak of spring neotropical bird migration as they wing through Texas from Mexico, Central and South America, and head northward to various parts of North America.  Their destinations are the summer breeding grounds of far North America, and as they travel the long distances, they rest and feed in trees and rejuvenate in water features, both.   I was fortunate to observe some of the avian visitors in my back garden before I left Austin for a chunk of May, and once I returned, witnessed the tail-feather end of the songbird parade, replete with color and decorations, as they bathed briefly at the pond and flitted high in the trees.

Celebrating Wildlife Wednesday, here are the migratory birds of the past month, no longer in my garden, but hopefully safely raising families in their northern, summer homes.  I’m not going to pretend that this month’s WW is anything but birds.  The migratory birds are gone, but not forgotten!

A female juvenile male American RedstartSetophaga ruticilla,  eyes the pond, ready for a cooling dip.

I suspect that there were more Redstarts when I was gone, as they’ve been solid visitors, even into late May.

 

A male Yellow WarblerSetophaga petechia, hops along the rocks which border the pond,

…then chills his toesies on the the wet rocks.

 

Several juvenile White-crowned Sparrows, Zonotrichia leucophrys, hung out near (you guessed it!), the pond.

Each would splash and flutter, then flit to nearby branches for drying.

Eventually, an adult White-crowned visited my backyard bird resort, though he/she preferred pecking at seeds on the back patio. I haven’t seen this bird in my garden before (that I’m aware of), I’ve only seen photos, but recognized it immediately.

 

A sunny afternoon highlights the coloring of this Russet-backed Swainson’s ThrushCatharus ustulatus.

 

On another day and at the pond,  a different bird, an Olive-backed Swainson’s Thrush contemplates a splash.

The frontal coloring is more aligned with its Russet relative.  I think these birds have the sweetest faces.

 

There’s nothing common to me about the Common YellowthroatGeothlypis trichas,  like this cute male.

The flash of yellow darting through the garden alerts me to visits from this little warbler.  Usually, I’ve the females in past migration seasons and they’re a little blander, but still darling.  Like the Redstarts, I’ll bet there were more of the Yellowthroats in my garden while I was gone.  I’m sorry I missed them this spring, but I’ll have another chance in the fall.

 

Another new bird for me was a parade of Nashville WarblersOreothlypis ruficapilla. This isn’t a great shot (taken from indoors), but you can make out the reddish-brown cap, sported by males.  There were quite a few of these tiny birds who found their way to my back garden.

Check out the polite line-up of Nashvilles as they troop to the public bath!

 

With their vivid fusion of blue, green, yellow, and red, male Painted Buntings seem to have flown straight out of a child’s coloring book.

So begins the description of (perhaps) the most beautiful of North American birds. I was fortunate to enjoy quite a few sightings of male Painted BuntingsPasserina ciris.

I also saw a female Painted Bunting, along with her seed-pecking buddy, a female Indigo Bunting, but they were just outside a window, through a screen and I didn’t have the camera handy.  Their nibbling from my native plants (they were eating seeds of the Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala), affirms my garden choices.  As well, I observed male Painted Bunting picking the tiny seeds from a Mexican feathergrassNassella tenuisima.  I’ve always loved this plant,

The blue, metal bird doesn’t eat the seeds of the Mexican feathergrass.

… but have never witnessed a bird eating its seeds.  Beauty, plus value for wildlife–that’s a garden win!  

Unlike most of the birds profiled in this post who breed far north of Texas, the Painted Buntings and the Summer Tanagers, breed relatively close to Central Texas.  Both visit my gardens, but only for brief periods.  This female Summer TanagerPiranga rubra, is an insect hunter and each late April and early May, I see them, perched above my honeybee hives, snatching bees on the wing (both the birds and the bees)!

This striking, but mottled fella is a juvenile male Summer Tanager.  I didn’t see the scarlet male this year.  Too bad, but I was thrilled to host mom and her son–except for the bee-eating thing!

 

The “black-throated” part of the name is visible, but you can’t see the green sheen on the back of this Black-throated Green WarblerSetophaga virens.

It’s a bird I first saw last year and enjoyed only a brief glimpse of this spring.  It migrates and breeds in eastern North America and Canada.

 

My winter-visiting Orange-crowned WarblerOreothlypis celata, left some time ago, but another passed through, probably having spent the winter somewhere further south of Austin.

The Orange-crowned Warblers aren’t the flashiest of warblers, but I’m charmed by their chirps and welcome their company during the winter.  I was surprised at observing this one so late in the season.

And those are the birds of  migratory May.

What wildlife happenings did you share in or observe this past month?  Please post about your wild happenings and leave a link when you comment here.  Happy wildlife gardening!