Knock Wood

In a quiet part of an afternoon, I watched a male Downy WoodpeckerDryobates pubescens, as he rested in foliage shade.

I thought he might be waiting for the right time to pop down to the peanut feeder, which hangs just below where he perched.   But he didn’t want peanuts, he seemed content to sit, and like me, watch.

Until this past spring, I enjoyed only fleeting glimpses of downies in my garden.  Typically they’ve visited during winter months, in bare trees, and as pairs.  Always they were up high in those trees and constantly in motion, brief black and white visages until gone from my sight.  In April (or so) I placed a peanut feeder in the garden and since then, the downies are regular visitors, though summer saw a downturn in downy activity.

Mr Downy’s red cap is a head turner that will surely attract a mate, if it hasn’t already.

I wonder if this is Daddy Downy who visited regularly last spring with his mate and offspring? Or perhaps this is the offspring?  Though I originally thought baby downy was female, I could be wrong.  Downies know better about these things than birding gardeners.

Birds are less active in my garden during the summer months.  The resident birds are around, feeding, bathing, and harassing one another, but mostly done with chick-rearing and not yet interested in mate-finding. The migratory birds are long gone north for nesting adventures.  Hummers hunt nectar from the plants and disappear in flashes.

I’m tickled that a new birding season has already begun.  Migrating birds from breeding grounds in far North America are appearing in my garden as they make their way to wintering homes in Mexico, and Central and South America.  The resident birds and winter visitors will settle in for the next breeding season, preening new plumage and pairing for new progeny.  With good luck–and plenty of peanuts, black-oiled sunflowers, and food from native plants–this backyard birder will relish the autumn, winter, and spring bird bonanza.

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.