Sometimes They Land in Trees: Wildlife Wednesday, January 2018

Happy 2018 and welcome  to the first Wildlife Wednesday celebration of this new year.  Winter arrived in Austin in the last several days with an ice-numbing grip of below freezing temperatures.

I heard that snort and saw those eyes a’rolling!  I understand that compared to much of continental North America, my goose-bump inspired whining won’t win much sympathy, but darn it, it’s cold!  Truthfully, I’m just fine-n-dandy with the hard freeze, in great hopes that every mosquito in Texas is dead, dead, dead (not likely, though).  Also, with the frigid temps, my autumnally hued and interminably foliaged trees have finally let loose their leaves.

In the last couple of days, Red oak leaves blanketed the entirety of my back garden.

Maybe now I’ll be better able to observe the variety of birds who visit my garden, as the winter avian Texans (especially the tiny ones) prefer to flit among the bare limbs, in search of whatever they search for.  With the leaves as camouflage, that’s been hard to do.

This shot was taken on Sunday, just before the temperatures plummeted and the tree dumped most (but not all!) its leaves.

That said, for most of this past month, critter watching has mostly involved the birds at the feeders, with the random pitter-patting of maddening mammals and the skulking about of bothersome marsupials.

I’m tickled at the early appearance of two examples of the stunning American GoldfinchSpinus tristis.  American Goldfinches usually show up later in winter, so it’s a treat to see them now.

This handsome fella is wearing his non-breeding colors.

Do you need something?

Pretty boy!

In addition to that obvious and gorgeous adult male, is this female or juvenile male.

The coloring–both dark and light–are muted in this bird.

Wonderful wing bars!

Sweet face!

American Goldfinches belong to the same Family and Order as the House Finch, and House Finch eye disease, Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, which I wrote about here, also affects American Goldfinch populations.  Fortunately, the two Americans who noshed at my feeder appeared free of the disease, the good news of which I reported on Project FeederWatch.  I still see a female House Finch with one infected eye which is completely closed due to the infection.  She feeds by searching for seeds on the ground, but she struggles to land when she flies and is vulnerable to predators with only one good eye.  All other House Finches who are in my garden–and there are quite a few– appear healthy.   The House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus, is a year-round resident, becoming more active as winter settles in.  Most bird feeders are designed with multiple perching stations, and birds share the stations with varying degrees of camaraderie.  Here, the House Finch clan dominates, with a red-accented male perching at the left and the more drab females completing the feeder trio.

Hey birds, over here!

Another duo feeding a the food bar is a second male House Finch sharing a meal with a Black-crested TitmouseBaeolophus atricristatus.

I’m not sure if the Black-crested is a male or female, but I’m confident that the House Finch is a young male.

The House Finch  poses nicely, the Black-crested snarfs seeds.

A Northern CardinalCardinalis cardinalis,  couple nests each year in a neighbor’s shrubbery,  but make daily forays into my garden to feed and bathe.    No photo this month of the scarlet feathered male, but the female is a head-turner in her own right!

A common Texas wintering songbird is the Orange-crowned WarblerOreothlypis celata, and I’m fortunate to have at least one who is regularly visiting.

Song birds love suet and it’s a good thing to feed them in winter.  I can’t provide suet for 7 or 8 months because Austin’s warm climate causes the suet to turn rancid quickly.  It’s a perfect winter/early spring food though and provides fat, which birds need.

This little Orange-crowned also enjoys the occaisional bath in the pond bog.

About to take the plunge!

I provide a commercial suet for my avian friends, but there are many recipes for homemade suet.  Check out these recipes if you’re so inclined

Facing the camera!

The pair of  Carolina WrensThryothorus ludovicianus, also visit more than just the feeders.   A favorite perch is a metal sculpture where each of the pair takes turns surveying the landscape.

Check out my profile!

The 360 degree view requires a look-see at the backside!

This favorite perching place is just below a little house built for the wrens, which they’ve inspected, but haven’t yet used for chick rearing.  Fingers-crossed that this spring, they’ll decide the neighborhood is worthy of their chicks.

Wrens forage on the ground, scavenging for insects and small seeds; they also enjoy the suet.

Eyeing something in the fallen leaves!


Finally, a bird who lands in a tree!  

Giving me the stink-eye is this immature Cooper’s HawkAccipiter cooperii. He/she had scattered the neighborhood doves, with no meal as a reward, and was resting in a neighbor’s tree, no doubt annoyed with missing lunch.  The beauty loped off just after this shot.  Cooper’s Hawks are year-round residents here, but easier to observe once winter’s  chill render some trees bare.

There are always plenty of squirrels (stealing birdseed and digging in plant containers) who become meals for neighborhood raptors, though perhaps not as often as some might wish.  This squirrel was safe on the ground and near the house, munching away at fallen sunflower seeds and generally behaving well.

Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger)

The Virginia OpossumDidelphis virginiana, is still around too, sometimes mosying through the garden during daylight, but not sleeping in the owl house–for now.

There are no Eastern Screech Owls in the owl house either, nor have I heard the adults’ signature trill at night.  I’m concerned that no couple is interested in the owl real estate in my garden and if there are no takers, that will be disappointing.  There’s still time for some owl action and owls are remarkably elusive; I won’t begin the no-owls-in-my-garden lamentation just yet.

So begins another year of garden wildlife drama.  Let’s celebrate lots of life in the garden during 2018. Please share your wildlife stories and remember to leave your link when you comment.

Good wildlife gardening to you!


No Eastern Screech Owl, Megascops asio, pair took up residence in our owl house this spring, owing to the tardy eviction of a young Virginia opossum, Didelphis virginianus which you can read about here. We dissuaded her owl box residency, but likely too late for the courting owl couple who’d visited our garden during January evenings. Observing the lovers, I was hopeful for a ninth year of Screech owl doings, even witnessing the female checking out the box early one evening, but alas, I suspect that by then she was considering our box as her backup. During these past few months, I’ve occasionally seen an adult owl swoop through the back garden just after sundown, which means that they were probably somewhere nearby. I’ve had to glean my owl fixation through other sources like the local folks who placed cameras in their owl boxes and generously shared antics of their owls on Facebook during the nesting and fledging, as well as responding to a frantic phone call from neighbors who were attempting to remove two fledgling owlets from the middle of a busy nearby residential street and who requested my help. The owlets were rescued, placed safely in shrubs while owl parents were present in the trees, supervising inept humans fumbling with cell phone lights and quibbles about where to place the little raptor.

Rest assured that it all ended well: no one (person or owlet) was squished by a car.

My Texas red oak tree, Quercus buckleyi, where the owl house is situated, is fully leafed out for the year.  Lovely and lush, the foliage provides energy for the tree, shade for the gardener, as well as sanctuary and sustenance for many critters.

Note the black line underneath the nest box, heading away from the tree trunk. That’s the cord to the owl cam, which sadly showed no activity in our box, except for industrious ants.


Recently, the foliage has stepped up, or rather, layered over, and is acting as cover for a mama Eastern screech owl and her two fledglings.

Pretty mama Eastern screech owl.

Helloo! Aren’t these owlets adorable?

I don’t know where she holed up and nested or where she and Dad nurtured their offspring prior to their debut in the big, wide world, but for one day, they decided that my tree was a good place to rest from the responsibilities of teaching their youngins’ how to fly and hunt during the nights.

I realized before I saw the owls that the male toads in my pond–which were loudly, insistently, and nightly crooning for mates–had been silenced, and I know from experience that neighborhood owls are usually why love-sick toads are muted. Screech owls find toads delicious and the toads choose noisy flirtation over quiet survival–every time. The evening before I spotted the owls in my tree, I heard the owlets’ chrrrrrrrr, which in owl-talk means feed me, and I spotted two adults and two owlets perched along my fence, flying to and from my tree and a neighbor’s tree. The family may have been in my tree prior to that evening, but apparently I wasn’t looking up.

Even if I was looking up,  the canopy of leaves works successfully to keep owls hidden from prying eyes.
Foliage serves as good cover for wildlife. It was challenging to take photos, as the birds were hidden, at least partially, behind the leaves and owls certainly blend in to the trunk and limbs well.

Interestingly, while Screech owls have nested in the box on this tree for years, each May once they fledge, they never perch in the tree for more than a couple of days. Soon after exiting their nest box for good, the owlets’ wings strengthen and carry them to other trees in other gardens, and under the tutelage of their adept parents, they learn the skills needed to survive. During the summer months, I see them occasionally and sometimes they even land in their home tree for brief periods. I like to think they’ve come by to say hi!, but I suppose that’s wishful anthropomorphizing.

Mama keeping a keen eye on the intrusive human.


I’m conflicted when the oaks leaf-out in spring as it makes warbler and owl watching significantly more challenging, but that’s one of the important roles of tree and shrub foliage–providing cover for wildlife, especially for the vulnerable young ones.

Foliage serves as a plant’s method of breathing, generates energy for plant health, provides oxygen for all of us, and food and sanctuary for wildlife.

And, foliage is beautiful.

The owls haven’t appeared since Friday, but I’m sure I’ll see them again at some sundown, swooping from tree to tree. If I’m fortunate, I’ll spot them resting during the day, camouflaged by limbs and hidden by luscious leaves, making good use of the protection and life-giving qualities that foliage provides.

Given the beauty and the importance of trees and shrubs for wildlife, why wouldn’t we appreciate foliage in our gardens?


Look Who’s Moved In!

For several weeks now, I’ve heard the trilling of an Eastern Screech Owl, Megascops asio, in and around my back garden–either at dusk or in the wee hours before dawn.   Last week, I saw two owls sitting together just after sundown in my Retama, Parkinsonia aculeata, tree. Until then, I’d only spotted one at any particular time.  Early this morning, noticing an upset and noisy Blue Jay cawing into the owl nest box, I spied this sleepy and probably annoyed Screech, settled cozily in his/her box.

It’s a nice neighborhood  and I hope this couple raises their little family successfully, as has happened for most of the last 8 years.

All the best to my new neighbors!