Late Winter Birds

The late winter garden is a palette of muted colors marked with skeletal trees and shrubs. The evergreens, big and small, contribute welcomed dots of green, plus there are others who offer various reds to the garden environment. The tidiness of a pruned, simplified landscape has a certain appeal, but it’s also easier to bird watch in this season of leafless trees and mostly dormant plant life.

Here in Central Texas, bird colors span the rainbow: Blue Jays, Cardinals, Red-winged Black birds, Gold finches and other color-tagged critters. Along with the showy birds, there are birds whose understated plumage blends well with the winter environment, like this winter visitor, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata. Her dabs of sunny yellow are surely highlights in her feathers, but most of her colors and markings are warm and subtle, making her sometimes hard to spot in a tree. But at the suet feeder–which she loves–she is more easily observed and admired.

A beakful of suet is a yummy thing!

As she digs into the suet cake, she doesn’t realize that the sticky stuff…sticks—and stays!

A year-round native resident, this Carolina Wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus, echoes winter browns and tans in his patterned plumage. He may not wear loud colors, but he sings with volume and gloriously for his territory and family; wrens are tiny birds with mighty voices. Wren song is the first birdsong I hear each morning throughout the year.

He posed with a strand of freezer-burned tendril of Star Jasmine vine, appearing as a weird appendage attached to the wren.

As he sung at the end of a day, he hopped along the fence, eventually creating distance from the plant part.

Wrens bop right and left in time with their chirps, tails flicked, eyes watchful.

A significantly less pretty bird and certainly a much larger bird than the two above, this Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura, perched for a while in my SIL’s backyard tree. Turkey Vultures are common in the southern U.S. and throughout Central and South America. They soar majestically with the breeze and low to the ground looking for carrion. Though I see them all the time in the air, I’ve never seen one perched in nearby trees. It sat for a time and I wondered if there was something dead in my SIL’s back garden.

Dead squirrel? Opossum? Rat? Who knows what lunch was for this huge bird.

Turkey Vultures are scavengers and important links in a healthy ecosystem as they clean up the dead. Gentle creatures, they’re only interested in a nice meal of carcass; they are not predators. I was tickled to observe this one so close, but it eventually took flight, spreading impressive wings wide, circling over my garden as it gained altitude, moving along to find its next meal.

I appreciate the quiet of winter. I look forward to pruning last year’s growth and its revelation of the “bones” of the garden. I am witness to both successes and failures in the garden and of plants that I’ve chosen to create it. As with a muted landscape, even in a plainly colored bird, there is still much beauty in a darling face or in the pattern of the plumage, when hues are neutral and soft. That said, after many freezes this year and as March approaches, I’m eager for spring and daily observe signs of its arrival.