Winter Birds

As spring is almost upon us and wildlife is ever more active, I realize that it’s been a while since I’ve published a variety-of-birds post. I’m still an active Project Feederwatch participant and remain interested in the urban bird population here in Austin, especially those who spend time in my gardens. I haven’t taken as many photos of birds as I typically do during winter as cataract surgery with down-time afterwards, followed by a gardening year’s worth of winter pruning has kept me busy and away from the camera. But avian antics are ongoing and I’ve caught a few of those to share.

For the first time in several years, I’ve enjoyed the presence of more than just one Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata and one Orange-crown Warbler, Leiothlypis celata. These charming song birds over-winter in warmer climates of North America and I always have at least one of each hanging out in my garden. This winter, I’ve observed as many as four Yellow-rumps together, all nibbling nicely under the peanut feeder. I should have grabbed the camera, but opted to simply watch and appreciate. Mostly, it’s been two or three, zooming around the garden, perching in the trees and chasing off competitors. One in particular–this guy,

…is the self-appointed Badass Bird King of the Garden, chasing the other Yellow-rumps and Orange-crowns away from “his” feeder. The little stinker dominated the icicled suet feeder during the ice storm in January.

Lots of birds were active during the ice storm and I made certain that they had plenty of seeds during those cold days. I also dripped outdoor faucets so water remained available.

This Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, safflower-seed-in-beak, brightened those dull days of ice. All of last year, two different Cardinal couples were regular visitors to my garden, though both couples nested elsewhere. So far this year, I see only one male and one female.

Both common woodpecker species show up for their daily dose of peanuts. This male Downy Woodpecker, Dryobates pubescens, comes rain or shine, warm or cold. I haven’t seen the female in a while; is she already on the nest? I can only tell them apart as the female lacks the red hat that the male sports so handsomely.

Year-round there are always plenty of chatty House Finches in my garden. The House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus, ranges throughout the U.S., Mexico, and parts of Central America. They may be common birds, they’re fun to watch and are, wings down, the most talkative of any of my resident birds.

This couple didn’t mind dining amongst the icicles. Their favorite food are safflower seeds, but they also eat sunflower seeds and sometimes, peanuts.

Like the Yellow-rumped Warbler, the Orange-crowned Warbler, Leiothlypis celata over-winters here in Central Texas. Both Orange-crowns that have spent winter in the garden are females; they don’t have the orange “crown” of the male. Males flash their crowns to impress females, establish territory, and warn predators. I really like this tiny bird. It’s not as colorful as many other warblers, but it’s lovely to observe as it flits through shrubbery or in trees looking for insects and takes offerings from the peanut or suet feeder. Look at that sweet face!

In these next two photos, you can see bits of yellow underneath the tail feathers on the Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Birders have affectionately nicknamed Yellow-rumped Warblers Butter Butts because of these yellow feathered bums. This winter I hadn’t made much effort to photograph the yellow rumps, but before these cuties migrate north to their breeding grounds in the central part of the U.S. and southern Canada, I really should snag a shot of a butter-colored butt.

Of course I should!

One last showy resident bird, the Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, is noisy, gregarious, and typically I see seven to ten of these characters everyday, snitching the peanuts-in-the-shells that I put out each morning at sunrise. Later in the day, they settle for the shelled peanuts and sunflower seeds–and spend time yelling at other birds.

The Eastern Screech Owl couple were in the garden until their nest box was raided. I suspect that a Grey Fox (I’ve spotted one, or more, in our neighborhood) is the egg thief. I grieved for the couple’s loss, but they started their family very early this year and still have plenty of time for another clutch. I hoped they might return our nest box, but so far, except for two days, mama owl hasn’t chosen to spend time in our nestbox, trying it out for her next family. I doubt that they’ll return to our garden this year and it’s likely they’ve found another, safer place to raise their chicks. I wish them all the best–but I’ll miss watching them.

Spring is on its way and change is inevitable. Migratory birds have begun their movement northward, local birds are wooing and nesting. Winter, the dormant time of year, sees the garden active with birds, but spring brings new life and the promise of a future.

Looking Left

Winter warblers are part of my garden’s life. Several come each day, sometimes for water, mostly for food. On our snowy day, two weeks in the past, the two most loyal of the seasonal visitors braved the snowflakes and ate their fill.

This female Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata, typically gleans from the ground or forages through the gardens, scouring flagstone pathways for seed and such. On that snowy day, I caught her at the black-oiled sunflower feeder, a food dispensary she rarely visits. She also avoids showing off her yellow rump, but it was on full display that day.

I catch glimpses of her butter butt, typically as she flits away in flight because she’s spooked by my presence, or when she’s in partnership with the White-winged Doves and their noisy fluttering to the trees.

That snow day presented a bit of yellow cheer in the form of a warbler’s rump.

My other consistent warbler guest is a female Orange-crowned Warbler, Leiothlypis celata. Like the Yellow-rumped, she’s here for winter, enjoying a ready supply of available food in a relatively safe environment. On that snow day, I spied her throughout the garden: on the ground, in the tree, at the suet and the peanuts.

At one point, she landed on what remains of an old rose bush, searching for who-knows-what from slender, thorned stems, sometimes hanging upside-down as she nibbled and noshed. Then she sat, still and quiet, looking left, facing north.

Indoor commitments prevented my enjoying and exploring the rare snowfall as much as I might have liked, but the birds in my neighborhood were active in the snow, more than usual it seemed. I watched them continue their lives, accepting conditions, unrelenting in activities, focusing on their survival work.

Crowning Glory

Winter Texans have arrived in Central Texas.  They’re here in the form of seed and insect munching, delightfully feather-sporting, song-singing warblers.  I’m in warbler-watching nirvana because these birds are such pretties: tiny and colorful, sweet-faced and dulcet-voiced, warbler-watching provides great entertainment as I observe their bird business in the trees, at the perennials, and along the pathways.

I’m enjoying suet and peanuts visits from a female Orange-crowned Warbler, Leiothlypis celata, and recently, this little Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata, has joined in with some autumn/winter decoration of my garden.

Her cheery cap is charming and that flash of sunshine under the wings?  It positively swoon worthy!  Her little face is darling, too.

But(t) the crowning glory is–drum roll–her yellow bum.

Affectionately called Butter Butts  by avid birders, Yellow-rumped warblers’ show of their lemony rear-ends appears when they’re flying and when hunting for seeds on the ground.

Celebrating cute bird bums, I’m happy to join with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette–check out other colorful butts or perhaps less bottom-centric garden musings for today.