To Watch a Feeder

I’m a backyard birder.  I like that my wildlife habitat, also known as the garden, attracts a multitude of native and migrating birds and that I am able to observe them from the comfort of my back patio or from inside my house.  I have little desire to wake up a 3am and drive somewhere to watch birds, though that would certainly allow me to see a wider variety of birds and there are clearly rewards collaborating with other bird enthusiasts to observe and learn about birds.   In reality though, seeing many different kinds of birds is not my goal, though I understand why it’s important to others.   At least at this point in my life, I’m not a birder in that sense–and that’s just fine.

I also appreciate that there are several kinds of citizen scientist activities that I can easily participate in which allow me to watch, to learn, and also contribute to on-going and vital research concerning how birds in North America are faring.  Climate change, urbanization, various kinds of pollution (chemical, light, noise) all have had serious deleterious impacts on North American birds.   The National Audubon Society and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology are engaged in long-time research and are great resources for learning all about the birds of North America.  Both organizations support myriad volunteer and educational enterprises related to birds, bird watching, and installing bird-friendly habitats.

My primary and on-going participation in science-based bird watching involves volunteering for Project FeederWatch, sponsored by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  The FeederWatch season occurs from mid-November to early April:  the ‘watch’ period is after the main autumn migration and before spring migration is fully underway.  I’m now about 8 weeks into my 2019-20 FeederWatch season and am thrilled to have listed two Ruby-crowned KingletsRegulus calendula, though I admit both little songbirds showed up on only one of the watch days.  For most of my recorded FeederWatch days, I’ve only seen this tiny cutey, a female Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

During the November to April FeederWatch time, I’m mostly counting and categorizing the native birds and those birds who are migratory, but have decided my part of Central Texas is a good place to stay for winter–like the Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

I’m especially excited about seeing the Ruby-crowned Kinglets this season, because it’s been about 3 years since any have over-wintered in or near my garden.  I’ve learned much as part of my FeederWatch participation.  Not only do I watch birds for a regular and close connection to nature, but I’m also assisting–in a small way–the research related to the health of birds, their numbers in various areas, and their changes and movements in population over periods of time.

Before I became involved in FeederWatch, I’d planted for birds (and other critters) and most warblers and other songbirds visit the garden and trees to glean insects and nosh on plants’ seeds.  But I’ve also widened both the type of feeders I place in the garden and feed that I provide for birds to better target those same songbirds and that’s thanks to my greater knowledge about birds–what they like and what’s good for them to eat.

Another typical overwintering bird species (and this season there are at least 2 and possibly 3 in my garden, it’s hard to tell for sure), are the Orange-crowned Warblers, Leiothlypis celata.  I think the Orange-crowns are my favorite of the warbler species: there’s a sweet cheekiness about them and they have darling faces.

The Orange-crowns favor the peanut feeder.

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Do you see the bit of green among the peanuts in the feeder? It’s a rogue bit of plastic–yuck! I didn’t see it until I downloaded the photos. I dumped the peanuts out and disgarded the plastic.

But I don’t think they always favor the watcher.

 

Participating in Project FeederWatch is ridiculously easy.   Pick what days are most convenient with your schedule; watching and documenting isn’t time-consuming–watch as much or as little as you please–though you need to commit to two consecutive days.  As well, the process for entering your online data is a snap.  I’ve had the occasional question about my data and the Cornell folks are friendly and great about promptly responding.

Counting birds is usually not a problem, even with their flighty natures, but sometimes…

From a post last spring: Mob

…it can be a challenge.  Oh, those silly, pond-loving, gregarious Cedar WaxwingsBombycilla cedrorum, they’re such charactersI haven’t seen any so far this year; no doubt they’ll be in my FeederWatch counts sometime in February.

It’s not too late to join in for this year, just click here and you’ll find easy-to-follow directions to help you jump on the birdie bandwagon.   Cornell Lab requests an $18 fee to get the initial information, but that’s all–unless you want to donate more to either Cornell Lab or Audubon–and they’re both worthy organizations.

Birds rock.  They’re beautiful, fascinating and you can help birds by helping the humans who study them so that your descendants will have birds in their lives, too.

The Crown

Americans profess a certain pride in living without royalty.   We drool and gossip about entertainment favorites, whose only claim to fame is that they’re famous, but, gosh darn it, we don’t need royalty.

But here in North America, there are some who don crowns and in a few cases they live in, or visit, our gardens–like this fella:

Taking a bath, enjoying the great outdoors.

What’s that little smudge of rust on top of your head?  Maybe it needs cleaning?

It’s a crown–an Orange-crown!

The Orange-crowned WarblerOreothlypis celata, is a migrating bird who winters here in Central Texas.  Each winter, I enjoy the charm of a few of these busy, quiet but occasionally chirping, little warblers.  This winter, I’ve identified two regulars to my garden, though the female is the more frequent visitor.  How can I tell the difference?  It’s hard with this warbler, as both genders’ coloring is similar–a muted greenish-yellow.  According  to Cornell Lab and Audubon Society, there are four subspecies of Orange-crown, differing in color, size, and molting patterns.  In reading the descriptions of where each type of warbler lives, I’m guessing that it’s the western Orange-crowns, the lutescens, who winter here, as the other breeds either sport more grey, drab plumage or are found only in certain areas.  My Orange-crowns are yellow-green, all the time, except for the male and his unsparkly orange crown, which appears when he’s excited, irritated–or taking a bath.

Orange-crown Warblers rummage through trees and shrubs, and fluff plant detritus along the ground in search of variety of small insects, spiders, and any source of protein smaller than they are.  As Automatic Gardener demonstrates on a recent post, they’ll also visit a hummingbird feeder if given an opportunity.  Each fall, winter, and early spring, Orange-crowns visit at my suet feeder; this year, it’s been the female enjoying suet snacks.

We all like fat, I guess.

I see her almost daily at the suet, nipping at sunflower seeds fallen to the ground, or in the garden, working the shrubbery.

I haven’t seen the male in a while, perhaps he headed further south, or maybe he visits a different garden?  Was he offended at my catching him at his bath?

Stop looking at me, lady!

Orange-crowned Warblers are early arrivals during fall migration and hang out in my garden through May.  They breed in far north Canada, so they have a long way to go from my Central Texas garden to the neighborhoods where they raise their families.  In late summer, after the chicks have fledged, Orange-crowns embark on the big trip southward to their wintering spots.  Like other migrating birds, their seasonal treks amaze me:  tiny birds who travel thousands of miles, back and forth over continents and sometimes large bodies of water, and that’s normal life for them.  How can I not appreciate and admire that?

So it goes with birds.

Orange-crowned Warblers, crowned, or not, are royalty in my eyes.

 

The Eyes Have It

A pair of Carolina WrensThryothorus ludovicianus, live near my garden and most days, I see at least one of the pair.  Often, I observe both wrens in the garden as they flit through underbrush picking plant lice from limbs and hop through leaf matter, tossing bits–hither and thither–in their endless search for yummy insects and spiders.  More delightful–and easier to observe–I’m witness to their landing on the sunflower or suet feeders, both placed outside the big kitchen window.  The Carolinas snatch tasty morsels, then zoom to safety on a low branch to enjoy their chosen treat.  These gregarious little wrens are (almost) effortless photographic catches, as they perch on fences, or on the multitudes of spots where they survey the landscape, watching for predators and planning the flight path to their next adventure–or meal.

I snapped this shot a few weeks ago as this adult rested on my back fence, looking this way and that, chirping all the while.  As I watched him or her (going forward, wrens will be “its,” as I can’t tell gender), something looked amiss.

Once I downloaded the photos, it was clear that the wren’s right eye was closed, or mostly so.

For this spunky Carolina Wren (they’re all spunky–that’s a descriptor of Carolina Wrens), one of the eyes has it, and one, apparently, doesn’t.

I perused bird sites for any information on eye diseases in wrens, specifically wondering if wrens are vulnerable to the same eye disease that House Finches and American Goldfinches suffer.  I haven’t found any information that suggests that particular connection, and finches and wrens aren’t related species of birds, except that they’re both, well, birds.

Ahem.

As I’ve observed backyard bird business over the last few weeks, I’ve paid special attention to the wrens, and with some good luck (and clean windows), have taken some closer shots of the currently one-eye bird.

The right eye is completely closed.

 

For comparison, this shot of the mate shows a darling adult wren with two healthy eyes.

In the last two weeks, it appeared that the wren’s eye improved.

The eye is clearly swollen, but you can see a bit of wary eyeball peeking through the lids.

In this photo, taken a few days after the one above, the wren in on the ground below the suet feeder and the eye looks better.

Again, up on the suet feeder.

Injury or disease?  It’s impossible for me to say.  Except when the wren turns its head where I can clearly see the injured eye and identify the disfigured wren, I haven’t observed any difference in behavior of one wren from another:  they both fly normally, work, with verve, through the garden for insects and other snacks, and alight gracefully on the feeders for sunflower seeds or suet.  Perhaps the injured wren looks around more readily and nervously than the other, but I’m not sure that’s the case as Carolina wrens are busy birds who aren’t still or placid in their routine behavior.  As I anthropomorphize the wren situation, I wonder if the mate assists the impaired partner, who obviously has limitations of sight, or, is the disabled bird on its own for food?   Has the semi-blind bird learned to compensate for its eye problem by faster flying or furtive movements?  Is the eye healing, or is this a permanent situation? Should I fashion a tiny, wren eye patch and offer it as a gift, and would the wren accept it?

 

While it seemed like the wren’s eye was improving, in this distance shot of a few days ago, the eye looks closed again.

The mate landed on the branch just after I took the photo and the couple perched for a time, enjoying one another’s company for several minutes before flitting to a different tree in the distance.

The wren on the left is the one with the bum eye.

I assume this is the same pair who raised two chicks last spring and what a sweet show that was. I’m sorry for the wren’s injury, but there’s nothing I can do to help the bird–it’s wild, and by all appearances, has adapted to its eye problem.  Its actions seem wren-normal and it’s clearly able to feed and fly, and those two skills are the foundations of a healthy bird life.  But I do hope the little bird will enjoy restored vision, and will continue its wren ways, and further, that this couple can successfully raise another clutch of Carolina Wren cuties in spring.

I’ll be keeping my eye out for them.