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.

 

Woo-Hoo!

Or is it hoo-hoo?  Or maybe trilllll and whinny in the early morning hours?

No, it’s relief on my part, so it’s a big yay! 

An Eastern Screech-OwlMegascops asio, snoozes in the box early this morning.

This owl watching season has been an odd one, with this enigmatic bird more than discreet than usual.  I’ve only heard screech song three times this winter, and until this morning, hadn’t a single glimpse of the shy little raptors.   But here she is!  Is she exhibiting her nesting behaviors, perhaps?  I certainly hope so!

Update:  the nest box camera position didn’t capture any part of her owl body as she was hanging out this morning and she didn’t snuggle in for her daytime rest until I published, but here she is, boxed in for the day.