Sweet ‘Lil Bird

I have no idea if this little fella is actually sweet, but he’s definitely cute.

Really cute.

This is a Black-crested TitmouseBaeolophus atricristatus, and these charming birds are residents in Central Texas;  several are daily visitors to my garden.  Black-crested Titmice range from Central Texas to northern Mexico and are comfortable and common in urban settings.  Tiny song birds with loud and melodious voices, their diet consists of insects, especially caterpillars, but they’ll also favor feeders.

Titmice in my garden enjoy the black-oiled sunflowers, but recently I purchased a peanut feeder and it’s become the premier dining choice of titmice customers.

You’ll notice that the bird in this photo looks slightly different from the one in the previous photos; notably, this titmouse doesn’t have a black crest.  As there’s some color differentiations between the two and that I’ve observed courting behavior, I assume the two are mates.  I figured that this not black-crested titmouse is female and the other one–sporting the jaunty, black crest–is male.  After researching both Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology sources, I now think that the presumed female is in fact, a Tufted TitmouseBaeolophus bicolor, or possibly a hybrid between the Black-crested and Tufted. The Tufted Titmice spans a greater range in North America than does the more geographically limited Black-crested Titmice, but these two distinct species share overlapping territory in Texas and breed successfully, creating hybrid offspring.  In past years, the titmice in my neighborhood that I’ve observed have all been of the Black-crested sort, so I think that this bit of Tufted Titmouse is a new thing in my garden.

Aside from the lack of black crest, the Tufted also show black coloring above their beaks, whereas on the Black-crested, the same area is white to cream-colored.  In this series of shots, the female is a bit darker above the beak than is her male partner.

What’s not to love about that face?

Even without the black crest, she’s darling!  In these shots, she was resting in a shrub just above where the black-oiled sunflower feeder hangs, biding her time and keeping watch for a safe foray to pop down and snatch a seed.

Success! She flew to the feeder, grabbed a seed, and flew back again to foliaged safety, pounding the seed open, then gobbling the meat inside.

Aside from partaking of seeds and peanuts, titmice hop along the branches of trees–right side up and upside down–eating a variety of insects.  When I spot that, I usually forgo the camera and grab the binoculars, as their acrobatics are quite fun to watch, even when they are partly hidden by foliage.

Last spring, I wrote about a pair of Titmice who built a nest in a nest box in my front garden.  Alas, the local House Sparrows bullied and harassed them until they abandoned that nest.  Late in spring, I cleaned out the nest box and there were three little speckled eggs.  Sniff.

A rare, quiet moment for this titmouse. They’re always on the move–hopping and fluttering from place to place. They are busy birds.

A puff of wind ruffles the crest, but it’s still a good feather day!

This spring, I haven’t witnessed any birds who are interested in that nest box, but I’m sure the pair who visit my garden are nesting somewhere in the neighborhood.  They typically choose tree holes, or empty woodpecker holes, as well as settling in nest boxes–except mine, it seems.  Grrr!

One of the hallmarks of titmice nests is that they use animal fur for lining.  There are videos of titmice pulling fur from wild animals and dogs and it’s adorable to watch these wee scamps raiding mammals’ coats!  Relatives of the Titmice, Black-capped Chickadees and Carolina Chickadees, also use fur in their nests.  Many backyard birders, myself included, place pets’ fur in our gardens (I use a suet feeder filled with some of my cats’ fur) for songbird nest-building.

Consider the irony of a cat’s fur serving as a nursery bed for a baby bird!

Only use animal fur though; never, ever put out human hair or yarn for birds’ nest-building.  The hair and yarn can wrap around birds’ legs, tangling the afflicted in trees or shrubbery.  Yarn and human hair have are also blamed for causing accidental amputation of birds’ legs, with obviously poor outcomes for the victims.

The adult titmice and their offspring are year-round residents and in the coming weeks and months, I’ll see the parents and juveniles engage in how-to-be-a-titmouse lessons.  By autumn, the babies will be grown and off on their own, searching for a mate to usher in the next generation.

Black-crested, Tufted, or hybrid, I’m glad these darling birds are around.  Their morning songs are often the first thing I hear upon waking and their beauty graces my garden.

Wildlife Wednesday, March 2015

Like last month, February wildlife adventure was all about the birds; it’s been a bit too cold on a regular basis for much insect goings-on.  That’s fine–I enjoy feathered friends and entice them to my gardens in winter with food and water.

I’ve seen this single gal-I think she’s female because she’s quite large, perched atop trees around my home many mornings throughout this past month.


She’s a Red-tailed HawkButeo jamaicensis, and I hope a juvenile hawk, not ready to take a mate yet, rather than an adult without a mate.  That would be sad.  I’ve also seen her hidden in Live Oak trees, upsetting the Carolina Chickadees and scattering the feathers remaining of her meal of White-winged Dove.


She’s magnificent, sitting at attention early in the morning or as she glides from tree to tree, on the hunt in the neighborhood.

House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus, is a  common species of bird living year-round in my gardens.  I realized that I didn’t have any photos of this charming, gregarious finch. Here, this male munches a sunflower seed.M0055575_cropped_1926x1323..new

I need a companion photo of a female House Finch–they’re not as colorful, but cute and perky, nonetheless.

Every February I look forward to the hordes of the migratory bird, Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum. I usually hear them before I see them; they travel in groups and sing with a high-pitched keening as they swoop across the sky to settle in trees.



They are gorgeous birds and maybe just a little vain.  They’re always preening,


…and displaying their pretty feathers for all to admire,IMGP5321_cropped_2608x2852..new

…and posing so you can view them at best advantage.


Cedar Waxwings are social birds too; they remind me of those girls in high school who can’t do anything alone–they go everywhere and do everything in a group. IMGP5665.new


They are clearly having a grand time bathing in the newly cleaned pond,

IMGP5668_cropped_3866x2889..new….splashing, with flashing of red and yellow, and dashing in their Mardi Gras-esque masks. Can birds be full of themselves?

I see male Northern Cardinals everyday, but the ladies are shyer and elude the use of my camera with their quick movements through the cover of trees and shrubs.  I find them as attractive as the masculine of their kind.  This lovely lady Northern CardinalCardinalis cardinalis, was not so flighty as is typical of her female friends. IMGP5464_cropped_3387x2788..new



She landed and sat in the woody shrub for a long while before taking flight to another.


I love the funny, quizzical look on this female Lesser GoldfinchSpinus psaltria, stopping for a sip at the bar.IMGP5484.new

I meant to do that.


This Black-crested TitmouseBaeolophus atricristatus, landed in a small tree after snatching a seed from the feeder.


He pecks to the left,


….and pecks to the right,


…and finally, mmmmm, that seed is tasty.


I introduced this handsome dude, a Red-bellied WoodpeckerMelanerpes carolinus, in my last post.


He’s part of a couple, no doubt gearing up to raise a little family of redheads, though I don’t know where their nest is.  Not in my garden unfortunately, but he does visit.

I hope wildlife shared your gardens this month, even though winter retains its icy grip on so many places. Please join in posting about the wildlife in your gardens for March Wildlife Wednesday. Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post so we can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Good wildlife gardening!

Wildlife Wednesday, February 2015

Let me tell you ’bout the birds and bees and the flowers and the trees….

That’ll be in your head all day. You’re welcome.

This past month, it’s really all about the birds in the gardens.    I’ve seen the occasional bee–honey–my little gals.  There are no native bees around, as they’re all hibernating, but I’ve set out logs of fallen tree limbs, some rotten, some not-so-much, so that they have plenty of choices for nesting next season. Also, there have been a few fast flying little moths and butterflies, though too fast for me to catch by camera.

And always there are squirrels.

But the birds take center stage for this February Wildlife Wednesday.  I’ve fed them. I’ve not fed them. They’re around.

The first order of business though is to correct an identification from last month’s Wildlife Wednesday. Toward the end of that post, I identified a favorite bird of mine as a Tufted TitmouseBaeolophus bicolor, which is incorrect.  This adorable songbird (there’s probably more than one of the species) who visited in December and January and stops by still,

M0014258.new …is instead, a Black-crested Titmouse, Baeolophus atricristatus.  It’s a mistake that I made because that assumption thing.  Again.  The ranges of the two species overlap, so here in Central Texas, it’s possible to have both, though during the winter, the Tufted is apparently rare.  I’m fairly sure I’ve seen the Tufted in my gardens, though the titmouse(s) visiting this winter are definitely Black-crested.  Additionally, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology suggests that the Black-crested was considered a subspecies of the Tufted.  They are similar in appearance and habit, though different birds physically.  The Black-crested,

M0014267.new …is light grey between its black crest and its beak.  The crest is the defining physical characteristic between the two species:  on the Black-crested, the crest is very dark; on the Tufted, the crest is roughly the same color as the other grey coloring on the bird, but there is a dark spot between the beak and crest.


I made the mistake because I assumed my visitor was a Tufted, without verifying that it was.  And it wasn’t.  I hope I’ve learned my lesson: always verify.  Ahem.

One weekend morning, as I opened the blind of one of my bedroom windows, I saw something big fly by the back garden and land on a utility pole behind my property.  This beautiful Cooper’s HawkAccipiter cooperii, was that winged thing in the sky.

M0014547.new He made appearances all over the neighborhood in those couple of weeks, mid-to-late January:  a neighbor photographed him in her back garden and I’d also spotted him in yet another neighbor’s front garden sitting in a large Live Oak tree, upsetting the Blue Jays.  I haven’t seen him since, but I’ll bet he’s around.

A small band of the charming Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria, made a return visit to my gardens to finish off the remaining Goldeneye seeds.


I was happy to have them back.  Their chirping is melodic and their sunny, though sometimes hard to see, plumage, is colorful in the winter garden. I like the white underwing bands of this fluttering male as he takes lunch with his partner.

M0024438_cropped_1726x1624..new M0024448_cropped_1580x1530..new

The Cedar Waxwings, Bombycilla cedrorum, are beginning to make their presence known, casing the neighborhood and checking out all the available berries which they will, no doubt, gobble up all in one afternoon.


This group was at the tip-top of my back neighbor’s tree last week, sitting, grooming, generally looking gorgeous.  I love the black bands across their eyes and the yellow tips of their tails and those perfectly accented brilliant red markings, placed just so, along the wings. Cedar Waxwings are beautiful birds. IMGP5227_cropped_3032x3193..new

These photos are better than I thought they would be. Cedar Waxwings are the flightiest birds–one slight movement, and they’re off.  I was attempting to get the photos in a hurry (and I don’t do things very competently when I’m in a hurry, especially early in the morning before the caffeine has kicked in) because I know that those birds don’t hang around. I expect to see them again, though.  The Possumhaw HollyIlex decidua, is ripe for the onslaught of berry-seeking birds.

For part of January, I was in Eugene, Oregon, visiting my son who attends school at the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!). On several occasions, I walked some of the pathways of the partially restored Delta Ponds, which is now a city park.  The area was originally a river floodplain along the Willamette River, with accompanying channels and tributaries and was an important and rich wildlife habitat and flyway for migrating birds.  Once settlers commandeered the land for farming and then for urban growth and later, the building of I 105, the original environment was essentially destroyed.

Between 2004 and 2012, a restoration project was undertaken to reconnect the Willamette River and the Delta Ponds, to provide a habitat sanctuary for native species such as beaver, juvenile Chinook salmon, western pond turtle, river otter, and many migratory birds. This area, through natural management practices, has become a beautiful and educational addition to the park system in Eugene for walkers, bikers, and wildlife watchers.   I’m sure there are probably better times of the year to visit, but I saw plenty on my walks:

Great EgretArdea alba,


…and a female  American RobinTurdus migratorius, who posed very graciously for me. IMGP5056.new


Great Blue HeronArdea herodias, sunning himself,

IMGP5076.new …and another who looks perturbed, but I was at a distance, so I think he was annoyed by something else.

IMGP5085.newI hope I didn’t bother him.

On other pathways in wooded areas of Eugene, this Hairy WoodpeckerPicoides villosus, pecked and flitted and was difficult to photograph.


Similarly, this Black-capped ChickadeePoecile atricapillus, was also hard to see through the brush along the same path.


In the area known as the Valley River Center, I witnessed this Canada Goose,  Branta canadensis, along with many others of his kind, strutting jauntily, grass in bill, as if he hadn’t a care in the world.IMGP4731_cropped_3908x3378..new

Back at Delta Ponds, there were also Mallard Ducks,  Anas platyrhynchos.         .

IMGP5073.newI guess the obvious thing to say here is:  Go Ducks!!

My garden enjoyed wild visitors this past month and I’m sure yours did too. Please join in posting about the wildlife in your gardens for February Wildlife Wednesday. Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post so we can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Good wildlife gardening!