Wildlife Wednesday, January 2016: All About Birds

Welcome to a new year, with new beginnings, and new wildlife to observe and learn about.

How exciting!

In my gardens, this past month’s wildlife happenings have been all about the birds.


Yes, I know that’s not a bird.  Nor are these.




But this handsome devil is most definitely a bird!


There are a number of native Blue Jay birdsCyanocitta cristata, who fly through my gardens, stopping on a regular basis to nosh,


…and preen.


Beautiful birds, Blue Jay males and females are difficult to tell apart.  Their feathers have the pigment melanin, which is brown, but the blue that we see and admire happens because of scattered light through specialized cells along the feathers.

Lots of folks don’t like Blue Jays because they are assertive and noisy, but I’m quite fond of them; their cheeky personalities and gorgeous good looks always cheer me.  I miss the flash of blue when I haven’t seen one swoop through the garden in a day or two, though their not being part of the landscape is rare.  Blue Jays are intelligent birds with complicated family structures and there’s still much that ornithologists don’t quite understand about their family habits and migration patterns.

Occupying a different spot of the color wheel is this lovely girl,


…and her male counterpart.


Northern Cardinal,  Cardinalis cardinalis, birds  are common throughout  North America and adapt well to the backyard wildlife habitat.  There are two nesting pairs in my part of the neighborhood. They nest nearby and visit my gardens and feeders daily.  During summer, I’m likely to see dad training up his youngins’ on the best places to eat in the neighborhood and how to avoid the neighborhood cats.

Last month, I attempted photos of the Black-crested Titmouse(s), Baeolophus atricristatus, who frequent my garden spaces. Their charming chirps allure, but their quick movements thwart photographic efforts–mine anyway.   Luckier this month, I captured some photos of some of these darling birds.  Resting between visits to a feeder,


…and simply resting and looking adorable.



This one refused to turn around, smile and say “seeds!”  for the camera.


The birds I’m most excited about recently observing in my gardens are a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Setophaga coronata.  This one is a male.




Likely as not, I’ve seen this bird species before, because  it’s a common winter Texan.  As I’ve learned about birds, I’m becoming  aware that not all drab little birds are just more sparrows-of-some-sort.  I’m learning to discern their color patterns, size and beak differentiations, and vocalizations. The bird-learning curve is a steep one, to be sure.



One must observe closely and (ahem) read a bit about birds to decipher the often subtle dissimilarities between the many species of warblers, finches, and sparrows.


Most of the little “brown” birds sport colorful plumage here and there,


…including on their bums.   Can you see the yellow rump in the above photo?


I took a lots of photos before I finally got that yellow in action. There are at least two Yellow-rumps visiting my gardens regularly. This male I see most often,




…and a female,  “myrtle” form.


As it turns out, there are multiple sub-species related to this particular warbler and currently, I’m not nearly enough of a birder to adequately understand, much less explain, variations.  For the time being, I’m content to observe these shy little birds, all yellow rumped and sweet peeps, as they flit about my garden this winter.

While I secured a couple of decent butt shots of the female, I’m still working on a photo capture of the male’s cute yellow posterior. Heretofore, he’s been too busy showing  how pretty he is in other poses.




A Red-bellied Woodpecker,  Melanerpes carolinus, is another daily visitor to my feeders and up and down the oak trees.


I love it when he is feeding at the suet and a Blue Jay flies toward and in no uncertain terms, the woodpecker lets the Blue Jay know that it’s NOT HIS TURN!

There’s plenty where that came from, so wait until Red-belly is finished, Mr. Jay.



At this feeder though, the Red-bellied Woodpecker doesn’t mind sharing the food bar with a House Sparrow, Passer domesticus.


House Finches, Haemorhous mexicanus,   sit in the trees, on the ground, and at the feeders.  I love these chatty birds and I especially appreciate that they sit still, munching away contentedly for long enough to get good captures.  Usually, couples feed together, but at this particular moment, these two took turns–first him,



…then her.


In November I signed up to participate in  Project FeederWatch, a yearly, months-long look at bird population trends organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Mostly I did this because I felt the draw to participate in research on the status of North American birds, including migration and population  trends.  Also, I like the idea of being a citizen scientist.


Despite that trumped-up term, the information gleaned by the 200,000 participating volunteers throughout North America, is vital for research on how bird populations are trending up or down and, over time, whether native birds are declining, which, unfortunately, the project has documented.  Cornell Lab of Ornithology is all about the science of birds and through education, the conservation of our beloved and beleaguered native birds.  Cornell encourages concerned citizens to participate in this necessary research.

There are some rules and the counting method is specific and precise, though not difficult to understand or implement, even for novice bird watchers. Project FeederWatch spans November through April, book-ending the autumn and spring migration seasons, as well as the stable wintering population of your particular site. Ideally, observance is weekly, though there’s no penalty for skipping your count from time-to-time.  Cornell ornithologists are happy to get what information they can, when they can, to better understand how North American birds are faring.  Volunteers choose the same two consecutive days each week to observe and record what and how many birds are in the chosen area and for what length of time the area is observed.  Whether for one hour or many–it’s up to the volunteer–weather conditions are noted, and Cornell asks that particular rules of counting be followed to ensure no multiple counts of birds.  The process is well-tuned and the fine folks at Cornell Lab have done their utmost to make the activity easy to use and  educational. Data is either mailed in  hard copy form or entered directly into a user-friendly site; that’s my preferred method. Cornell requests an $18 participation donation for the starter kit, but  I think it’s well-worth that small amount to be part of a long-term scientific study and, like most scientific and educational organizations,  Cornell Lab of Ornithology can use all the moolah they can get.

It’s not too late to participate for this season; check out Project FeederWatch for more information.

Any excuse to watch the backyard birdies!

Oh dear.  I’m becoming one of them. Yeah, that’s right, my binoculars are on the shelf by the back door, ready and waiting.  Ready and waiting for that little female Downy Woodpecker who’s too quick in the oak trees for me to get much of a look, much less a decent photograph.

Oh well, there’s always preparation and photographs for  next month’s Wildlife Wednesday!

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for January 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 readers can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Happy wildlife gardening!