Winter Birds

Posted: January 9th, 2009 under Activities, Wildlife.
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We have four or five different bird populations on the place, and the first year I thought the winter-resident bunch were the dullest.  After all, it’s not their breeding season, so those that have a bright breeding plumage don’t have it here.   Then there are the sparrows–for two years they defeated my attempts at bird identification because I didn’t spend enough time learning which small streaky brown bird was which.

Then I spent a winter sitting out in the dry woods with binoculars day after day and discovered the beauty of winter sparrows.  Now the winter birds are one of my favorite subgroups.  They can’t compete with the painted buntings we get in late spring (nothing can!) but I enjoy them.   And the  American goldfinches, arriving all brown,  with the black-and-white echelons of their wingtips on the back, gradually transform toward spring into the familiar yellow and black northerners see.

All the winter sparrows are interesting in their own way–the bold White-crowned sing the most, especially after the turn of the year, and were the first I learned (even without binoculars I could see those black and white-striped heads.)  Interestingly,  Sibley says that Harris’s are bolder than White-crowned…but they’re not, here.  It’s rare that I get one to come out in the open as boldly as this fellow:

Harris's Sparrow

Harris's Sparrow

Support for the winter resident population varies from year to year with rainfall and the abundance of natural foods (rainfall-dependent.)    We put out a variety of grains and then I try to photograph what each eats, and gauge the best mix to put out next time.     We want to send them back north healthy and with the nutritional reserves to make the trip and breed successfully.

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