Winter Song Birds

A Black-capped Chickadee
Courtesy Bridgerland Audubon Society
Stephen Peterson, Photographer

In the icy, short days of winter, you may think that Nature itself has curled up to hibernate. Our gardens are colorless. Deciduous trees are stripped down to bare limbs and twigs. Many songbirds bid us farewell before flying south. In truth, what remains to be seen and heard of nature here in winter is more subtle and less complex. Now is the time to learn calls and songs of birds that reside here year-round, to hear them in solo performances, before the confusing springtime symphonies of birdsong.

This first bird calls its own name.[sound: “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee” #9 Songbirds of the Rocky Mountain Foothills]. That would be a chickadee. Black-capped Chickadees take sunflower seeds one at a time from our feeders. When I’m out snowshoeing or skiing in our forests, inquisitive chickadees are my welcome companions. They put some joy in a wintry day.

Sometimes a winter chickadee flock has other birds. [Sound: “annk-annk” #48 Songbirds of Yellowstone]. This bird sounds like a child’s squeak toy, but that nasal call belongs to the red breasted nuthatch. Look for this chunky small bird at your suet feeder, or cruising up and down tree trunks in its search for bugs.

We also have a minimalist in our winter bird repertoire. [Sound: “tew” #62 Songbirds of Yellowstone]. That single note belongs to the Townsend’s solitaire, which looks like a lean robin, but the somber gray of an overcast sky. Solitaires get through our winters dining mostly on juniper berries. Their call stakes out their winter feeding territory. They are regulars at are heated birdbath, I suppose washing down all those puckery berries.– Winter is the time to appreciate Townsend’s solitaire, before their singular tune is drowned out by the chorus of returning migrants.

You often hear chickadees, nuthatches and solitaires before you see them, as their plumage is neither colorful nor splashy. If you notice these calls on a winter’s day, it is because you are quiet and focused on the nature around you, leaving civilization’s hubub behind. Winter birds can do that for you. We will share more of Kevin Colver’s bird recordings with you this winter on Wild About Utah.

Credits:

Bird Sounds: Courtesy and Copyright 2008 Dr. Kevin Colver, Songbirds of the Rocky Mountain Foothills and Songbirds of Yellowstone and the High Rockies http://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/

Text: Jim Cane and Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society http://www.bridgerlandaudubon.org

Additional Reading:

Black-capped Chickadee, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Black-capped_Chickadee.html

Red-breasted Nuthatch, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Red-breasted_Nuthatch.html

Townsend’s Solitaire, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Townsends_Solitaire.html

Bird Feeding

Pine Siskins and an
American Goldfinch feed
on thistle from a sock feeder
© 2008 Jim Cane

Many of our songbirds have departed for tropical climes to spend their winter. I confess that some days I envy them their choice. Like you and I, though, many others remain behind. They will fluff their feathers to tough out the cold, spending these short days in a perpetual hunt for food to keep them warm. You can help their hungry quest.

Remember the movie Mary Poppins and the scene where the lady sings “Feed the Birds”? She was feeding city pigeons, but you can feed our diverse songbirds using a convenient birdfeeder. For loose seed, we use a hopper feeder. The hopper resembles a tiny roofed house which is filled with seed that is dispensed from a trough at its base. To exclude squirrels, we have a metal squirrel-proof feeder, but you could put a baffle on the feeder’s supporting pole. The other common style of seed feeder is a broad tray. It will need a roof and drain holes to keep the seed dry and free of mold. Our feeder is above a stone walkway for birds like juncos that prefer seed spilled on the ground. A ring of upturned tomato cages around this area excludes cats, and the season’s discarded Christmas tree will provide them cover.

 

Hopper Feeder
© 2008 Jim Cane

The best seed to offer is black oil sunflower seed, rich in fats and proteins, with a thin shell. Our diners include chickadees, finches, sparrows, nuthatches and woodpeckers. If you buy seed mixes, juncos and sparrows will take white millet, but milo or so-called red millet is a filler. Doves and jays like cracked corn too. Goldfinches and pine siskins flock to Nyjer thistle seed dispensed from a fine mesh sock you can buy with the seed.

Hopper Feeder
with frustrated
squirrel
© 2008 Jim Cane

Woodpeckers and nuthatches appreciate a suet feeder too, being a wire mesh cage containing a block of seed-filled suet, typically rendered from beef kidney fat. Expect magpies to hammer chunks off that suet block occasionally; our dog knows all about it. Nothing quite cheers a wintry day for me like colorful songbirds noisely bustling at our feeders.

If you do put up feeders, consider participating in Project Feeder Watch. You can find details on our web site, WildAboutUtah. Bon apetite!

Credits:

Suet Feeder
© 2008 Jim Cane

Photo: Courtesy & Copyright 2008 Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society, www.bridgerlandaudubon.org

Text: Jim Cane, Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Bird Recordings Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Kevin Colver, WildSanctuary, Soundscapes, http://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/

 

Additional Reading:

Backyard Bird Feeding, US Fish & Wildlife Service, http://library.fws.gov/Bird_Publications/feed.html

Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/

Educator’s Guide to Bird Study, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/schoolyard/all_about_birds/feeding_birds/bird_feeders.htm

The Great Backyard Bird Count, Birdsource.org, http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/

Creating landscapes for Wildlife — A Guide for Backyards in Utah, A production of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service & Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, http://digitallibrary.utah.gov/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=10215