Posts Tagged ‘wild birds’

The Gleaners by Millet

Bit by bit, gleaners gather what has been left behind. With care and patience, they find just enough among the overlooked pieces to subsist on for another day.  

Female dark-eyed junco
Female dark-eyed junco

In my backyard, these gleaners are the dark-eyed juncos, small slate-colored birds that gather near the feeder after the larger birds have had their fill. Quiet and unassuming, they move slowly on the ground as they forage through the grass for tiny morsels.

Male dark-eyed junco

Juncos are common throughout most of North America. They make their nests on the ground, often on the borders of woodlands or ditches. They’re usually located in slightly raised areas, safe from flooding, and tucked behind grasses.

Juncos will make a ‘tsk tsk’ sound as you approach their nesting area. I’ve been able to find many nests over the years by listening for their warning sounds.  One time, I accidentally stumbled right next to a nest and several baby juncos ran out towards me at once with their wings and mouths open. I don’t know if they thought I was a predator or their mother returning with food.

If you would like to attract juncos to your yard, they are very keen on white millet and will enjoy a bird bath. However, they will also be content with gleaning whatever seed is left behind on the ground by the larger birds.

Junco and red squirrel

Hey, I was gleaning here first!

By spring, little is left of the previous fall’s seeds on grasses, flowers and trees. Birds returning from migration south are likely to be hungry after their long journey, especially as they begin to look for mates and build their nests. You don’t have to put out loads of bird seed to stave off their hunger. Just a handful a day will help until more insects are available for their dining enjoyment.

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Winter is beginning to overstay its welcome. The barren landscape at this time of year in Nova Scotia can seem so void of life. However, with just a fistful of sunflower seeds, you can liven things up by attracting a variety of birds to your backyard.  You never know who’s going to fly in for a nibble.

Blue jay fluffing its feathers to stay warm

Blue jays, chickadees, finches, nuthatches and mourning doves are all potential visitors at this time of year.  Despite the February cold, I’ve often noticed several species of birds waiting nearby for their turn at the feeder.

Mourning dove patiently waits for its turn at the feeder

The black oil seeds are easier for birds to crack open than the thicker-shelled striped ones and provide more nutrition for their weight. All you need is a fistful. If you put out too much at a time, it may not be eaten and get moldy or attract rodents.  A fancy bird feeder isn’t necessary.  Just a flat surface that is easily cleaned is ideal.

Black oil sunflower seeds are also a favorite of red squirrels.  If you don’t want them to get the lion’s share,  you might want to put seeds out for the birds before mid-morning when the squirrels begin to make their rounds.

Finch eating sunflower seed

Some of the birds you attract to your feeder in late winter may decide to nest nearby come spring.  In the meantime, you never know who’ll show up to take advantage of your hospitality and add some color to your backyard landscape.

Ring-necked pheasant looking for breakfast

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Winter storms like the one that’s beset Nova Scotia the past couple of days provide the ultimate test for chickadee memories.  When food supplies become scarce due to snow cover, they must rely on their memories to retrieve food that they hid when supplies were more plentiful.

A chickadee may have up to a hundred bits of food (seed, insect or berry) hidden in nooks and crannies in the forest.  Each piece is stashed in a different place.   Just before the storm peaked yesterday afternoon I noticed a small flock of chickadees coming and going non-stop from a pile of sunflower seeds I had set out for them.  They weren’t eating the seeds but hiding them in the bark of trees and coming back for more.   They had good reason to be working so quickly.  In about 15 minutes, the pile of seeds I had put out was buried under snow.

During winter nights, the body temperature of chickadees drops about ten degrees as they enter a state of torpor, enabling them to survive the cold.  Still, they need to eat during the day.  If a chickadee couldn’t remember the location of its stashes, its chances of survival would be slim.  I wonder if older chickadees are subject to memory loss like humans as they age. 

This morning I shoveled the driveway while listening to a flock of chickadees cheerfully calling out to one another in song.  The little chickadee in the photo below appears to be doing a dance of joy.  Happy as a bird, it’s probably celebrating making it through yet another winter storm.  Perhaps we should do the same 🙂

For more information about chickadees, see my previous post about The Private Lives of Chickadees.

If you’d like to learn how to feed chickadees by hand, see my previous post about How to Handfeed Wild Birds.

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The past few days have been hot, hot, hot!  We could learn a thing or two from the wild birds.  They know how to keep their cool in hot weather.  They hydrate at the local watering hole …

Take the kids swimming…

And even risk looking silly by taking a refreshing plunge themselves.

If there isn’t a pool or a shore nearby, other options are always available.  This young male pheasant was photographed moments after enjoying a quick dust bath in the ashes of an old fire pit.  Apparently such baths can be quite cooling.  Who knew!  I was wondering what those little depressions in the dust were.  Birds hunker down in them before they fluff dust into their feathers.

Doesn’t he look cool and relaxed despite the fact that there was a cat on the prowl nearby?  A cat, I might add, that I’ve already caught twice having a dip in the bird bath.   I guess we’re all desperate to keep cool these days.  But I don’t think I’m desperate enough to have a dust bath.  Not yet at least.

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You’ve been standing still for far too long with your feet in one spot … turning the same possibilities over and over again in your head. The days aren’t getting any longer and you’re not getting any younger.

The time has come for you to spread your wings.  Others may not approve and may even scowl at your need to do what moves you.  

Don’t let yourself be distracted by their expectations.  Be brave enough to ask yourself what expections you hold for your own life.   Be prepared for the unexpected.  

Thousands of geniuses live and die undiscovered — either by themselves or by others.
~ Mark Twain

You may have felt the need for some time to stand on the rock and show the whole marsh world who you are.

I’m no angel, but I’ve spread my wings a bit.
~ Mae West

On the other hand, your wing-spreading may be spurred by a growing desire to explore and employ your talents.  How better than by using them could you express gratitude and praise to the One who gave them to you?

Fear not.  Don’t get rattled by the sound of the wind blowing through your feathers as you begin to spread them.  If you dare, others may even take your lead and follow with a little wing-spreading of their own. 

Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another.  It is the only means.
~ Albert Einstein

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Young Blue Jay

It’s not easy to get near a Blue Jay.  Though they’re common visitors to bird baths and feeders, unlike Robins and Chickadees, they’re reluctant to let humans get too close.  Perhaps it’s because they’re fairly slow flyers compared to other birds their size and need more lead time to flee from predators.   However, this week we had the unique opportunity to see a young Blue Jay up close.  It had flown into the front window and lay on the grass recovering for a few minutes before flying off to the woods.  Its plumage was spectacular.

Blue Jay Tail Feathers

Blue Jay Wing Feathers


Blue Jays are strikingly beautiful birds to see at any distance, but up close, their feathers are remarkably awesome.  Their tail and wing feathers are the bluest blue. 

Blue Jay Back Feathers

There are four sub-types of Blue Jay in North America, but the ones we see in Nova Scotia are among the brightest in color. 

A Blue Jay’s feathers appear blue due to light refraction.  This process depends exclusively on the integrity of the feather’s structure.  If a feather is crushed, it cannot refract light and consequently will lose its blueness.  A dull grey feather is the result. 

It wasn’t long before this little creature was on its way.  Though we feared it may have broken a wing, it had no problem flying off on its own to the safety of the woods.

For more information on Blue Jays, see  last year’s post on Blue Jay Feathers

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