Birds in a Blizzard: Backyard Visitors

The blizzard of 2017 arrived on March 14, bringing three feet of blowing snow, frigid temperatures and, eventually, a state of emergency that closed all roads. Not to be denied the opportunity to photograph, I shoveled snow away from the bird feeders every 2-3 hours, replenished the seed mixture and went back inside to observe the phenomenon. Up to 200 birds, half of them a mixed flock of blackbirds, converged on the sites and devoured everything but the spent hulls of sunflower seeds. This went on for three days.

I took many pictures of our common winter visitors during the event – cardinals, juncos, chickadees, doves, woodpeckers, etc.

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However, blackbirds were the featured attraction and satisfied my need to capture something extraordinary that conveyed the intensity of the snowstorm and madness at the feeders.

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There were a lot of red-winged blackbirds in the mixed flock. Migrating birds had arrived prior to the storm and most food sources and nesting habitats were now buried. They bullied their way on to the feeding sites and hogged most of the food; needless to say, I was happy to see them leave when the weather broke.

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Grackles, starlings and rusty blackbirds were also present. After hearing stories from other bird watchers, I learned that the numbers and proportions of species in the mixed flocks varied with location.

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Wait for it……

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Blackbirds in a blizzard!!!

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Photos by NB Hunter on March 14, 15 and 16, 2017. ©All Rights Reserved.

 

Starlings

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So, why feature a European species in consecutive posts, a species considered by many to be an invasive nuisance? I guess because I have the means, opportunity and motive. Even though they number in the millions (all originating from 100 birds released in New York City in the 1890s), this is the first time that I’ve seen starlings at the feeders for any length of time. And, to quote Cornell’s All About Birds fact sheet, “…they’re still dazzling birds when you get a good look”!

The aesthetic appeal of a starling lies in the striking contrast created by white-tipped, black feathers – the winter plumage.

 

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Most of the white spots will be gone by the summer breeding season, a phenomenon referred to as “wear molting”. The spotted feathers aren’t replaced, the white tips simply wear off.

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Starlings can be aggressive and sometimes compete with native birds for cavity nest sites. In this instance, they met their match: a Red-bellied Woodpecker fended off three starlings (one above, out of the frame) for feeding rights to a block of suet.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Spring Colors

A continuous cycle of rainy, cold weather has made it difficult to enjoy the flush of new growth and vibrant colors that define early spring. A welcome exception to these dismal conditions is the presence of goldfinches swarming around the Nyjer seed* feeders. Their bright breeding plumage has a florescent glow in the drizzle and fog.

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*Nyjer seed: a trademarked name for the seed of African yellow daisy, grown commercially in African, India, southeast Asia

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Catbirds on Sumac

The young will be fed a steady diet of bugs, caterpillars and other invertebrates.  Adult Gray Catbirds are more opportunistic, even foraging on leftovers from 2014: the persistent fruit of Staghorn Sumac. With daily temperatures dipping into the 30’s and 40’s, insect life is scarce and this native shrub provides an important dietary supplement.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Wild Turkey Hen

I really enjoy the colorful sights and sounds of songbirds, but don’t often have the unique close encounters that lead to good photos. Recently, I’d grown weary of trying to capture little birds with a little lens, all the while losing a considerable amount of blood to mosquitoes and black flies. Much to my relief, a new avian target and strategy surfaced: a 10 pound bird, less than 15 meters away, shoot-able from the kitchen window!

This bird, an Eastern Wild Turkey hen, is a familiar face. I’ve seen her several times on my nature trail and she’s been scratching around the flower gardens and bird feeders for about a week.

Unlike the cottontail featured in my last post, she has little tolerance for humans. The last time I surprised her on trail, she was nearly 100 meters from me and ran off like she’d been shot at — with a gun. In this photo, it was camera shutter noise that drove her away. I believe she’s nesting within a few hundred meters of the house and hope to see the whole family sometime soon – in late May or early June.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.