Maintaining bird feeders in winter not only attracts a variety of wildlife, but adds some lively color and contrast to the monochromatic landscape of an overcast winter day.
Part of a flock of about 30 mourning doves
The quintessential bird for winter color and contrast has to be the cardinal. A brilliant red male with a backdrop of evergreens and snow is an unforgettable scene. We’ve had 6-8 at the feeders this winter, more than in previous winters. I like to think that my conservation plan for the property has something to do with that. The plan targets habitat and wildlife diversity, and includes the development and maintenance of brushy habitats preferred by cardinals. Unfortunately one cardinal, perched in a large Norway Spruce near the feeders, recently fell victim to a Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Northern Cardinal, female
Northern Cardinal, male
Noisy, raucous and bossy around a feeder, jays can nevertheless be counted upon to add a little excitement as well as color to the scene.
I don’t mind that a flock of evening grosbeaks seems to consume its weight in sunflower seeds in a brief visit to my feeders because they’re so colorful and uncommon. Prior to this winter, my last backyard sighting was roughly 15 years ago!
Evening Grosbeaks, male in foreground
I never tire of watching the upside-down maneuvering of nuthatches. The Red-breasted nuthatch was in the mix last year, but no sightings of it to date for the winter of 2012/2013.
Many people, myself included, think of the Black-capped Chickadee as THE winter bird. A constant presence in the woods as well as the backyard, they’re adorable, tame little creatures that never fail to brighten a day, even during the worst of winter storms.
The ubiquitous starling, commonly seen in large flocks feeding in open areas and around active farms, isn’t a regular visitor to the feeders. This solitary bird has been feeding on grain and suet, then retreating to the shelter of an old, dilapidated martin house (a compartmentalized nesting structure that has long been occupied by several starlings during the nesting season). Often referred to as “blackbirds”, close inspection suggests otherwise!
Unfortunately, these lovely little songbirds are infrequent visitors and usually offer just a glimpse, darting in for a single seed, then away to a distant perch just as quickly.
Farmland in central New York, abandoned as well as active, provides considerable food for wildlife in winter. Corn residue in harvested fields, seeds in spread manure and the persistent fruits of shrubs found in open areas, along the edges of woodlots and in fence rows, attract and support a variety of wildlife. Deer, turkeys, crows, cardinals and many other species depend on these habitats. Attempts to add this popular, exotic game bird to the list usually fail, particularly at the higher elevations where deep snow and predation exact a heavy toll on the species. Despite the unsound biology of “stocking”, the release of pen-raised pheasants into the wild persists. Occasionally, a bird or two lives long enough to discover supplemental feed, prolonging life and providing a spectacular display of colorful plumage.
Ring-necked Pheasant, male
All photos by NB Hunter