Weathering the Storm

A Tufted Titmouse occasionally visits our feeders in winter, but it’s unpredictable and rarely lingers. This visit was different, influenced by harsh wind, snow and subzero wind chills.

The little songbird was in survival mode: it found shelter and food, put its back to the wind, puffed its feathers for insulation and hunkered down.






Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.


Bird Feeder Highlights

Lingering Arctic weather has driven a variety of birds to the feeders, prompting me to post a mid January update on our backyard visitors.

A small flock of Pine Siskins arrived last week – after an absence of several years.


These small, sparrow-size songbirds are an absolute joy. They’re semi-tame and approachable when swarming a feeder. But, they can also be pretty feisty when quarreling over ‘Nyger’ seed!



A Red-breasted Nuthatch, the masked bandit of the feeders, continues to entertain. So tiny and so quick – I know it often comes and goes undetected.



Red-bellied Woodpeckers sit atop the pecking order when it comes to foraging on a suet block. They visit often, and the “zebra back” always commands our attention.




Photos by NB Hunter (January, 2018). © All Rights Reserved.

Doves – Incoming!

Bird activity at the feeders intensified as the weather worsened. More than 20 Mourning Doves are now regular visitors, giving me ample opportunities to watch and photograph flock behavior. Sometimes they flutter down to one feeder or the other, quickly fill their crops, then explode into the air and back to their perches. At other times they linger, drifting back and forth between feeders. This is my best opportunity to capture them in flight, shooting as they brake for a soft landing.







Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.


Moving up, down, sideways and rarely lingering, nuthatches are feeder favorites. Our largest nuthatch, the White-breasted, is a daily visitor, foraging on suet as well as grain. Oftentimes one will dart in and grab a sunflower seed, then fly to a nearby oak tree. There, it can lodge the seed in a bark fissure and “hatch the nut” with sharp blows to the shell from its powerful bill.



The tiny Red-breasted Nuthatch is special. With a more northern distribution and preference for coniferous forests, it is less common at the feeders than the White-breasted. Several years ago there was one, and it disappeared mid winter; last year there were none. We might have a pair this year and I’m taking every opportunity to document their presence. Love this tiny, colorful bundle of energy!



Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.


Songbirds: the Answer for Cold, Rainy Days!

Several years ago friends gave me a flowering shrub as a retirement gift: a Purple Leaf Sand Cherry (Prunus x cistena). It persisted through droughts, monsoons, subzero temperatures, snow, ice and benign neglect, as well as transplant shock, and has finally produced a major bloom. Strategically positioned between two bird feeders, it has been the focal point of backyard songbird activity this spring. It’s a gift that keeps on giving!


Black-capped Chickadee

Goldfinches, the males now sporting their bright breeding plumage, swarm a ‘Nyjer’ seed (thistle-like seed) feeder throughout the day and brighten even the darkest days!



Female Goldfinch



The Spring songbird migration is in full swing so any of a dozen species can appear unexpectedly, and disappear as quickly as they arrived. I had about 30 seconds to interact with each of these colorful visitors.




Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Photos by NB Hunter. (May 2 – 4, 2017). ©  All Rights Reserved


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.


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.


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.


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.

GrackleSpp15Mar 17#3231E2c5x7

Wait for it……


Blackbirds in a blizzard!!!


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




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.




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.


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.


Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.