A Wildlife Smorgasbord, Served Cold

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”   – John Muir

Squirrels, both red and gray, are frequent visitors to our bird feeders. But, they must do more than eat: avoid being eaten! A Red Fox has also been cruising the neighborhood, and small mammals are a dietary staple.

Morning doves, as many as two dozen, flutter in to feed several times a day. But, they too have natural enemies. Cooper’s hawks learn to hunt bird feeders (their fly-through restaurant), and doves are a favorite target.

Coyotes prey on deer, especially young, old and unhealthy ones. However, the greatest threat to deer in winter is a population that exceeds the carrying capacity of the habitat. Over time, excessive browsing by hungry deer destroys the forest understory, which has an adverse, domino effect on plant and animal diversity.

The dense vegetation in this scene is misleading. It obviously provides bedding cover, but is virtually devoid of palatable food.

Pileated woodpeckers are thriving in our woodlands, especially where tree mortality from ash decline, beech bark disease and other pests is high. Large dead and dying trees provide habitat for woodpeckers to drill for food and create nest cavities. Later, the excavations become critical nesting habitat for dozens of bird and mammal species – including the Tufted Titmouse.

When winters are severe, with heavy snow cover, a “winter thaw” can be the difference between life and death for wildlife. Turkeys are one species that benefit greatly from a warm spell in mid winter because they mainly forage on the ground.

In winter, blackbirds form large flocks that waste little time finding concentrated food sources. Barn yards and farm fields are favorite dining locations.

Photos by NB Hunter (Jan. – Feb., 2019). © All rights reserved.

The Winter Solstice

“We cannot stop the winter or the summer from coming. We cannot stop the spring or the fall or make them other than they are. They are gifts from the universe that we cannot refuse. But we can choose what we will contribute to life when each arrives.”     – Gary Zukavteasel16dec168647e5c8x10

“How many lessons of faith and beauty we should lose, if there were no winter in our year!”             – Thomas Wentworth Higginson


“Kindness is like snow – it beautifies everything it covers.”     – Kahlil Gibran


“There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you. In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.” ― Ruth Stout


“It is the life of the crystal, the architect of the flake, the fire of the frost, the soul of the sunbeam. This crisp winter air is full of it.”     – John Burroughs


“When snow falls, nature listens.”     – Antoinette van Kleef


“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”            ― John Steinbeck


“Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour.”     – John Boswell


Photos by NB Hunter; taken in Central New York in December, 2016 © All Rights Reserved.

Bird Feeder Survey 31January2016

I planned to complete my January bird feeder survey with images of something other than the common, everyday visitors. I’ve seen a Cooper’s Hawk hunting my “fly-through restaurant” on two occasions and envisioned that raptor in my finale. Wishful thinking. Hawk visits are sporadic and unpredictable, and the opportunity never materialized. I was forced to dig a few images from my archives, taken around this time of year, in the same backyard setting.




Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Bird Sightings in Early April

April roared in with lake-effect snow, wind and bone-chilling temperatures. I couldn’t help but wonder, and worry, about the fate of migrating birds like the Woodcock that I accidentally flushed during the storm. Two days of stormy weather finally gave way  to sun, blue skies and temperatures above freezing. This post documents random bird sightings during that three-day period of weather extremes.


A pair of Mallards feeding during a lake-effect snowstorm (1 of 2)



A Cooper’s Hawk with its prey, one of a flock of 20–30 “blackbirds” that were visiting a bird-feeding site during the lake-effect snow storm.


Common Redpoll near a feeder


Mourning Doves at a feeding site


One of a pair of Canada Geese staking claim to a nesting territory


A pair of Hooded Mergansers at rest near the bank of a small, historic canal waterway


Turkey Vulture searching the fields and roadsides for carrion.

All photos by NB Hunter

Bird Feeder Predators: Cooper’s Hawk

If you are committed to feeding birds and observing the wildlife activity around feeders, sooner or later you’ll see predation of one sort or another. Aside from domestic cats, which I believe are the number one backyard predator, two species likely to appear are the sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks.

On several occasions I’ve seen sharp-shinned hawks attack my feeders and disappear so quickly that I was left wondering “what just happened”?  Identification was based on the size and speed of the grayish blur, not detailed field marks.  Like other bird hawks (accipiters), this species is well equipped for preying on small birds. Roughly jay-sized, with a long tail, it maneuvers well while flying at a high speed. On one occasion, a gold finch perched above my thistle seed feeder disappeared instantly in the grasp of a sharpie, as though hit by a bullet.

I hate to admit it, but there often seems to be a bit of luck associated with my more interesting and unusual photos. Such was the case with an experience with a Cooper’s hawk during a cold, snowy spell at the end of December, 2012. My two backyard feeding stations were bustling with bird activity, at least 50 birds and a half dozen species in all. I had the kitchen window cracked open a few inches to photograph redpolls when luck intervened. Something happened lightning fast: right before my eyes, everything disappeared  – birds, squirrels – everything. Well, almost everything. Across the yard, in a cedar snag  installed as a perch beside a feeding site, sat a crow-sized hawk. It moved once, to a better perch, sat motionless for a few seconds, and then flew. After reviewing the photos, I was able to determine exactly where it was perched, and the distance from head to tail: 16-17 inches. A small male Cooper’s hawk and large female sharp-shinned hawk can confuse even an experienced birder. In this case, the measured length and vertical streaking on the breast indicate that it was a juvenile Cooper’s hawk (the juvenile status might be the reason it came up empty handed!).


Juvenile Cooper’s hawk arriving at a backyard bird feeding site


Juvenile Cooper’s hawk perching near a backyard bird feeding site


Juvenile Cooper’s hawk

All photos by NB Hunter, 2012