Hello everyone! I have been talking about making a post about the birds we have had over the winter so here it is… I guess it all started on December 24 when I started feeding the birds when led to me taking photos. GEEZ! I had grown several sunflowers during the summer for the birds so I put a couple of them under a tree on the south side of the house so I could see what the birds would do. I always fed the birds during the winter in the feeder in “the other yard” but we couldn’t watch them.
Normally, I don’t pay that much attention to birds. I just put their feed in the feeder and that’s about it. But this winter has been weird for me… I went from feeding maybe 100 pounds of mixed grain (or scratch) during the past winters to 40 pounds or more of wild bird seed every week since mid-December. The feeder in the “other yard” doesn’t always need to be filled every day unless the deer eat it during the night. I also take 1 gallon every day and scatter it in front of the flower bed next to my window and under the tree. Dad and I take turns buying the birdseed so it won’t cost him so much (or me either). Almost every morning he will tell me the birds are waiting for me or ask if I fed them.
The last few years dad has also changed his attitude about the opossums and raccoons on the back porch eating cat food at night. He used to scare them off and bring in the cat’s pans inside at night. Now he not only allows them to eat but puts out a little extra for them. He also likes watching the raccoons now and talks about how big they are getting. I know there are at least three or four because I have seen that many at one time. They will let us watch them through the sliding door with no problem and even walk right up to the door and look at us.
So, where do I begin… I have identified 20 different species of birds over the winter from my window that feed under the tree and by the house and have photos of 19. Most of the photos I took were through the window. At first, there was no screen on the window because I had to take it in for repair (from the Crap Myrtle bush). Then after I replaced the screen and zoomed in, the screen also zoomed in. These photos are far from professional quality. 🙂 The birds are always busy hopping around so getting good zoomed in photos is not easy. It may take 10 photos of a bird to get one or two. I think I need advice from Tom Hutton of Tootlepedal’s Blog. He takes some INCREDIBLE photos of birds!
I will start in alphabetical order instead of by date because every bird species have their own folder. Some of the photos have snow…
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis)
While the Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are here all the time, I have only seen the American Goldfinch a couple of occasions. The first photo above was taken on January 21 and then again Monday morning. Both the males and females have different plumage color during the winter. They both look similar during the winter, but the female has the grayish color on her breast but not the males. During the summer, their colors are much brighter. This photo was better because I was in the backyard when I took the shot.
The Goldfinch I saw Monday morning is a male. You can see the black feathers on his head which will be a solid black cap during the summer. His body will be bright yellow. The American Goldfinch is the only finch that molts twice a year, once in late winter and again in late summer.
The Goldfinch is a vegetarian and only occasionally swallows an insect by accident. Sometimes the Brown-Headed Cowbirds will lay its eggs in the nest of a Goldfinch. If the egg hatches, the chick will only survive a few days because they can’t handle the all-vegetarian diet of the Goldfinch.
The American Goldfinch is a year-round resident here and is the state bird of three states.
You can read more about the American Goldfinch on All About Birds by clicking HERE.
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
Although a few stay here all winter, most of them come in early spring and leave in the fall. I remember walking to work several years ago at 4:30 AM and the Robins would be out singing their morning song. If you aren’t an early riser, you may miss out on the chorus. They sing off and on all day, but nothing like their morning song when hundreds of them are doing it all at once in unison.
Don’t you think it is the Robin that led to the phrase “the early bird gets the worm”? It is always fascinating to watch the Robins hop around during the day hunting for worms. They will hop around then stop and look at the ground. Then all the sudden, they get excited and start tugging at something and pull out a worm.
Although we think of the Robin of only feeding on earthworms, they also like hulled sunflower seeds, suet, peanut hearts, fruit, and mealworms. Robins eat a lot of fruit during the fall and winter and if they feed entirely on honeysuckle berries they become intoxicated.
Robins can brood up to three times a season but only 40% of the nests successfully produce young. Then, only 25% of the young survive to November.
All About Birds says Robin roosts can be quite large, as many as 250,000 birds. When I lived in Mississippi, every spring and fall they would swarm into my backyard to feed and roost in the holly trees behind the old shed. I never saw so many in one place before. Several times I have seen a few hundred, at least, in our yard during their migration.
I didn’t know it, but you can also build next boxes for Robins to build their nests on. During nesting season, the females sleep in their nests while male birds congregate and roost together. Once the females are finished nesting, they join the males.
You can read more about the American Robin on All About Birds by clicking HERE.
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)
I haven’t seen many Black-Capped Chickadees yet. They are similar to the Carolina Chickadee, but the Black-Capped species chest is more irregular and the Carolina Chickadee lacks the white wing feathers. There are both species in Missouri. This fellow was next to the flower bed so I was able to get a good photo.
We are kind of on the borderline for Chickadees but making feed they like available and providing nest boxes can attract breeding pairs to remain year round. Wrens will also nest in the same type of box, so they need to be placed in an area Wrens don’t like.
Chickadees will hide seed and other food for later and they can remember thousands of hiding places.
You can read more interesting information about the Black-Capped Chickadee on their page on All About Birds by clicking HERE.
BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)
Of course, there are always several Blue Jays. They are not friendly birds, and in the beginning, they would chase the others away. As time went by they seemed to have mellowed somewhat. For one thing, there are a lot more birds feeding now than before so maybe they felt outnumbered.
After we had a snow I put a lid from an old barrel next to the tree for the bird seed. The Blue Jay was the first to dig in.
Blue Jays are known for their intelligence, complex social systems, and tight family bonds. You should read more about the Blue Jay on their page on All About Birds by clicking HERE. I think you will be surprised.
BROWN THRASHER (Toxostoma rufum)
She first appeared on January 15 from out of nowhere. She was trying to eat by the tree but a Blue Jay wouldn’t have any part of her so now she eats by the bedroom window. At first, I thought she was a Wood Thrush, but she had a much better disposition. The Brown Thrasher, according to research, is normally a summer resident of Missouri but this one decided to spend the winter
Her breast is more streaked than the Wood Thrush and her color is a nice mahogany brown.
She doesn’t fly off even though she sees me through the window. Many of the birds have gotten used to me watching them through the window while others don’t have time to pay attention. I keep calling her she but I don’t know if she is a female or male.
Brown Thrashers are the only Thrasher east of Texas. They are very protective of their nests and have been known to strike people and dogs hard enough to draw blood.
They are a Mockingbird relative and can sing more than 1,100 different song types. Quite often I hear what I think is a Mockingbird, but it may very well be this Brown Thrasher. I hardly ever see a Mockingbird here although I was very familiar with one in Mississippi and California (which is a story for another time).
If every bird sat this still when I was taking photos it would be awesome!
Both males and females help to incubate their eggs and feed the young which are sometimes fully feathered within 9 days after hatching and ready to leave the nest.
It seems the Brown-Headed Cowbird prefers to lay their eggs in the Brown Thrashers nest more than any other host. However, the Brown Thrasher often rejects their eggs.
To read more about the Brown Thrasher on All About birds click HERE.
COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula)
Who loves the Common Grackle? I have no idea who would. There are a few bird species that most people, and other birds, think they can live without. The Common Grackle and the Starling are two of them. They are larger than the other birds and sure push their weight around. When the Grackles come to feed, most of the other birds fly off. They don’t seem to mind sharing with Blue Jays and Cardinals as long as there aren’t too many.
They swarm into the land like a big black cloud in the spring. In the early evenings, they find trees to spend the night and holler at each other to shut up so they can sleep. There are always a few that spend the summer as they scatter out across the land. Then, in the fall, they swarm once again as they fly south for the winter. Several people, including my former neighbor, would stock up on bottle rockets on during the summer to shoot at these birds if they tried to roost in their trees. He is an older gentleman and it was funny to watch him.
The Common Grackle is a feared predator at times and has adapted many ways of survival and do a number of things uncommon to most birds such as “anting”. To read more about the Common Grackle, visit their page on All About Birds by clicking HERE.
DARK-EYED JUNCO (Slate-Colored) (Junco hyemalis)
The Dark-Eyed Junco is a winter resident of Missouri and seems to be here by the hundreds. The females are a duller color than the males. These are the bird my dad always called Snowbirds.
It always amazed me this winter where they would be when the feed was all gone. As soon as I scatter it out and go to the house, they swarm in and start eating.
I was looking for a female Dark-Eyed Junco Tuesday (March 27) morning and spotted a few of these I had not noticed before. SO, I naturally did a search. As it turns out, there are 16 described races of Dark-Eyed Junco, of which six forms are easily distinguished from the others. According to All About Birds, five of these used to be in their own species until the 1980’s. Hmmm… Sounds like the plant kingdom. There are two “forms” that look similar, the “Oregon” and “Pink-sided”. The Oregon form has darker crowns and the Pink-sided form has slate gray crowns. Just guessing, I would say the fellow above is a “Pink-sided”. Apparently, they all migrate together but the “Pink-sided form are “of” the Rockies and Western Great Plains. The Missouri Department of Conservation Field Guide says the Oregon Junco appears in northern counties but is not that common. It only mentions the pink-sided as being found “elsewhere” on the continent… Somehow there are a few in my yard… Maybe the wind blew them in.
The Dark-Eyed Junco spends the winter in much of the United States then goes into Canada to nest. There are areas in the western part of the country they stay year round. The females build their nests on the ground instead of in trees. I was surprised how many birds do that…
To read more about the Dark-Eyed Junco, visit their page on All About birds by clicking HERE.
EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto)
The Eurasian Collared-Dove was introduced to the Bahamas in the 1970’s and made their way to Florida in the 1980’s. Although their clutches only contain 1 or two eggs, they can have 3-6 broods per year. Incubation is for 14-19 days and the young are ready to fly after about 17 days. They are considered an invasive species and there are no hunting restrictions on them.
They don’t like other birds around and all the birds stay away from, even the Grackles and Blue Jays.
This is the dove dad calls the western pigeon and every time he hears one cooing, he will say, “there’s Hootie”. Even if we are across town and hears one he seemed to think it was the same one. One day I had to break the news to him. I told him they are called the Eurasian Collared Dove and are an invasive species. I still don’t think he believes me.
The first time I saw one of these doves was when I was living in Leland, Mississippi at the mansion. I saw only one walking around with a pair of Mourning Doves. I mentioned to the neighbor about it and he said he saw it, too. He said they were a few down in southern Lousiana and must have blown to Mississippi during the hurricane. GEEZ!!! Well, I can tell you, we have more than a few here. One day I counted over 20 feeding under the tree.
I thought I had taken other photos of these birds, but I guess they have been lost in space. I will have to take more.
You can read more about the Eurasian Collared-Dove on All About Birds by clicking HERE.
FIELD SPARROW (Spizella pusilla)
I am pretty sure, though not 100%, that this is a Field Sparrow. They are similar to the Chipping Sparrow and White-Throated Sparrow but they have dark bills where the Field Sparrow has a pink bill. Photos of Field Sparrows online show birds with lighter brown on their head and a brown patch behind their eyes… Maybe birds are like plants and they are “variable”. What do you think?
I know I am picking on the Brown-Headed Cowbirds a lot in this post because I didn’t know they laid their eggs in the nests of other birds. According to All About birds, in study areas in Iowa and Illinois, 50 to 80% of Field Sparrow nests contained the eggs of Brown-Headed Cowbirds.
To read more about the Field Sparrow om All About Birds, click HERE.
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus)
Well, these sparrows are certainly nothing new. They seem to be everywhere and will nest anyplace they can stuff grass or whatever they can find. They are here 12 months a year and right now. They like to nest in the Martin house if they can get away with it. This photo came out pretty good because I took it above the screen.
It seems a little strange, but all the House Sparrows I see feeding, at least on the south side of the house, are all males.
To read more about the House Sparrow, visit their page on All About Birds by clicking HERE.
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
I like these doves. They never cause any problems and don’t mind feeding with the other birds. They mate for life and during the summer you will usually only see a pair or two hanging around together. If you see one by itself, it is usually because the female is nesting or it has lost its mate.
I didn’t know a whole lot about birds until lately. Well, I still don’t know much. 🙂 Anyway, I had no idea Mourning Doves flocked together during the winter.
Many days I have seen 12-20 eating where I feed next to the window. There are 15 in the above photo but I didn’t get them all in this shot.
The oldest recorded banded male lived to be 30 years old when it was shot in Florida in 1998. It had been banded in Georgia in 1968. The Mourning Dove is a favorite gamebird for hunters and over 20 million are harvested annually. Even at that rate, they are still our most abundant game bird with an estimated 350 million in the U.S.
To read more about the Mourning Dove, click HERE for their page on All About Birds.
NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)
What would life be like without the brightly colored Cardinal? Everyone loves the Cardinal! I didn’t know what to say about the Northern Cardinal. I know the male is red and the female is every bit as attractive in her colors. I know their song well. They have crests. They stay here 12 months a year. They congregate in the winter. They like sunflower seeds. So, I did a bit of research and found out a little more.
Cardinals don’t molt. Most birds molt and many are a different color in the winter. Cardinals are the same color 12 months a year
Along with the American Robin, they are one of the first birds to start singing in the morning. Very few North American female songbirds sing and the female Cardinal is one of them. Her song may even be longer and more complex than the male.
During the beginning of the mating season, male Cardinals defend their territory fiercely. Many of us have witnessed male Cardinals attacking their own reflection in windows, car mirrors and chrome bumpers.
The Cardinal is the state bird of seven states.
Cardinals can live a very long time. The oldest recorded was a female from Pennsylvania that lived for almost 16 years.
To read more about the Northern Cardinal, view their page on All About Birds HERE.
NORTHERN FLICKER (Colaptes auratus)
I don’t see the Flicker feeding on the south side of the house very often. They prefer eating ants and beetles as their main diet. They do like sunflower seeds, suet, cracked corn, peanuts, safflower seats and millet and they don’t mind eating from a feeder. Although they are a woodpecker, they prefer to find their food on the ground.
They remain here year round, but in some parts of the country they do migrate. There are a few different species of Flickers and some even hybridize (I almost said cross-pollinate).
Like most woodpeckers, they drum on objects that make a sound noise as a form of communication and territory defense.
When I took the above photo, the Flicker was just sitting there like it wasn’t sure what it was going to do next. The Flicker isn’t really a social bird and it is good sized so most birds give them plenty of room. A Blue Jay came along and drove her away, though.
To read more about the Northern Flicker, visit their page on All About Birds by clicking HERE.
HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)
Tuesday was only the second time I saw a House Finch this winter. I didn’t get a photo the first time but this time it was eating near the window so I got a few good shots. The House Finch prefers sunflower seeds the best but also like safflower and niger seed. They use their strong bills to crack seeds and nuts many species cannot. They are only here during the winter.
To read more about the House Finch, you can visit their page on All About Birds by clicking HERE.
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes carolinus)
The Red-Bellied Woodpecker is one of the most entertaining birds here but can sometimes be rather noisy. Like all woodpeckers, they like to drum on objects to communicate and mark their territory, like metal gutters on buildings. I always wondered why they do that. They get along with other birds as long as they don’t get to close.
The males have red heads and many people call them a “red-headed” woodpecker. The females lack a red crown but have a red nape. They sometimes have an orange-red color behind their bill. I always wondered why it is called “red-bellied” because there is no red on its belly. Apparently, there is red there but it is covered by other feathers. Hmmm. Maybe I should catch one to check, huh?
This guy often flies on the window like he is asking for food or maybe just wants to say HI. Then he flies up toward the roof and starts drumming.
Red-Headed Woodpeckers store food in the cracks on trees and fence posts to eat later. They have a long tongue that can stick out two inches past their barbed beak. Their “spit” is sticky and the males have wider tongues than females.
You can read more about the Red-Bellied Woodpecker by visiting their own page on All About Birds by clicking HERE.
Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)
I saw this bird on March 9 on the ground in the garden. It just hopped a few feet away but didn’t fly off. I hadn’t seen one of these before so I had to do an online search for the ID. I think Savannah Sparrows are here in my part of Missouri year-round, but farther north they migrate south.
I originally thought this bird was a Song Sparrow, but after submitting the observation on iNaturalist, members suggested it was a Savannah Sparrow. If you notice, there is a yellow spot in front of this bird’s eye. That is a key feature to distinguish this species from the Song Sparrow and other species of sparrows.
All About Birds says, “Savannah Sparrows are one of the most numerous songbirds in North America, and while sometimes overlooked, are likely visitors across the continent. In summer, they don’t hesitate to advertise their location, belting out a loud, insect-like song from farm fields and grasslands.”
You can read more about the Savannah Sparrow on All About Birds by clicking HERE.
NOTE! I originally thought this was a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) which you can check out by clicking HERE.
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
Second in line as far as the quantity goes is the White-Crowned Sparrow. They are just here for the winter, too. They have black and white heads and a pale beak which makes them easy to identify.
Scientists placed a White-Crowned Sparrow on a treadmill and it ran 1/3 mile an hour without tiring out. 🙂 One was tracked during its migration and it flew 300 miles in a single night. Alaskan White-Crowned Sparrows migrate about 2,600 miles to winter in Southern California.
White-Crown Sparrow males develop dialects according to where they were raised. Males on the edge of two dialects often become bilingual…
They stay around until March or April. Today I didn’t see any feeding on the south side of the house.
To read more about the White-Crowned Sparrow, visit their page on All About Birds by clicking HERE.
WHITE-THROATED SPARROW (Zonotrichia albicollis)
The White-Throated Sparrow is similar to the White-Crowned Sparrow but have three unique features. They have a white throat, dark bills, and some individuals have a yellow patch above their eyes. There are actually two color forms, the white-crowned and the tan-crowned. Strangely, they almost always mate their opposite form. Males of both color types prefer females with white stripes while females of both types prefer males with tan stripes. White-Crowned Sparrows have also been known to mate with the Dark-Eyed Junco. I took photos of some birds with the tan crowns that lacked the yellow patch but they also had pale bills. So, they turned out to be Field Sparrows.
You can read more about the White-Throated Sparrow by visiting their page on All About Birds by clicking HERE.
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I have found myself being entertained watching the White-Crowned Sparrows and Junco’s scratch for their food… It is like they hop and scratch with both feet at the same time. I should take a video. 🙂
We have several Red-Winged Blackbirds that nest in a willow by the lagoon and I have seen them feeding under the tree a few times lately. I haven’t been able to get good photos yet, though. Umm… I also forgot to take photos and mention the Starling. I suppose because I don’t have much interest in them. Well, what can I say? 🙂
There are also a lot of different birds in the back of the farm that doesn’t come for food. There is also a species of Wren that stays here during the winter, but they migrate south for the summer as the House Wren comes in. I have only seen it a few times.
I mainly used the Missouri Conservation Department Field Guide for ID but also the Audubon Society website. Then Monday I found All About Birds which I like really well. Each page gives a link for the bird’s preferred food and nesting information if you can build a box for them. All About Birds is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I have writing it and learning more about the birds in our yard. If you notice I have made a mistake or have more to add, please leave a comment below.
Until next time, stay healthy, be safe, stay positive and be thankful. As always, GET DIRTY whenever you get the chance. 🙂