Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fall's feathered friends

As summer flowers fade away, nature compensates. The garden, along with trees and feeders, is atwitter with more birds than we've seen in months. Some had traveled north for the summer (a  tradition shared by many Minnesota humans). Many who stay find their own food sources in summer. And for a time an aggressive house sparrow was patrolling "his" territory, chasing away any bird that ventured in. More about him later.

Anyway, we looked out one September day and began to notice feathered friends we hadn't seen for a while, and we were happy to welcome them back.

Mourning dove in hiding
* Mourning doves--five or six of them--gather here every day. They roost in the big horse chestnut tree, scavenge under the main feeder, and occasionally perch--one or two at a time--on the feeder itself. They seem too large to fit comfortably, yet there they sit.

* Goldfinches are back in large number, mostly showing their winter olive drab. On sunny afternoons a few bustle among the seedheads of the coneflowers outside my office window, and each day our finch feeder is busy.

* Woodpeckers, both downy and hairy, have returned to the feeders and at least one is busy tapping on metal drainpipes. I wonder whether they ever shake loose a tasty insect.

Nuthatch being gymnastic
* Nuthatches have reappeared; when they're gone we miss the graceful arc of their heads as they peer from their upside-down perch.

* Black-capped chickadees are announcing their return, though they should never have left. Our nesting box was intended for them, and last spring a pair seemed about to move in. That's when a house sparrow, as they are wont to do, chased them off and began nest-building with his female partner. We watched for days as they brought grass, string, and bits of paper (he repeatedly brought one too-large piece and she repeatedly tossed it out). Our attention to this soap opera (The Young and the Nestless, of course) was interrupted by a weekend away, and when we returned, things were quiet. Too quiet. Then at mid-day a handful of crows visited, nosing around the nesting box and being loudly reprimanded by one mad sparrow. We think they had come before and had gotten the female sparrow just before she laid her eggs. When we opened the box later to check, there was a clean, empty nest. That's why during much of the summer we had one male sparrow and virtually no chickadees.   

Cardinal pair last winter
* Cardinals, in the neighborhood all summer, brought wonderful surprises. We have seen several sets of fledglings in our yard, sometimes accompanied by an adult who seemed to be teaching them to find food. One day we watched as an adult and fledgling came together for a moment, beak to beak. "Awww," I said, touched by this moment of seeming tenderness. I immediately told myself not to anthropomorphize them, but when I saw it happen weeks later, with a different parent and fledgling, I said "Awww" again. 

Last week I heard the characteristic "tsk" that tells me an adult cardinal is nearby with its young. When I looked up from my desk, a bright red male was on the fence looking directly toward me, repeating its "tsk" as if to warn me away--or invite me to watch? Moments later 10 or 12 small brownish birds were sitting all along the fence. I wondered whether they were some kind of sparrow.

Young house sparrows
I grabbed the nearest camera and shot--through the screen, into harsh light and shadow, the camera refusing to auto-focus on the tiny figures and the good camera out of reach. More than a good photo, I needed an image I could enlarge in order to identify these birds. Twice they returned in smaller numbers, and I got this better photo. When I published this two days ago, I was looking at their beaks and thinking they were baby cardinals.

Then I realized there is no trace of a crest, so I edited the post to say they were probably finches. But the observant Willow has pointed out in a comment that they are, in fact, house sparrows. Which is ironic, because it was a house sparrow--maybe their dad?--that chased away other birds this summer. We know they are typically aggressive, and they aren't the neighbors we hope for. But they were here at least twice in the presence of adult cardinals, so maybe we really did have multiple families on hand.

In any event, I hope nature is bringing you a few pleasant surprises.

P.S. The day I saw these guys drinking water that had cycled through the planter I drained it and put out a separate pan of fresh water.

21 comments:

joeh said...

Love the birds. I'd say awww as well, plus I don't know what anthroamosomething means.

You obviously have a Cardinal day care center nearby.

Stephen Hayes said...

Beautiful pictures that do much to reveal nature's incredible diversity.

Red Shoes said...

I love birds as well... I enjoy watching them flit around.

I need a new pair of binoculars...

~shoes~

Teresa Evangeline said...

You have a wonderful bird watching going on down there. I have three mourning doves and I find them comforting, but I haven't seen the cardinals since this spring. I'm hoping they'll return soon ... Watching the bird feeder is the best entertainment there is ...
I trust you're enjoying this beautiful fall day ... not one night of frost yet ...

Jeanie said...

I have to admit that I haven't been watching the birds around here, but I loved seeing all of your bird friends. I wonder if the beak to beak had something to do with food exchange.
I am pretty sure that the birds around here have been enjoying the beautiful fall weather we have had for the past few day, just like everyone else.

Jeanie said...

This is a fabulous post! I'm a little envious -- I haven't seen too many lately. Lizzie is always fond of watching, but we don't ever see that many! How exciting to see the baby cardinals. I would just love that!

Allyson said...

There is still quite a bit of development going on in the neighborhood where live now at Ft. Knox. Next door is a huge empty field (that is probably at least 3 lots) so we are seeing LOTS of wildlife. Blue birds and cardinals, especially. Although Neal saw the quick tail of a mouse running out from a patio cushion this week and that's way too much wildlife for me. Blue and I have also been seeing (and talking about) the geese and flying in a V. I love that we are back in a 4-season state. Happy Fall!

Far Side of Fifty said...

I am envious of your Cardinals! They are a beautiful bird. I believe all our Mourning Doves have gone south to you. We have Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and Chickadees all year round..permanent residents, it was fun to see the little Chickadees and Nuthatches come to our feeders too! Happy Fall you should be having great color, we are just about past peek up here:)

The Broad said...

Cardinals are my favourite birds -- unfortunately, I don't get to see them here in the UK. It used to be one of my favourite pastimes when visiting my parents in Connecticut. One of my favourite of all camera shots was when a Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal came to the feeder in the breakfast window and 'posed' for me! Made my cold winter's day, I can tell you!

Kc W said...

Your pictures and adventure are just wonderful! Living in southern California I NEVER see cardinals anymore so I do appreciate you sharing them. I DO have a couple of very entertaining hummingbirds that like to come visit in the afternoon -- and they are noisy, too! I can hear them coming.

DJan said...

I love your nuthatch capture! Very nice pictures all, I love bird watching. :-)

Willow said...

I am a big bird fan myself . Loved you photos !
If I am not mistaken the little brown birds at the end are called House Sparrows sometimes call Common House Sparrows.

Willow said...

Just checked to be sure and yes they are House Sparrows, those that are all brown are the females :))

AiringMyDirtyLaundry said...

Pretty birds. I love cardinals.

troutbirder said...

Most interesting post with great pictures. I wish I could as in most years report similar sightings but with the loss of my GSD Baron, the neighborhood feral and "outside" domestic cats have taken over my yard and deck killing most of the birds in sight. Finally reaching the boiling point, I have devised a solution but it's probably not fit for public consumption on a family oriented blog....

Retired English Teacher said...

This was quite interesting to read. I love the photos of the birds. I would love to have cardinals frequent my neck of the woods, but they don't. In fact, I have never seen a cardinal except in the zoo.

We have these black magpies that shoo away all the birds around here. I hate it when that happens.

Jayne Martin said...

How fun to see such variety. We have morning doves, woodpeckers, finches and lots of hummingbirds. I wish we had Cardinals. They're gorgeous. Yesterday, I was out on a nearby lake and saw a real bald eagle! It took off and flew above our boat. I was so enthralled, I forgot to take a photo. But I did get photos of some great blue heron and a flock of white pelicans in flight. Breathtaking.

Deb Shucka said...

Except for the cardinals, which we don't have in the Pacific Northwest, that could have been our feeders you were describing. We also don't have house sparrows here in the country, although I see them often enough in town. We have song sparrows and towhees in abundance instead. So much fun to read and see your avian adventures.

Indigo Roth said...

Hey Nancy! Wow, you're so lucky to get these beauties in your garden. The nuthatch and cardinal photos are fantastic! Indigo x

Ms Sparrow said...

Wonderful post. I love your observations of the bird world over the summer.

Belinda said...

All those birds are beautiful, BUT i would not count woodpeckers among my friends. When they visit, they make holes in my home!!

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