Category Archives: Yard Birds

Tiny nest

Last month, Arthur found a very small nest in a tangle of fallen Spanish moss on the ground in our back yard.

nest in Spanish moss

I took a couple of photos, hoping I would be able to identify the nest-builder. That’s my (fat but not freakishly large) index finger for scale. We don’t have a large number of small-sized breeding birds here in our yard, so my list of potential species was quite small.

Tufted Titmice are abundant in our yard all year, but they are cavity nesters. We have Blue-gray Gnatcatchers in our yard all year too, but they make a deep cup-like nest attached to a branch. We have Ruby-throated Hummingbirds here year-round, too, but this nest is way too big for those tiny dynamos (besides the shape and material mismatch).

My last guess turned out to be a good one, I think. We have Northern Parulas singing in our yard all spring long. All About Birds tells me that Northern Parula “nests are usually in a hanging clump of epiphytes like Spanish moss, beard moss, or lace lichen. That seems like a good match to me.

nest in Spanish moss

Arthur spotted the nest on June 23rd, and it probably fell that day or a day or two earlier. This is on the tail end of the nestling (April 7 to June 29) and fledgling (April 18 to July 4) stage for this species in Florida. There were a couple of broken eggshells in the nest when it fell. Hopefully the babies safely fledged before the nest was lost.

nest in Spanish moss

References:
Cornell’s All About Birds
Cornell’s Birds of North America Online (paid subscription)

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Back home

In May I paid a short visit to my parents and spent some time relaxing in their suburban Chicagoland back yard, observing their winged visitors.

American Robin
American Robin post bath | 20-MAY-13

Blue Jay
Blue Jay | 18-MAY-13

Common Grackle
Common Grackle | 20-MAY-13

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird | 18-MAY-13

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker | 18-MAY-13

I was delighted to see a Gray Catbird visiting the grape jelly feeders. I think this was my first sighting of this species in their yard.

Gray Catbird
Gray Catbird | 19-MAY-13

The number of orioles visiting the grape jelly and oranges on offer was ridiculous. An embarrassment of orioles. Also, really good plumage study opportunities.

Baltimore Oriole 5
Baltimore Oriole | 18-MAY-13

Baltimore Oriole 2
Baltimore Oriole | 18-MAY-13

Baltimore Oriole 1
Baltimore Oriole | 18-MAY-13

Baltimore Oriole 3
Baltimore Oriole | 18-MAY-13

Baltimore Oriole 6
Baltimore Oriole | 19-MAY-13

Baltimore Oriole 7
Baltimore Oriole | 20-MAY-13

My dad made the grape jelly feeders from rejected Sweet Tomatoes ice cream bowls. He noted that some of the orioles would perch on the bowl, while others would stand next to it and stretch their neck to reach the jelly. Maybe the bird’s position depended on the volume of jelly in the bowl? This individual had a half-half wide stance.

Baltimore Oriole 4
Baltimore Oriole | 18-MAY-13

One afternoon I watched an Orchard Oriole poking its head into probably hundreds of blossoms on a very large apple tree. I observed the bird on and off over the course of about six hours. That’s one busy oriole. He left no blossom left unsucked!

Orchard Oriole
Orchard Oriole | 18-MAY-13

A while back Arthur and I gave my dad a peek-a-boo birdhouse that has a plexiglass-protected hinged side for nest vieiwing. The idea is that observers can lift open up the wooden outside panel and quickly view the inside with minimal disturbance to the birds. My dad isn’t interested in disturbing the birds at all. I appreciate that, but I just couldn’t resist taking a peek during my visit. I looked once early on my week-long visit, and once more just before I left. Both times I found a Black-capped Chickadee sitting on eggs. In this very quickly-snapped photo you can see the tail feathers of the incubating adult pressed against the plexiglass wall. To the right you can see her beak as she turns her head to the side. Look at the soft moss bed that makes up the base of the nest.

Black-capped Chickadee nest
Black-capped Chickadee on nest | 16-MAY-13

During all of this bird-watching I had to contend with the overpowering odor emanating from a blooming lilac bush. It was tough, let me tell you.

stinky lilac
FRAGRANT | 18-MAY-13

Soon Arthur and I will head north to visit my parents once more. I think I’ll see many of the same birds this summer as I saw during late spring, but believe it or not, migration is underway (it kind of always is, actually).

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Chilly Cooper’s Hawk noms

My parents had a back yard treat last month — a Cooper’s Hawk having lunch in the snow.

Cooper's Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk with prey, 27-FEB-13 | Chicago area, IL | photo by Mary Evenstad

Look at how the Mourning Doves on the left side of the below photo aren’t bothered at all (actually I would guess they are totally oblivious) as the Cooper’s Hawk eats away on the other side of the yard.

Cooper's Hawk and Morning Doves have lunch
Cooper’s Hawk and Mourning Doves, 27-FEB-13 | Chicago area, IL | photo by Mary Evenstad

I think the prey item is a Hairy or Downy Woodpecker based on the striping on the plucked feathers. It’s not a Mourning Dove… maybe that’s why the other doves didn’t head for the hills? Here’s a short video of the Cooper’s Hawk with its lunch.


Cooper’s Hawk with lunch, 27-FEB-13 | Chicago area, IL | video by Mary Evenstad

Thanks, Mom!!

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Do squirrels eat oranges?

It would appear that yes, squirrels enjoy a bit of citrus in their diet from time to time. At least the Eastern Gray Squirrels here in Volusia County, Florida, seem to enjoy them. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Last year our orange trees didn’t produce any fruit, so this is the first time I’ve seen any squirrel-on-orange action in the yard.

Do squirrels eat oranges?

I’ve seen them peeling fallen fruit, but I’ve also seen them go after fruit on the tree.

Do squirrels eat oranges?

I’ve seen squirrels carrying oranges around the yard in their mouths, which is pretty freaking adorable.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers also eat from the oranges, but I am not 100% sure if they are eating the fruit or the ants and other insects attracted to the sweetness. Yellow-rumped Warblers also visit the oranges, and I’m pretty sure they are after the ants.

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Cheer, cheer, cheer for Stumpy

I like watching our back yard birds. From my office, I can’t look out the window into the yard without getting up from my desk. This is a good thing — if I could look out the window without standing up, I probably wouldn’t get any work done at all. Anyway, I keep a notepad by the window and on many days I keep a count of the birds I see visiting the yard. This count usually includes at least one Northern Cardinal.

On December 25th we had a new yard bird, a female Painted Bunting, which was a wonderful Christmas gift for me. We have seen her a handful of times since, but in the days following Christmas I kept a closer eye on the feeders than usual.

On December 26th I noticed an injured female Northern Cardinal at our feeders. She had a dangly, badly broken leg. I saw her again on December 30th, then again on January 4th, and January 6th. Then on January 8th she came in to a feeder with just a stump where her dangling leg used to be. I began to refer to her as “Stumpy.”

Stumpy

Now I see her just about every other day. I put safflower seed and sunflower seed (cardinal favorites) out in a variety of different feeder types so she could use the ones she could perch on most comfortably. When I first saw her, she was very clumsy, fluttering her wings often as she fed, to keep her balance. Now she is using all types of perches like a champ, and takes seed from several different feeders with relative ease.

Stumpy

Stumpy is mostly in the company of a male cardinal. I am so happy every time I see her. There is at least one other pair of cardinals that comes in each day so I always look carefully at each female cardinal to see if it is Stumpy. My most recent sighting was this afternoon. ๐Ÿ™‚

Stumpy's companion
Stumpy’s companion

We are starting to hear cardinals singing their spring songs. Pretty, pretty, pretty and cheer, cheer cheer. Both male and female cardinals sing. Maybe I will be lucky enough to see Stumpy and her mate courting in the coming weeks.

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Caching In Plain Sight

We don’t have any back yard nuthatches at our home here in DeBary, Florida. I sure wish we did, because they are so much fun to watch! Boogieing up and down trees, calling out like little squeeze toys, zipping around the yard…

Last month, while visiting my parents in northern Illinois, I thoroughly enjoyed checking out their feeder birds, which included a group of at least three White-breasted Nuthatches. One bird in particular was busy caching sunflower seeds. Often it would grab a seed and fly out of the yard to caches unknown. But a few times it worked on sticking seeds into a nearby stretch of old wooden fence. It was a lot of fun to watch this bird grab seeds

Ghost of White-breasted Nuthatch
The ghost of White-breasted Nuthatch strikes again

and fly the short distance to the fence at the back of the yard, seeking the best possible location to stash its precious seed.

Where shall I cache my seed?

If the seed fits...

Put my seed between them? Are you crazy?

Once the perfect spot was found, the nuthatch had to cram the seed in place. Sometimes this required minor body contortions.

Perfect crevice

More leverage

After caching several seeds in the fence, the nuthatch tried out a new spot. Pressing a hard seed into gnarly bark was a much quicker affair.

Good caching spot?

Classic pose

Brown-headed Nuthatches are the only nuthatch species we usually expect to find here in central Florida. This fall, great numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatches have been moving south. This afternoon, a Florida birder reported seeing one in my county (Volusia). I hope to add a second nuthatch species to my county list very, very soon.

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Like a Wet Rat

When one doesn’t have the chance to go birding as much as one would like, it is nice when the birds come to one.

During a heavy thunderstorm last week, Arthur called me to the window to watch a Red-shouldered Hawk feeding on something in our back yard. The bird was eating while standing completely exposed in the middle of the grass. It was soaked. After a few bites, the hawk grabbed hold of its meal, a rat, and flew to a post to finish the job.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk
OM NOM NOM

With not much remaining to the prey but fur and tail, the meal was finished and the Red-shouldered Hawk retreated to a nearby citrus tree.

Red-shouldered Hawk

I thought it might wait out the storm under the relative shelter of the tree, so I was surprised when the hawk took off and flew to an exposed perch, a metal bird feeder pole. There it remained for just a moment before taking off once again and leaving our yard.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Here’s a short video to give you an idea of the rate of rainfall during this encounter.

That’s a pretty hearty hawk, huh? Or perhaps just a hungry one.

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Lazy birding at mom & dad’s

During my visit with my parents last week, I spent some time checking out the birds that visit their suburban Chicago back yard feeders.

Baltimore Oriole
Baltimore Oriole nomming grape jelly

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird nomming on nectar

Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting considering next nom

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Rose-breasted Grosbeak perching above noms

Orchard Oriole
Orchard Oriole nomming on grape jelly

Mallard
Mallards about to nom on cracked corn

These stunners were joined by many others; it was nice to add some ticks to my year list while lounging on the patio doing some lazy birding. New for 2012 were Hairy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, White-crowned Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Orchard Oriole – before I even unpacked my bags. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Bird-a-Day weeks 6-7

With today’s entry of Tree Swallow in the Bird-a-Day Challenge, I’m up to 49 birds for 2012. Of the 14 birds added since my last update, five were yard birds. One of them was a doozy, though.

18-FEB-12 Tree Swallow Gemini Springs
17-FEB-12 Loggerhead Shrike OCCC
16-FEB-12 Black Skimmer Merritt Island NWR
15-FEB-12 Western Tanager yard
14-FEB-12 Mallard Epcot
13-FEB-12 American Goldfinch yard
12-FEB-12 Wild Turkey Lake Winona Road
11-FEB-12 Chipping Sparrow yard
10-FEB-12 Yellow-rumped Warbler yard
09-FEB-12 Wood Duck Audubon Center for BOP
08-FEB-12 Eurasian Collared-Dove Disney’s Animal Kingdom
07-FEB-12 Green-winged Teal Gemini Springs
06-FEB-12 Red-winged Blackbird yard
05-FEB-12 Red Phalarope Mayport pelagic

Yard Birds

Red-winged Blackbirds are present here in central Florida all year, but we’ve only seen them in our yard since last month. I suspect when they start breeding activities we won’t see them in the neighborhood too much. Yellow-rumped Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, and American Goldfinches are winter visitors here, and will all be gone by May or June, returning again in September or October. Goldfinches are pretty rare in our yard so I was happy to see one having a drink in our bird bath last Monday. But it was the Western Tanager that visited our yard for a brief moment last Wednesday that was a real shocker. We spotted a Western Tanager in our yard last October. Could this be the same bird?

Further Afield

Several visits outside of the usual haunts over the last weeks provided some great birds. It was hard to pick the bird of the day after the Mayport pelagic trip on the 5th – I’m as likely to see a Manx Shearwater in the coming months as a Red Phalarope, I think. The Wood Ducks I saw while volunteering at the ACBOP on the 9th were my first for Florida, believe it or not. A last-minute trip to Merritt Island to see an Atlas 5 launch (which ended up scrubbed) plus two days at Disney yielded birds I don’t expect to see at home or at my local patch. A Loggerhead Shrike working the parking lot at the Orange County Convention Center was a nice surprise yesterday.

Local Finds

On the 12th I drove to a dairy farm near DeLeon Springs to look for some reported Brewer’s Blackbirds. I struck out on the blackbirds but was pleased to find a nice group of Wild Turkeys, my first for Volusia for 2012. Another first for Volusia and a new BIGBY species was Green-winged Teal, a flock of which Arthur found during a morning walk at Gemini Springs on the 7th.

Looking Ahead

Now for a little prognostication. Between our yard and Gemini Springs, as of today there are about 40 species not already used in the game that I am 95% sure to see on any given day. Most of these are year-round residents, but some will start to leave around the end of March. Meanwhile a few new birds should start to show up, like Great Crested Flycatchers and Swallow-tailed Kites, both of which might arrive as early as late February. I hope I’m not jinxing myself in forecasting at least another six weeks of play in this game. And hopefully for the next update I can round up a photo or two. ๐Ÿ™‚

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