Monday, January 05, 2009

Chilly Titmouse

We've had single-digit temperatures on several recent days here in southeastern Ohio. On one such frigid morning, I took this photograph of a fluffed-up tufted titmouse, visiting the suet dough tray on the front porch.

It was so cold... (How cold WAS it?)
It was so cold, that you could actually see the bird's cleavage.

I could go on, but won't, in the fast-fading spirit of the season.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

The Chow Line

Blue jay, dark-eyed junco, northern cardinal on a snowy afternoon.

In winter, when we feed suet dough to our backyard birds, we often see a number of hungry individuals waiting for their turn to eat. I did not realize this fully until I started taking pictures of the suet dough visitors on our back deck railing. This series of images, like many other similar shots I've shared here recently, was taken with a Wingscapes BirdCam.

I think it's pretty interesting how the birds line up along the deck railing. There were a number of neat combinations of birds in the images the camera captured—I'm only sharing a handful here.

Cardinals at the suet dough.

Juncos only.

Junco (head only) and three cardinals. We're out of food.

Cardinal, bluebird, cardinal, bluebird.

Ever see those old couples in restaurants eating unhappily and saying NOTHING to each other?

Cardinals are always the last birds at the feeder at the end of the day.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Chowing Down

Yesterday was Thanksgiving—the only national American holiday where we all have license to stuff ourselves until we explode. I did. Did you?

Interestingly the birds at the suet dough station were following suit. Especially the blue jays.

Blue jays are creatures of boom and bust. When they find food in abundance, they load up as much as they can in their large, expandable throat pouches, and take it away to cache. This is a hedge against leaner times ahead, or so the ornithologists tell us. In this way blue jays help keep our forests healthy. They cache thousands of acorns, beechnuts, and other edibles of their choosing. They only remember and re-find and consume a small number of these caches. The forgotten ones may germinate and become trees. In many cases these trees are a long distance away from where they might have grown had they not been transported by the cache-minded jays. This is how jays are unknowing healthy forest helpers.

Had my Wingscapes BirdCam been located at the far end of my parents' dining room table during yesterday's holiday feeding frenzy, I'm not sure the images it captured would have looked very different from the ones below. We staggered home in a food malaise about 8 pm and immediately began groaning and taking Alka Seltzer. My parents, Elsa and Bill, totally out-did themselves. Best gravy ever. Wicked good turkey and taters. Awesome rutabagas. Cherry-custard pie.... I put a hurtin' on it all.

Now I won't have to eat until sometime in mid-December. That's December 2025.

Anyway, check out the blue-crested suet-dough pig of Indigo Hill (the jay—not me).
Happy digesting!

The jay's main feeding mode is basically squat and gobble.

Checking around to see if anyone is watching him clean out the ENTIRE batch of dough.

The all-you-care-to-eat suet dough buffet is OPEN. Please use a clean bill on each return trip.

In this photo he's thinking: "I can get one more bill full in there I think!"

He makes his getaway with the precious gooey loot.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Time to Feed the Dogs

Fledgling eastern bluebirds come to our suet dough dish with their parents every day. When the dish is empty they give us their sad, hungry hang-dog look. It makes us rush to put just a bit more in the dish—though in these insect-rich summer days we cut way back on the dough we dish out.

I swear I heard a whimper and a soft bark from the bird in the dish as I took this photo.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Blue Jays: Squat & Gobble

February is National Bird Feeding Month in North America and it's with good reason. For those parts of the continent that have cold, nasty weather February is perhaps the most difficult month for wild birds to survive. It's still as cold as certain parts of a brass monkey on an iceberg and the natural food crop (berries, fruits, nuts, etc.) may be mostly depleted. Warmer weather food sources such as insects, tender buds of trees, and plant nectar will not be available until later in the spring. Or if the weather is not cold and icy or snowy, it's wet and the wind is blowing. Tough conditions.

We've had yet another snow in SE Ohio so the feeders are hopping even more than usual. The food our birds go after most ravenously is the suet dough that Julie makes (although I do help out on the large-batch stirring duties).

Our blue jays are particularly hoglike with the suet dough. They use their food-stashing ability to carry off large throat-fulls of the dough. We've learned to crumble the dough into small pieces to keep the jays from taking golf-ball-sized chunks away to the woods to cache. But every now and then (and don't tell Zick) I put out some wads of dough just to see how excited this makes the jays.

Blue jays (and several other jay species) play an important role in the vitality of our forests. They cache (or hide) food for later consumption as a hedge against food shortages. Most of the food they cache is in the form of nuts such as acorns from oak trees, hickory nuts, pecans, and beech nuts which the jays bury under leaf litter or pine needles or in loose soil. Only a percentage of these cached nuts are ever recovered by the jays that buried them. Many of the un-recovered nuts germinate and become saplings and eventually full-grown trees, often growing far from their 'parent' tree. In this way jays help to keep our hardwood forests diverse and healthy.

When I lived in the East, I used to see this diner—and I can't even remember where—called Squat & Gobble. I loved that name and it's a perfect description of how our jays take in the suet dough from our bird feeders.

It would surely be nice if the suet dough the jays cache would sprout into a suet dough tree from which we could harvest ready-made suet dough. It would save a lot of lard melting and two-handed mixing.

Here's a series of images of a blue jay at the suet dough.

The jays stab hungrily at the suet chunks looking like they've just been rescued off of Tom Hank's desert island volleyball camp.

A tilt of the head and the dough drops into the throat pouch, now bulging.

Isn't there a rule about never swallowing anything bigger than your eye?

I LOVE the eyebrows on this one.

This jay stared me down until I realized there were no more big suet chunks—only scraps and crumbs.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snow, the Wind and Rain

The snow has changed to rain. Bleech!

We are being assaulted by high winds and blasting sheets of rain. The rain is changing back and forth from liquid form to its slightly more solid forms of snow or sleet. This weather is just an inconvenience for most of us, but it always makes me worry about the birds and animals that have few options for getting out of such nasty weather.
Male eastern bluebird giving me the "More suet-dough please!" look.

Our bluebirds are keyed in to the suet dough once again. Perhaps its due to the cold and wet, or maybe they've already eaten all the large, obvious grasshoppers from the meadow. It's clear that the grapes and sumac fruits are rapidly disappearing—mostly down the throats of cedar waxwings, American robins, and European starlings. In any case we're keeping the feeders fully stocked with peanuts, sunflower seed, regular suet, and suet dough.

Having the bluebirds around the house reminds me it's time to winterize the nest boxes—many of which are used nightly by the bluebirds and by downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, and Carolina wrens. I'll get the roll of Mortite and warm it up in my pocket as I walk the bluebird trails. A four-inch strip will plug the vent holes at the top of the box keeping wet and cold weather outside and more bird body heat inside the boxes. I like thinking of a pair of bluebirds finding a cozy nighttime roost in a nest box with dry grass on the inside floor and weatheripped vent holes.

Female eastern bluebird.

This got me thinking about my own ability to escape the winter weather. If I had the means, I'd certainly spend much of the winter in the tropics. Not Florida or Arizona. I mean the serious tropics, where the common blue bird you see is a blue-gray tanager.

Blue-gray tanager.

It's a nice fantasy. Must find that buried treasure first. And buy lottery tickets.

In the meantime I think I'll winterize the nest boxes here....

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