Posts Tagged ‘winter’

A Spot of Red

December 12, 2009

Cold here. Not cold like those of you living in northern Minnesota experience – you would probably think of this as shirt-sleeve weather – but cold for us desert denizens. Maybe not objectively cold, but certainly psychologically cold. Lately,the Gulf of Alaska has been manufacturing low pressure areas and sending them down to the California coast where they collect large, grey, thick, mid-level cloud decks which the jet stream blows straight to us. And, when you’re used to the sun and all you get is Dickensian, dismal cloud decks, you get cranky and cold.

It’s winter; the sky is grey, the earth brown, and so it’s nice to get a spot of color from time to time, which is why we were glad for this breakfast visitor.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Prayer to the Snowy Owl

November 16, 2009

Out here, it’s the Season When Thunder Sleeps and the snows of winter begin to fall. Up north, in the Arctic, it grows dark.

But that does not mean all life, or even all bird life halts up there in the dark.  To remind us of that, here is John Haines’ wonderful poem about Snowy Owls:


Prayer to the Snowy Owl

Descend, silent spirit;
you whose golden eyes
pierce the grey
shroud of the world—
Marvelous ghost!
Drifter of the arctic night,
destroyer of those
who gnaw in the dark—
preserver of whiteness.

The painting of the Snowy Owls is by Roger Tory Peterson.

Winter Bird-Feeding

December 9, 2008
House Sparrow

House Sparrow

The clouds are “low’r’d upon our house” today and not “In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.” Low gray clouds sit over us and bring to mind Shakespeare’s opening lines of Richard III, “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.”  Or, as we once saw in a humorous sale advertisement for a tent, “Now is the winter of our discount tent.”

But it is hard to be discontent on a cold, gray winter’s day if you have a flock of House Sparrows entertaining you at the feeders. A few House Finches are out there too but mainly we have sparrows today.  Often we get out the binoculars in the hope of spotting a native sparrow but House Sparrows are usually about all we see in our backyard.  House Sparrows are not native to North America but they compete for food and space quite well.  Too well in some instances. They are known, for example, to boot bluebirds out of their homes.  Many attempts have been and are being made to design a bluebird birdhouse that defeats the ubiquitous House Sparrow and some of those tries will be the subject of a later post.

But House Sparrows need to eat too and today they are hard at it, providing fine entertainment not only to the humans but also to the Border Collies who love to pick up after them, much to the distress of the Rock Pigeons who prefer to do the job.

House Sparrows are non-migrants around here which brings us to the subject of humans feeding wintertime non-migrants.

Non-migratory birds can use extra help during winter from non-migratory  humans.  Providing food and water contributes to birds’ health and survival during the cold time.  A  recent study in England of the English Blue Tit (no jokes please, this is British science we’re talking about) found that non-migratory birds for which humans supply seed during the cold of winter do better than those which lack supplemental food.  (Stay tuned for more about the long-term ec ological impace of humans feeding birds.)

During winter, the abundance of berries, fruits, and insects upon which birds rely dwindles to the point where their diets depend on seeds to survive.

Black oil sunflower seed or a premium seed blend containing primarily black oil sunflower seed are the best winter-time food to use in your feeders. High in protein and fat content, black oil sunflower has twice the calories per pound of striped sunflower seed.  Its thinner shells  make it easier for smaller birds to open.  A seed blend containing other smaller seeds also helps ground feeding birds which will clean up the seeds dropped from your feeders.

Another favorite wintertime food for birds is suet.  It too is packed with calories and can be bought in small blocks which contain seeds and fruits mixed into the suet.  Nuthatches and woodpeckers are attracted by suet.

Peanuts, shelled and unshelled, are useful, especially if you have jays visiting your yard. Be sure to purchase peanuts specifically processed for birds.  Don’t feed salty peanuts or those from the grocery store.

Finally and most importantly, put out water for your birds.  Birds’ summertime sources of water may be frozen or non-existent.  A daily supply of fresh, unfrozen water will bring birds to your yard faster than anything else you can do.

Which means that you’ll have sprightly House Sparrows for entertainment even if you don’t get more interesting birds to watch.

Winter Storm Coming

December 7, 2007

The weather bureau tells us that a winter storm is on the way.  But the birds in the backyard need no computer come to tell them the weather is changing.  They can see the heavy leaden skies, feel the moisture in the air and note, directly in their being, the falling air pressure as the storm approaches.  The House Finches, House Sparrows, Goldfinches are all busy this morning.  The backyard is a riot of bird calls, bird flight, and birds eating.  It is not as calm out there as it was yesterday morning. It is a little frantic.  Something is up; they know it, and they feed against the morrow.   winter-feeder-activity.jpg

We wonder if the non-migrant birds, like people, don’t get just a little crazy this time of year.  The clouds,  the cold weather, the long nights; all add up to “Winters of Discontent.”  It would, for instance, be interesting to go back through history, isolating when national leaders made decisions to start wars and see if the majority of such decisions were not made in the four months astride the Winter Solstice.  Science tells us — beyond doubt — that humans are more depressed and more susceptible to really serious depressions in winter.  In mythology those four months are always the time of waiting, of despair.

We should demand a moratorium on all important decisions of state during this time. Send our leaders south for the winter if they must be busy but, better yet, send them home and not allow them to make a single decision. The decline in sunlight contributes to a decline in sanity for most people.  Better to feed against the darkness and the cold and the snow and wait for better days and softer climes to make big decisions.  We could learn from our avian friends who mainly sleep and eat during winter.  Not for them, the life changing decisions; not for them the long trips through the night.  Their wisdom is to hunker down and wait for better days.

Which is our subtle way of reminding everyone in the Northern Hemisphere to be sure there is plenty of high quality seed on hand and in your feeders, that suet cakes are out and that your avian guests have plenty of water.  It’s cold out there.

Deer, Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese

November 11, 2007


Yesterday, instead of writing some long, thoughtful blog entry to entertain you, we went birding at the Bosque.  The Bosque del Apache in New Mexico.  We did get some nice photos and here are two.  It isn’t every day that you see deer and Sandhills dining together.  And, as you can see, the Snow Geese are back in force for another winter.


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