Bitter Cold Brings Birds To the Feeder

Welcome to the Second Day of Winter! Well, actually, this was written on the second day of winter, but it didn’t get posted properly, and so it is now old news. But still interesting? You decide …

We hit -15 this morning, prompting the dogs to call off their morning walk by the time they reached the mailbox.

While the dogs could join us in our warm cozy house, the neighborhood birds had to make do outside. But we love our feathered friends, and so made sure the feeders were full.

And they flocked to them.

A flock of little house finches were first to arrive. My best photo is of this male in the snow, but they mostly concentrated on the tube feeders above.

Then two slate juncos came and tried to gather seed from the fresh snow. They did alright because they were so light they didn’t sink in. But they struggled when they tried to take off because there was nothing solid underneath them to push off against.

The grey-headed junco learned quickly that it was easier to get food off the tray feeder.

The pink-sided junco worked at the house feeder.

When people say to me “It’s so bright out, you ought to get some great photos!” I want to show them the picture below of my new friend, the male Cassin’s finch. There was so much light reflecting off the snow that even a little shadow made it hard to get enough light from the bird for a good shot.

The female Cassin’s were much easier to shoot because the were out in the open, and the contrast in light wasn’t as great.

We even had a gorgeous male downy woodpecker stop by for some fuel. We don’t see him often.

The male towhee is bigger than the birds above, and more aggressive. He pushed the smaller birds out of the way when he came in. At least until…

… the really big birds found the free food on offer at the feeders. This male Northern Flicker got a place just by virtue of dropping in.

But the mourning doves were surprisingly aggressive. This one parked itself in the food tray and defended it against the house finches hoping for a bite…

… until the starlings came in. Again, we haven’t seen starlings in months. But if you’re cold and hungry, you go where the food is.

And then came the magpies. Four of them moved into the neighborhood last year, but until today, they have rarely landed at our feeders. Today, they went where they wanted to and everybody else scattered to the edges.

This makes it sound like it was very organized, when in reality birds were coming and going all day long, trying to sneak in when somebody else left, or be the first to return after the dogs sent them all flying. When you burn fuel like birds do, it is a constant calculation of how much you can risk for the amount of food you’ll get.

We are supposed to get to -8 again tonight, then warm back up. And we were lucky that we didn’t have the blizzard conditions that the plains and northeast are enduring. To those bearing the brunt of the storm, stay safe. To everybody, stay warm. And if you get a chance, feed the birds.

Published by Amy Law

Amy Law is a science geek. She feels about science the way some people feel about music, or art, or sports – a total and complete emotional connection. She thinks in science. For Amy, there’s nothing better than helping people see the beauty of science as she does. She loves to untangle a complicated subject into its parts, explaining it so that anybody can understand what’s happening. Let her show you her world...

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