Yard Birds and Winter Water

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Feeding the birds is a special treat during the winter. Many bird species seek out the extra calories and readily take advantage of our offerings. Sunflower (either in or out of the shell), thistle or niger, white millet, cracked corn, beef suet or suet cakes all have their groupies. Shelter is nice as well and most feeders do better if near shrubbery. But, an often overlooked winter offering is water.

Birds need water year round and in the winter it is often more difficult to find. Using a heated bird bath, actually a heated drinking dish, makes life easy for you and the birds. There is no chipping of ice, boiling of water, or daily maintenance with a heated bath – or the guilt of knowing that they would like water and you’re not providing it. Heated water costs pennies a day and is a great addition to a bird-friendly yard.

I clamped our heated water dish to the corner of the deck rail this winter and have been able to enjoy close-up views of the birds as they drink. None have bathed yet; but they drink all day. The other day I clicked a few images through a double-pane slider as birds came and went about eight feet away. The pictures are not perfect but they give you the idea of what is happening in our yard. Take a look…..

2019 water siskin – blog featured
Pine Siskins are but one of many species attracted by winter water. They are not annual winter visitors. They are an irruptive species showing up some years and not others.  Other irruptive species are Evening Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, and the two crossbills (Red and White-winged). 2018-19 has been a good year for the grosbeaks and crossbills, but not so much for the others. The hypotheses regarding the reason for this are at conflict; some say lots of food and lots of youngsters allow birds to wander, where others say lack of food forces birds to travel in search of food. Oh well, enjoy them for the brief time they are with us.
2019 water chickadee blog
The Black-capped Chickadee, or one of its cousins, is a common bird throughout North America and Canada. The one here is the Black-capped and it is a common bird of the woods and thickets. This look straight into its face barely shows the black eyes and bill as they seem hidden in the black feathers of the face and chin. This winter we have very few chickadees at our house and at our feeders for some reason.
2019 water gold finch blog
The American Goldfinch is another common bird throughout North America; and one that often appears in flocks. The bird above is likely a winter-plumaged male just starting to get a few of the breeding feathers that will turn it golden. The females are a green-gray throughout the year.
2019 water red nut blog
This Red-breasted Nuthatch is quite common in our pitch pine/black oak woods. Most years the larger White-breasted Nuthatch outnumbers the red, but not this year, at least at our feeders.
2019 water pine warbler blog
The images above and below are of Pine Warblers; a female on top and the male below. They are not uncommon breeding birds in our pine woodlands but much less common in the winter. Like most warblers they have a thin bill that acts as a pair of pointy tweezers in picking up small insects and their eggs (or other tiny food bits) from the bark of trees.
2019 water pine warbler blog
This male Pine Warbler is much more colorful than the female, even in the winter. There is value in a drab female as she sits on eggs in the nest; but why do the males have to become so colorful? The evolutionary push behind fancy feathering has to do with “female choice”. Perhaps the more colorful male is displaying his hunting and feeding skills and that he has energy to burn or at least energy to turn into pretty feathers. Or perhaps it shows that he is genetically stronger than other less colorful males. It may be as simple as – the females just like the fanciest male better than the others. It is likely there its a real genetic message in this plumage; it’s just difficult to test what that message is.
2019 water robin blog
Wintering American Robins are not uncommon out on Cape Cod. Most of our northern robins migrate southward in the fall and robins from the Canadian Maritimes move in; larger darker robins. But, we have robins of both types eating holly and cedar berries and the fruit of many of the common invasive plants. These large thrushes are often bullies at a feeding station but do provide a nice splash of color on a cold winter’s day.
2019 water blue bird blog
The Eastern Bluebird was considered a migrant which left the northeast US for Central America every fall. But like many species it now has a solid wintering population that remains resident even into the coldest weeks of the year. Today won’t reach 20 degrees Fahrenheit at my house and there are seven blue birds at the feeders and drinking water. I do admit to splurging on meal worms to feed them, but they were here before the meal worms became available.

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