Cold Day at Feeders

Please consider the images to be copyrighted and ask permission to use any of them. Thank you, DEClapp

Today was well below freezing and for much of the morning the wind made it feel well below zero. On days like this the birds seem to arrive later than I would have predicted and it is eight in the morning before they really begin to arrive. Then they seem to arrive in a flurry; especially if there are meal worms on the deck rail. They might dribble in if they are only offered cold bird seed. But at about 8:30 it is quite busy with Pine Warblers, Eastern Bluebirds, Black-capped chickadees, Tufted Titmouses, American Goldfinches and a scattering of American Robins and nuthatches, mostly Red-breasted but an occasional White-breasted.

This post is a quick burst of images taken a bit earlier today through a heavy glass, double-paned slider out onto the deck; my excuse for images that many be a bit off. The Eastern Bluebirds are big fans of meal worms as are the Pine Warblers. The Carolina Wrens, chickadees, and titmouse also favor these larval bits. Ordering and providing meal worms is a bit of a task as the birds will eat and eat and you need to order and store these beetle larva and then provide and provide. I can store about 10-20,000 (yup, really) in a plastic box that is about the size needed to store a pair of boots, pretty small really. They don’t need much room and they cannot climb the walls of any plastic container. They are living in, and on, non-medicated chick starter (a chick food crumble) and about five pounds of chick starter (less than $5) will take care of thousands of larva for weeks. I keep them in an unheated garage (maybe getting into the low 40s) and put them on the deck rail on a dinner plate; no napkins or silverware needed. They will not pupate at this temperature for 5-6-7 weeks; and by then they will have become bird food.

The image at the head of this post is a Carolina Wren. A small, hardy, noisy, perky wren that is at the northern edge of its range (especially wintering range) here in New England. The CAWR almost always stay in pairs and are often seen in pairs and is the bird that sneaks into your outbuildings, tool sheds and garages to look for those spiders and other insects that cohabitate with us. They are similar to the Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, and Red-bellied Woodpecker in their recent transition into our more northern environment from their origin locations to the south. We are seeing many more birds and mammals and insects as well as plants moving north as our winters become less challenging. The CAWR is one of the “new” arrivals.

I certainly will add better images of the American Goldfinch as spring replaces winter.
The bird on the right is beginning to become more of a “gold” finch and is likely to be an adult male starting to develop the bright yellow breeding plumage that makes this little seed-eater so easy to recognize. The bird on the left has warm spots on the face and may be a young male (last summer’s youngster) but more likely is an adult female in winter plumage. The yellowish-brown nape is more like a female’s nonbreeding plumage; but not all birds can be sexed or aged at all times.
The Pine Warbler is a small bird of pine woodlands. Here on Cape Cod that usually means Pitch Pine but could include White Pine woods as well. This particular bird is probably a first year female as she is lacking any distinct yellow feathering, though she is warmer in color just below the throat. They arrive at the feeders when meal worms are offered. At the moment we have about 5 or 6 of these grayish birds and 2 or 3 of the yellower birds; see below. They seem to be spending the winter with a group of Eastern Bluebirds and are rarely seen outside the company of these small blue thrushes.
Adult female Pine Warblers have a good bit of yellow on them but they usually have streaked sides and a small stripe above the eye. I simply call the winter birds “yellow” or “gray” and it probably doesn’t mean much at all. This bird is quite yellow but doesn’t show the dark streaks of a male nor the muted streaks of a female. The eye stripe is more pronounced in males but likely fades in winter plumage. The bird pictured can be called an adult in winter, but maybe that’s all.
The Eastern Bluebird is an up and comer here in New England. It was widespread and common into the 20th century and then its numbers slumped during that hundred-year period. However, there are now more Eastern Bluebirds wintering in the USA and in the northern parts of the country than there have been in decades. We are still at the northern edge of the wintering range but we are seeing more and more EABB each year. Perhaps the warmer winters provide more insect (primarily hardy beetles) food for them or perhaps the plantings that we use in suburbia provide fruit and berries and seeds throughout the winter. Likely it is a combination of both environmental changes.
Young birds and wintering birds are often in plumages that are not what we are familiar with, or expect. The bright colors of springtime males get all the publicity. With the Eastern Bluebirds there are a few distinctions between the sexes; the males are a brighter blue, the females are a grayer blue, the males have no eye ring and the females have half an eye ring. Both male and female have a white belly and some orange-red on the throat sides and breast though the male is much redder. So, this bird is a female; based on the white eye ring and grayish forehead.
As I said, males are blue; really blue. Many of the Eastern Bluebirds that breed in the US will winter in Mexico and on down in Central America as far as Guatemala. As this is an EASTERN Bluebird it might be remembered that they breed and reside pretty much east of our great river systems. (There is a Western Bluebird and a Mountain Bluebird that fills other geographic and environment niches.) This means that in order to get to Mexico, or further south, they have to fly over the Caribbean Sea or around Texas and then southward. It is likely that our (eastern population) Eastern Bluebirds move straight south and winter along the southern tier of states in the US and those that breed in Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana are the ones that work their way southward to Mexico and Latin America. There are a few records of fall and winter birds in Cuba but it doesn’t seem that the islands are an important winter destination.
Just one last image of an eastern Bluebird. They certainly are a bright spot on a cold, gray, winter ‘s day.
Snow storms can hide food from both Carolina Wrens and Eastern Bluebirds.
It always causes me to wonder when I think about short cold days and long colder nights, and the rapid metabolism of birds.
Can they all lower their body temps to make it through the night?
How do they restart/reboot/kickstart their metabolism each morning?
How many days can they survive if snow or ice covers their food?
Can they just up and migrate in mid-winter if things suddenly take a turn for the worse?
Did you ever contemplate the chill factor on the open eye of a flying bird in 10 degree air?
Or what is required to warm and digest foods that are eaten at air temperature?
Still lots to learn….

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