Friday, February 27, 2009


Supersim's favorite bird is the chickadee, so anytime I read something about them, I pass the info along to her.  I happened to learn some things about chickadees from Wild Moments by Ted Williams, and from Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn by Hannah Holmes.  If you spend a few minutes outside, you are likely to hear a high-pitched "fee-bee."  This means it's mating season for chickadees.  According to Mr. Williams, their typical "chickadee-dee-dee" song is used to locate members of their flock.  If that's the case, our chickadees must constantly be getting lost, because we hear them singing non-stop during spring and summer.  

We have lots of aspen here, and they are just starting to make their fuzzy little buds.  It's a good time for birdwatching because the birds are very active, and there are no leaves on the trees to block the view.  We have observed that our chickadees enjoy the typical birdseed blend, but they seem to relish whatever it is that they find inside the aspen buds. From one of our windows, we can see an abandoned robin's nest in the crook of an aspen tree.  Last spring, we watched the robins work so hard building it, twig by twig.  We knew there were eggs inside because Mrs. Robin started spending all her time on the nest while Mr. Robin brought her food.  Then--tragedy--a huge spring storm hit and strong winds blew all night.  The nest remained, but Mr. and Mrs. Robin never came back.  (Note to robins: aspen trees SWAY.)

Anyway, the nest is still there, although it's not as tidy and cozy as when the robins first constructed it.  If I'm at my desk early in the morning, I see the downy woodpecker hanging upside down from the trunk and digging around in the nest, looking for whatever lives there now.  (I probably don't want to know.)  Later, the chickadees arrive.  When they take a break from munching on aspen buds, they pick through the abandoned nest as well.

Even using my field guide, I can't figure out what finches are visiting us.  They look like a purple finch, but with less color on the wings. And we don't live in the usual purple finch territory. They're sort of like a Cassin's Finch, but the color on the head isn't so defined.  Maybe a house finch, but the head isn't so rounded.  So I had to laugh when I read what Hannah Holmes says about birdwatching: 

"Bird books generally present three portraits of each bird: adult male; adult female; juvenile.  But the things that fly into my line of sight seem to be transsexual, semi-mature birds blown four thousand miles out of their normal range."

How many times have we looked through two or three guides, only to say, "well, it's almost A, a bit like B, but it could be a molting C, if it weren't the wrong season."  It just proves that nature doesn't do anything by the book.

Birdfeeding season is coming to an end.  We don't put out seed past February because of the various small rodents it attracts.  Mice attract snakes.  Snakes freak me out. I'll let the birds finish up the seed on our back porch and the suet feeder in the yard, but no refills! In a few weeks, it will be time to hang up the hummer feeders. They always seem to show up just before the flowers open up, and I wonder if feeders sustain them until their natural food is available. Like chickadees, they definitely have a "pecking order."  (Sorry, couldn't resist.)  As tiny as they are, they are vicious!  We are always impressed by their mid-air battles.

If I can get a decent photo of our finches, I'll post it here.  They are hard to catch, especially since one member of the family loves to bark at them.


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