Archive for the 'Birds' Category

A Sunflower Brightens the Day

June 25th, 2010

The birds really love sunflower seeds… especially fresh sunflowers.  This goldfinch was testing out the buffet, although I hope to get a few mature seeds for planting next year before they’re all gone.  This one grew as a lucky volunteer from scattered winter seed… there’s three in the same area.  I’m amazed at how large they can grow, and it’s just a fresh, sunny feeling when you walk by and see them.

The size of these leaves is amazing.   I placed my reading glasses on the top for comparison.   Those are just enormous photosynthesis machines in action.  I remember driving through Illinois last year and seeing vast stretches of sunflowers growing in the fields.  It looked beautiful…

Five Little Swallows Went Flying One Day

June 12th, 2010

How many little barn swallows can you fit in the same nest?  In previous years I’ve only seen three or four, and thought this year was the same until another one popped up this week.  This picture was taken the day before they left the nest.   What a crew!

One of them flew off early in the morning when I didn’t see it, but I was able to watch the other birds make their first flights while painting the garage door.  The adult birds would land just off the nest with some type of insect treat, tempting them to come farther, and then make repeated short flights past the nest.   Finally a young barn swallow would leap off and begin flapping its wings, not nearly as gracefully as the adults.

It would usually make it to a nearby tree to rest for a few minutes and then fly again- this time much better.   I was amazed that within a couple of hours all but one of the birds had left the nest and were zooming around with incredible speed and vigor.  Finally that last one disappeared as well.

Not all of them returned by the next day however.  For the first week or so, the young birds and adults return to roost at the nest site.  Only four have come back…

Virga at Dawn

April 13th, 2010

The weather has been so nice the past week that it’s hard to keep up with all the changes. Everyday there’s something new around the property, or in the garden. I love walking around outside before the sun comes up, in that peaceful, subdued light of dawn.

Yesterday the air was perfectly calm, and as I walked outside I looked up to see the most beautiful clouds!  I believe these are Virga cloud formations, denoting the fall of moisture or ice crystals from the clouds, drifting downward slowly but evaporating before reaching the ground. I’ve seen it a few times before, but not at dawn as the sun rose.

I wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first, but then realized that the precipitation was very slowly falling in the calm morning air.  It was neat to see… here’s a closer look:

As I turned around to look behind me, the same weather phenomenon was taking place from all around the area.   This cloud line was marked by small lines of moisture in a vertical fashion.    You just never know what you might see when you really take a good look.

Later in the day I saw a bird flash past the eave of the house and realized that the barn swallows have returned!  What a journey they make across two continents. They’re three days earlier than last year, and about a week later than the years previous. 

I went out to say hello :) and it was a solitary bird zooming all around the house.   Later in the day two more swallows had joined the first, chasing each other around as they decide who gets which of three nest sites on the house.    I enjoy watching them fly and really appreciate that they eat insects.

And this morning the little chickies moved to a bigger home.  The little cardboard box was getting too crowded for them, and they were hopping out while trying to explore a little more.   I was going to put together a bigger cardboard box, but then realized that the wire kennel I use for the labrador retriever would make a perfect brooder for these guys for a few more weeks.   I just taped a little carboard around the bottom half to keep their scratchings in.   

They’ve grown about twice their size of a week ago, and run around flapping wings and dive-bomging each other.   Even though they bash each other out of the way for food or water, they seem to get along pretty well so far.  I think there’s two roosters in the mix, but I won’t know for sure for a while yet. 

I keep them on a little glassed in porch area that is naturally heated by the sun during the day.  At night I’ve been using a 250 watt lamp a couple feet away.  Now they’re old enough where it’s not as critical to keep really warm all day and night, but I keep them out of drafts and the temperature from 75-85 degrees.   The new brooder cage has a rock for the birds and the waterer to sit on, and a little log for a mini-roost.  They still like to sleep snuggled up on the floor, and when it gets really warm they sprawl out in every direction.     I’ve got 2-4 weeks to get a coop built before they get really big!

Fighting Bluebirds and Digging ‘Peckers

March 9th, 2010

We saw the funniest thing over the weekend. The boy and I were about to have breakfast and I noticed a commotion outside the window. As we looked more closely it was three male bluebirds fighting for the rights to a nest box near the house. I’ve seen them playing like this in the spring, but this was no playful antics by young birds! We have several bluebird boxes around, but that one is a favorite for some reason.

They flew at each other and grabbed claws while pinning each other down on the ground and wrestling furiously.   While these two were thrashing about, the third flew up to the box as if to say, “Ha! Ha! I’ve got the box!”  

They were oblivious to anything around them, including me! I walked outside to get some better photos, and they just ignored me even when I came within a couple feet. They were so intent that while still locked together, they flew at each other and locked claws again, falling into a big spirea bush… deep in the middle.   They just stayed there grasping each other like mad!

Finally I said, “Okay guys, now that’s enough! Come out of there!”   Eventually they became aware of me and popped out, flying off a little way to separate perches in an oak tree.  As I went inside, they were flying all around the box again.  

Now there’s a school mascot for you… the “Fighting Bluebirds!”  Just doesn’t sound right does it?   These guys are supposed to be happy, gentle creatures!  I laughed, thinking of our human labels and stereotypes…   they’re just birds, as intent upon their life cycle as the lowly starling or house sparrow… which they also do battle with.  But they’re nice to have around :)  The rites of spring have surely begun.


We have enjoyed a wonderful stretch of warm days and have begun our “spring cleaning.”  I noticed that the frogs have really emerged, and we hear them calling at night.   Everything is more active (including me!) and it’s time to really get ready for the growing season.

Even the woodpeckers are more active!  (That title above got your attention didn’t it!?)   I’m not sure having really active woodpeckers around is always a good thing.  I know they serve a purpose and signal a healthy environment, but the pileated woodpeckers can do enormous damage to a tree in short order. To all outward appearances, this oak tree looks healthy. But it may have insects attacking it inside that we just don’t see and the woodpecker does.

In any event, this hole wasn’t in the tree a few weeks ago, but now it’s huge.  There is a small cavity inside, and that’s probably what the bird is after.   Hopefully the tree will continue to thrive, but when I’ve seen this in the past, the tree has usually died within a couple of years.   We have a few dead trees still standing that I thought would serve to help the woodpeckers with their needs.

I suspect we would lose many of these trees anyway, but I really love our old oak trees.    The cycle of life continues…  Have a great day!

Update: Orin provided a comment about haven taken a video of nesting pileated woodpeckers in 2009. This is great to watch- I had never seen a nesting site for this bird, or how the adults feed their young.

A Little Junco

January 27th, 2010

Helped a little Junco yesterday… he flew into the porch window and was laying on the ground stunned, nearly a little frozen meal for the cats.  Brought it in and warmed it up overnight.  In the morning it was flitting about… caught it in a butterfly net and carried it outside. Brrrr! The bird decided to stay in my hand.  I set it on a feeder and he/she just sat there looking around.  After a while I picked it up and set it on the ground for a bit, and it just sat there.  

So finally I picked it up again and said, “Look little guy, you’ve got to get going or something. I can’t feed you inside very well, and the cats will be around soon… so what’s it going to be?”


I laid it gently back on the ground and it flew up to my shoulder.  Sheesh!  So I waited for about five minutes with the wind blowing at 25 degrees… then it jumped on my finger. Once more I laid it on the ground, and this time it flew off about twenty yards. I walked toward it and it flew off again for a bit. Then once more and it flew off to some bushes… hooray! At least I hope so :)


By the way, Jessica Watson just went through a huge storm a few days ago with waves heavy enough to dump her sailboat over a few times. Sounds like it even went upside down with the mast under water for a bit. Can you imagine? A little damage, but otherwise she’s fine and on her way again. I need some of that spirit…

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