Monday, December 6, 2010

Backyard Birder report

This is one of the best times of the year for backyard birders in Southeast Texas. The permanent resident birds are settling in for the winter. The wild food is beginning to get scarce and they are turning to our birdfeeders more and more often. At the same time, winter birds are continuing to pour into the area. The flight song of the American Goldfinch is constant background noise when I'm in my yard these days, as is the chittering call note of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet and the "chipping" of the Yellow-rumped Warbler. Any day now they will be joined by one of my favorite winter birds, the Cedar Waxwings.

With this changing cast of visitors, I never know what to expect when I step outside every day, but this morning's tableau was a definite surprise. As I stepped from my back patio to the backyard, a fox squirrel jumped from the nearby sycamore tree to one of the apple tree's limbs, which made me look up just in time to see a big hawk - one of the Buteos - make a flying swipe at the squirrel. My presence may have caused the hawk's aim to err a bit, because he missed and the squirrel lived to scold me another day.

I turned and watched the hawk fly across my yard and my next door neighbor's yard and then land in a tree in the next yard. Unfortunately, I didn't have my binoculars so was unable to get a really good look, but I was able to notice a couple of things. First, that, as I said, it was a big hawk, at least the size of the Red-tailed Hawks that I see just about every day now. It had long, broad wings and as it flew and then as it landed in the tree, I could plainly see that the base of its tail (viewed from the top) was white. My immediate reaction was, "Rough-legged Hawk!"

Now, I've never seen a Rough-legged Hawk in my yard, and, truthfully, I didn't get a clear enough look at the bird to say for sure that that was what it was, but that was certainly my first impression on seeing it and first impressions should not be disregarded. Rough-leggeds do wander through the area on migration, so it is possible that this is what it was, although I can't confirm it.

As I walked on into my yard, I heard a noisy bluebird conversation and look in its direction to see four Eastern Bluebirds gathered around the bluebird box that had hosted a pair and their two broods this year. I ran for my camera to try to record the event. I wanted to get all four in one shot, but the birds were uncooperative.


The best I could do was to document a female bird who landed on the box and proceeded to give it the once-over.


There are few prettier birds than the female bluebird with her stonewashed blues, rusty reds and bright whites. The male of the species is more brightly colored, but, for my money, the female is every bit as attractive.


Yep, I think she's definitely interested!

Here's a tip for those of you who might like to host a bluebird family in your yard next year: Now's the time to get your bluebird box installed. These birds scope out possible nesting sites during the winter and so spring may be too late to put up a box to attract a pair of the dazzling beauties.

The bluebirds finished their inspection and flew away and I continued on my way to the metal cans that hold birdseed by the back fence. I scooped some into my bucket and went to fill the feeders. Then I settled down in a chair to watch. But all was quiet.

Perhaps the birds had been spooked by the hawk/squirrel incident, or more likely the Sharp-shinned Hawk that has been hanging around my yard lately was there, somewhere out of my sight but known to the birds. They always seem to know when one of the bird hawks is around, but, of course, their lives depend on that knowledge.

Finally, one brave Tufted Titmouse landed in the hedge along the back fence.


He looked carefully to make sure the coast was clear.


He flew down to the blueberry bush just behind the feeders and sat there for a while before he dashed in and grabbed a seed from the feeder and flew away to a nearby tree to enjoy it.

The other birds were still a long time in returning to the feeders and I had to go back inside, so I missed the rest of the action. But whenever I go outside again, I can always be sure that something interesting will be happening.

(For more action from my backyard, visit my birding blog called, oddly enough, Backyard Birder.)

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