Tag Archive | birds


Variety is the spice of life and, despite their natural caution, birds seem to enjoy the challenge of exploring something new. I’ve endeavored to introduce a few different methods of attracting them to the garden and have met with some success. The covered seed tray is alright for the smaller birds but I also installed a hanging tray for the larger ones. They can also visit the standing table which has the advantage of being moveable and can be positioned as close to the window as possible when I want to get a really close-up shot.

The square blocks of suet and seed are very popular and I’ve also tried them with suet balls. It took a while for the birds to get used to the new feeder but once one gave it a try, they all got in on the act.

I’ve found that the suet cages are also good for holding the solid blocks of seed, and with added mealworms, they provide a tasty treat for all.

There are plenty of places to perch in the garden, but we don’t have any trees, so I provided a fake one by cutting most of the branches off our Christmas tree from last year and upending it in an old garden umbrella stand. The birds soon flew down to check it out and when I smeared chunky peanut butter on it, it attracted even more attention.

Despite the fact that we have four bird baths of varying sizes, the ducks were still at a distinct disadvantage, so I installed a slightly larger pool that will accommodate two birds side by side.

And, of course, providing nesting material always guarantees that we’ll catch a glimpse of the goldfinches from time to time.


Frequent visitors to the garden at this time of year are the cowbirds. They usually arrive in pairs, the male with the distinctive black feathers and brown head and the female with slightly less flashy colors.

They are not as argumentative as the grackles and starlings and are willing to share the feeders with smaller birds for a good reason that will become apparent. It ‘s why I always think of them as lazy birds, unwilling to take the trouble to build their own nest or raise their young.

Like the grackles, the male cowbird does a lot of puffing and fluffing when it comes to showing off in front of the females. When the female is ready to lay her eggs, she does so in another bird’s nest, usually a smaller bird, so when the baby hatches out, it has a definite advantage over the other young ones in the nest. It seems rather strange to see a sparrow or a female finch, struggling to satisfy the appetite of a gigantic baby that is following it’s perceived mother around, squawking and clamoring to be fed.

Garrulous, Gregarious Grackles – Bird of the Week

Once again, I am heading over to the bird section of the photo files for I. J. Khanewala’s Bird of the Week challenge. Grackles tend to arrive in groups and make quite a bit of noise when they get here. Their shiny black and blue feathers look very smart, as though they’re wearing some kind of evening suit, as they strut around the garden, beady-eyed, looking for food.

They do seem to get more than their fair share of the seed when they muscle in on the feeders. They have a ravenous appetite but only for the good stuff; the rest of it they scatter all over the lawn for the squirrels and smaller birds to pick up, so they’re not quite as greedy as they might first appear.

Although it seems to get on alright with birds of a similar size, I have, on more than one occasion, seen a grackle tear a sparrow to shreds. I’ve noticed that this usually happens when the adult grackle has 2 or more squawking youngster following it about, clamoring to be fed. It’s almost as though the grackle is stressed to the point where it has to lash out at something, preferably a bird smaller than itself, so the sparrows give it a wide berth whenever possible.

I always laugh when I see grackles walking about with their heads tilted up as though they’re expecting something to come falling out of the sky. Apparently this tilting of the bill is a show of dominance. Whoever can hold his bill up the highest (if you’ll pardon the expression) for the longest time wins the girl. Another trick towards this end is to fluff yourself up and squawk. Needless to say there is a lot of tilting, squawking and fluffing going on right about now.

April in Brookfield

Who would have expected 80F temperatures in April, here in the Chicago area? Well, anything can happen with our crazy climate, so I took the opportunity to make the most of this phenomenal weather and visited Brookfield Zoo last week. The lions were definitely enjoying the warm sunshine, while the snow leopard took advantage of a shady spot to cool off.

A Guineafowl was kicking up quite a racket as it walked along a nearby parapet, which in turn prompted a passing peacock to respond with a magnificent display of tail feathers. It strutted up and down for quite a while, turning this way and that, in order to give us the full benefit of his admirable qualities. While the peacock appeared happy to make the most of the warm weather, the bald eagle insisted on giving me the cold shoulder.

Meanwhile, over in the Tropic World area, the sun had brought out the sloth for a slow crawl from one sleeping area to another. And although the new, great silverback gorilla appeared to be asleep and blissfully unaware of everything that was going on around him, I noticed, every once in a while, a watchful eye open to check that everyone was where they should be.

In the Great Bear Wilderness, the grizzly was keeping cool in the pool. Who would think you would need to cool off in April. Not to worry, things are back to normal today. There’s snow on the ground.

It’s A Starling, Me Darling

Now that Spring is here, we are starting to see some of the medium-sized birds return to the garden. Among these are the starlings, uncouth yobs that have a tendency to push in and take over. Their one saving grace is their striking appearance.

Whenever I see these birds, I always think of the poem by Pam Ayres, I’m A Starling, Me Darling. It sums up the starling perfectly. I love her poems and songs!

We’re starlings, the misses, meself and the boys,
We don’t go round hoppin’, we walks.
We don’t go in for this singing all day,
And twittering about, we just squawks.

We don’t go in for these fashionable clothes,
Like old Missel Thrush, and his spots,
Me breast isn’t red, there’s no crest on me head,
We’ve got sort of, hardwearing…dots.

We starlings, the misses, meself and the boys,
We’ll eat anything that’s about,
Well anything but, that old half coconut,
I can’t hold it still. I falls out.

What we’d rather do, is wait here for you,
To put out some bread for the tits,
And then when we’re certain, you’re there by the curtain,
We flocks down and tears it to bits.

But we starlings, the misses, meself and the boys,
We reckon that we’re being got at,
You think for two minutes, them finches and linnets,
You never sees THEM being shot at.

So the next time you comes out to sprinkle the crumbs out,
And there’s starlings there, making a noise,
Don’t you be so quick to heave half a brick,
It’s the misses, meself and the boys!

By Pam Ayres.

They usually travel in flocks and can be quite a problem at the bird feeders once they become established. A single pair can raise 2-3 broods per year with each brood producing 5-8 young, so it’s easy to see how the numbers can become overwhelming.

So far, they have not become a nuisance here, and as long as they continue to play nice with the other birds, I won’t have a reason to discourage them although, as with all birds, I maintain a healthy distance. Those beaks look like they could give you a nasty dig.

The Robin’s Return

Despite cold winds, frosty mornings and the occasional snow shower, the robins clearly thought it was about time to return to our garden.

I don’t ever remember them taking such a keen interest in the bird feeders before, but this year they appear to be making the most of everything that’s going.

They will soon be looking for somewhere to nest, and in this regard they are quite opportunistic. I have, more than once, had to remove would-be nests from on top of the motion-censor outdoor lighting fixture by our back door. Not to worry. There are plenty more places for them to build a home.

Sightings At Spring Valley

Last week, the weather warmed up sufficiently to give us a brief reprieve from winter, so I thought I’d make the most of it and take another walk around Spring Valley Nature Center in Schaumburg. The lake was still frozen over.

Because of all the damage done by the beaver, the staff at the Center have started putting wire cages around some of the trees. Unfortunately it comes too late for some.

Walking through the woods, I saw quite a few birds including nuthatches, woodpeckers and, enjoying a bath in some open water, a group of robins.

Still not much action over at the farm, but as I was walking back down the track I spotted a hawk sitting on a low branch of a tree. Usually, when presented with this kind of opportunity, I take a picture right away, just in case I’m not able to get any closer, but this time it obliged me by staying put, and allowed me to creep up quite close until I was almost underneath it. Great!

In fact, at one point, I thought I’d let myself in for more than I’d bargained for, but it eventually settled down and I continue to take dozens of shots.

Eventually it moved off to a tree further down the trail but it waited for me to catch up and I was able to keep on shooting. It really seemed to be enjoying having its picture taken and even turned around to give me a different angle.

All the time this was going on, the ducks in the nearby creek were kicking up quite a racket. I think they must have been aware that the hawk was nearby and you could almost see the hawk thinking to itself, “Hello. Grub’s up!”

Finally, after quite some time, it flew off, and as I turned to look back up the track, three female deer stepped out of the trees. The perfect end to a successful afternoon.

Crabtree Nature Center

On Saturday, I took a soggy and, in some places icy, walk around Crabtree Nature Center. The Visitors Building is still undergoing renovation work and much of the main trail was closed off for maintenance, so I had to make do with what was available.

There are a lot of very old trees in this Cook County Forest Preserve in Barrington and I think they are especially interesting to see without all their summer foliage.

I found some interesting lichen on one of the old fence rails and was pleased to see that the trail was still open to the Children’s Nature Play area. I’m all for encouraging the young ones to explore and learn about nature although, on this particular day, there were no children around to enjoy it.

I’d been wondering where our local nuthatches had gone to. We haven’t seen them for the past couple of weeks. Apparently they are all over at Crabtree. There were hundreds of them, darting among the trees and flying around the bird feeders.

Doting On Doves

Despite its size, the mourning dove is a mild-mannered, unassuming bird, unlike the pigeons who are pushy and overbearing. They are always welcome in our garden. Their gentle cooing make a nice change from the racket that the sparrows make every day.

Like the cardinals, they usually arrive in pairs, one, two or even three pairs at a time. We have even seen as many as 14 of these birds in the garden at one time.

They are with us all year round and, because they are rather slow off the mark, tend to be a regular target for the hawk. They are also hunted as game in some parts of the country, more than 20 million birds are shot annually, but because of its prolific breeding – one pair can raise anything up to 6 broods of 2 in a year – its numbers remain strong.

They’re not quarrelsome birds and get on nicely with the others at the feeders, happy to take what they can get without getting into a fight over it. And when the sparrows clear off, it fits nicely into the tray.

Hello, Hawk

Visits from the hawk are sporadic, so I’d better be ready with the camera when it does arrive. We count ourselves lucky if we see one and it’s even better when a pair land in the garden.

I’m not very good at recognizing the different types of hawk but I’m pretty sure the one on the left in the next picture is a sparrow hawk. It was much smaller than the ones we usually see.

I used to feel guilty about feeding the birds, thereby providing a sitting target for the hawk to zoom in and chow down on, but I’ve noticed that, more often than not, it doesn’t actually catch anything when it swoops in. I guess the others around the feeder have become quite proficient at making a quick getaway.

Fortunately, or not, depending on your viewpoint, it does stay longer when it is able to snag something, which gives me a much better opportunity to get some reasonably good shots. These are certainly not as gruesome as some of the pictures in the photo files, but they do serve to illustrate that it’s not all ‘hearts and flowers’ in the world of nature.

The most recent sighting was a few days ago. As I was sitting by the window, I spotted a hawk, way up in the treetops on the next block and figured it was sure to have spotted all the birds clustered around the bird feeders, so I grabbed the camera. I was right. It came swooping down and landed right on top of the feeder pole. Awesome! It didn’t catch anything but stayed long enough for me to get a good view of it.

The first two pictures in the next set are not that clear (naturally these things never occur in a convenient spot) but they do show an interesting piece of interaction between a hawk and a squirrel. The hawk had already caught a sparrow and was in the process of tucking in, when a squirrel, either very young or very stupid decided to challenge it. The hawk is on the far left and squirrel to the right. The squirrel went right up to it, I don’t know what on earth it was trying to do, and eventually the hawk got rather annoyed and chased it off.