Tuesday, December 17, 2013

This One Is For The Birds. . .

Blue Jays

While many people think the blue jays are rather aggressive and loud around bird feeders they are actually helpful by attracting other birds to your feeders. Other birds might be flying over your house and if they see or hear bird activity they might stop by to check out if there is food in the area.

The blue jays do like to scatter the seed around in their search for the "good stuff" which to them are sunflower seeds and nuts. You can see that the sunflower seeds in the feeder have been picked out by the blue jays and there doesn't seem do be any left in there. The blue jay is native to North America and you will most likely find them in the eastern United States and southern Canada. It breeds near forests and can be found in local neighborhoods. Because their size and plumage is almost identical between the sexes it's hard to tell the  male from the female blue jay. They have large, strong beaks to crack open nuts and acorns.

They also help other birds by making loud cries in which they can warn smaller birds of danger. In addition to that they will also chase hawks and owls away. Sometimes when my husband and I are outside we will hear a bird and think it is a hawk in the area. I recently read online that blue jays will make a squawk that sounds like a red-tailed hawk to possibly scare other little birds away from feeders. I found that very interesting.

Pileated Woodpeckers

The picture below (while not the best shot) is that of a Pileated Woodpecker that was in our front yard last week. It's one of the largest forest birds on the continent and the largest woodpecker in the United States. They are about the size of a crow. Their main food is carpenter ants. We have some dead trees on our property and the bird was making it's rounds checking out the trees. I wonder if they are sometimes searching the trees for seeds hidden by other birds and squirrels. Occasionally they will visit backyard feeders for seeds and suet. We are fortunate in that we sometimes see these huge woodpeckers around our house.

These birds are fairly common and numerous. They like woods that have dead trees so that they can forage for ants in them by creating rectangle shaped holes with their beaks. They also use the dead trees for nesting in. While people tend to remove dead trees from their property the dead trees actually help other birds and animals by providing food and cavities for their habitat.

The cartoon character "Woody Woodpecker" evolved from this species of woodpecker.

Here is a link to wonderful YouTube video on Pileated Woodpeckers. I think you will enjoy it.

Dark-eyed (or Slate-Colored) Juncos

The junco is a bird that spends its winter in the northern United States and southern Canada. This bird's summer residence is in the Arctic or western United States. It usually arrives here around November when a lot of our birds are flying south for the winter. Different birds prefer different areas for foraging for their food. Some birds will eat off bird feeders, some scratch on the ground, and some will eat off of a feeder that is like a shelf about 1' off the ground. The juncos mostly are ground feeders, but they will visit a feeder if there is a lot of snow on the ground and the seeds are buried under it. You will usually find them in small flocks. They breed in coniferous (cone-bearing trees) or mixed-coniferous forests. In the winter they will be found in open woodlands, parks, and back yards.

Left: Red-breasted Nuthatch
Right: Dark Eyed Junco
The species of juncos that is most prevalent in our area is the dark-eyed junco. There is great variation in their plumage. The males have very dark feathers on their backs. This is a fairly small bird about 5"-6" long.

The red feeder (pictured above) is a new feeder. We recently put it out filled with seed. It took the birds several weeks before they started using it. I don't know if they didn't like the color because it was so bright and might attract predators. But now it's used freely by several birds.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

The nuthatches are very active and small birds. We have two varieties that visit our yard and feeders. The red-breasted and the white-breasted nuthatch. These birds are easily confused with the chickadees because they are all about the same size and very active flitting from branch-to-branch and feeder-to-feeder. 
Red-breasted nuthatch on suet feeder

They will eat seeds and suet. They will search for food under the bark on trees like the woodpeckers. 

They are abundant in the woods of the northern US and in the western mountains.

The difference between the red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches (other than the color of their breast) is that the red-breasted nuthatch has a black eye stripe and the white-breasted nuthatch lacks the stripe.

The nuthatches can creep up, down and sideways around a tree trunk. And they can feed upside down (as pictured above).

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch (lacks the eye stripe of the red-breasted nuthatch)
The white-breasted nuthatch is the largest nuthatch, but it is still a very small bird. You can attract them to your feeders by putting out suet, nuts and sunflower seeds.

They will often appear in a flock with some chickadees and so you will have to look closely to identify them.

White-breasted Nuthatch

Black-capped Chickadees

This is a very popular bird at bird feeders. It's personality is similar to that of the nuthatches in that they are a very active and busy bird. They are also very curious and even curious of humans. We have been able to feed them out of our hands. Of course I'm not as successful at that because I usually get too cold waiting for them to come and land on my hand. My husband has been more successful at feeding them out of his hands.  

Black-capped Chickadees

If you compare the photos of the white-breasted nuthatch and the red-breasted nuthatch you can see the similarities to the chickadees.

They are very quick as well. They usually don't stay at a bird feeder but will take the seeds from it and fly away and crack it open on a tree.

This chickadee got its name from one of the calls it makes: chickadee-dee-dee. Here is a link to the chickadees songs and calls. Scroll down in the link and click on the "Calls" in the article: Chickadee sounds

I will provide more information on some of our other bird visitors in a future issue of my blog.

Like I said- the chickadees are a very busy bird

If you want to see these birds in action- Here is a wonderful LIVE link to the Cornell Lab Bird Cam: Cornell Lab FeederWatch Cam
You can see woodpeckers, chickadees, goldfinches, ducks, and several other birds on here!
Note: Because this is a LIVE Bird Cam there is not much activity after dark. This Cam is on Eastern Standard Time.

Hope you enjoyed your visit!
Maybe you can attract some of these
 birds to your yard and feeders.
Feel free to leave a comment.


  1. You have a wonderful collection of birds and photos of them. I like the jays too but a hawk killed off three of the new brood this year. I miss them as they were quite friendly and not afraid of me. All I was left with was a yard of blue feathers.

    1. Thank you. That is so sad about losing your blue jays. That happens to us as well, but mostly the hawks attack the mourning doves because they are slow to respond to the quick hawks.

  2. Hi, I saw my first bald blue jay this year and later a bald cardinal. Had not known that they lose their head feathers annually. What a sight, I was afraid they were ill!

    1. Hi there! I have never seen either of those birds bald. How unusual. I knew they molted and replaced their feathers each year, but I didn't know that they could loose all their head feathers all at once. I looked it up online and it does occur just as you stated. It did say that it's possible that they might have gotten it from environmental or nutritional deficiencies, or lice or feather mites. The article also explained that birds can't preen their head either which hinders them from taking care of any problems in that area. And also that they usually grow back with no problems. Thanks for commenting.