Sunday, January 12, 2014

More Feathered Friends

Male Cardinal
Everyone loves pictures of birds in winter. . . especially the Northern Cardinals! With their pointed crests, bright red feathers, orange beaks, and black throats, they really are stunning against the white snow. Such a beautiful sight. The males are much brighter than the female to attract predators away from the female while she is sitting on the nest and raising their young. This is true in several other species of birds. The female Northern Cardinals are yellow-brown with some red on the wings and crest. You will find cardinals in hedge rows, wood margins and suburbs.

You usually can tell what kinds of seeds/nuts birds prefer by the size and shape of their beaks. The Northern Cardinal beaks are very large, conical shaped and designed for cracking open large seeds such as the sunflower seeds, one of their most favorite foods. The baby Northern Cardinals' coloring is that of the female and their beaks are black.

Female Cardinal
If you live in the north and hear the song of the Northern Cardinal at the end of winter, you know that spring is just around the corner. Such a beautiful song. Here is a link to their call and song: Northern Cardinal Sounds (when the link opens scroll down and click on the arrows for the Songs and Calls)

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpeckers: The red-bellied woodpeckers are about 10" long. They live in open and swampy woodlands. We are on the northern edge of their territory. You usually will not find this bird any farther north. If you do then they will usually migrate south for the winter. Otherwise they do not migrate. They will come to feeders in winter for seeds and suet. This bird, in the past, was scarcer in the north, but they have since expanded their breeding range. The first time I saw one of these birds around our house in the winter, I was very surprised seeing as they were so rare this far north. Now they are one of our frequent winter visitors.

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker
If you notice the difference between the male and female Red-bellied Woodpecker, there is less red on the top of the female's head than on the male's.

You can see a slight red coloring on the belly

I have no idea where they got the name Red-bellied Woodpecker from for this woodpecker. There certainly is not much red on their belly. But they didn't consult me when they were naming this species of woodpecker.

I like this photo because you can see a Hairy Woodpecker in the branch on the left,
 and a Red-bellied Woodpecker on the suet feeder.

Hairy Woodpecker and Downy Woodpecker: Two other woodpeckers that are fairly common around our place are the Hairy Woodpecker and Downy Woodpecker. They are common in mixed woods of pine and deciduous trees. The major difference between the two would be their size. The Hairy Woodpecker is about 9" (the size of a robin), and the Downy Woodpecker is about 6" (the size of a sparrow). The sexes are similar in coloring except the male has a red patch on the back of his head. The Downy Woodpecker also has a smaller bill. The Downy Woodpecker is the most common woodpecker in the east and is also common in some of the west as well. You also might find Downy Woodpeckers in the suburbs and orchards. Try putting out some suet if you want to attract them to your yards. The Hairy Woodpecker is more shy than the Downy Woodpecker and is more apt to be found in the forest.
White-breasted Nuthatch on left and male Downy Woodpecker on right

If you look at the woodpeckers' beaks, they are huge. They are used for hammering nuts and acorns open, making holes in trees to search for bugs and ants, and also carving out spaces in trees for nesting cavities. They also eat grasshoppers, wood-boring beetles, and other pests, and may store their food.

Hand-warming female Downy Woodpecker
after it flew into one of our windows.
Some wild birds can be hand fed like chickadees and nuthatches, but this downy woodpecker flew into one of our windows and was pretty well stunned. If you missed my post on chickadees, blue jays, nuthatches, and juncos, you can find it here in this issue: This One Is For The Birds

This Downy Woodpecker was lying on the ground and not moving or making any attempt at getting up to fly away. Not sure if this female would have made it if my husband hadn't gone out to warm her up. It was pretty cold that day and my husband warmed her in his hand for about 20 minutes. She was finally able to fly up into one of the trees and sat their for awhile until she finally flew off.

Because we have been feeding the birds for so many years we've tried several devices to keep birds from flying into the windows. We haven't been able to find anything that works. We've tried putting up silhouettes of hawks but that didn't work either.

Downy Woodpecker flew into this tree after it recovered.

That's one of the hazards of feeding birds near your house. They sometimes fly into your windows and can cause damage to your property and to them as well. It becomes dangerous when hawks are searching out smaller birds for food so they come into the area where the birds are feeding. When the birds are scared like that they just scatter and sometimes forget the windows are there. And we've had hawks fly into our windows as well. Just last year we had to have one of our bathroom windows repaired from a hawk flying into it. The hawk must have been fine and flew off because we never saw it on the ground after that. Several years ago we had a hawk fly into our living room picture window. We had a feeder out front that we have since moved away from the windows. You might want to consider where you place your feeders outside and make sure they are placed away from windows.

Would you look at the size of that squirrel??? He's looking a little confused. He's used to helping himself to the suet in our old feeder. My husband replaced our old suet feeder with this one and now he can't steal the whole block of suet anymore.

Gold Finch on back of feeder and Purple Finch on right

Purple Finch: The above bird, the Purple Finch, was a rare siting for us last week. Right before we had those very cold temperatures (minus 10 F) this bird, along with some Gold Finches, were feeding at our feeders. This was the only picture I got of the Purple Finch. I was hoping to get some additional pictures, but after I took this he flew off never to be seen again. The Purple Finches are hard to distinguish between the House Finches because the coloring is so similar and they are the same size. The House Finches have heavier brown streaking on the sides of their breasts below the wings. The female Purple Finches do not have any red on them and they are heavily streaked on the breast and under the wings. They prefer to breed in coniferous forests, but will breed in mixed forests of deciduous and pine trees. In the winter you can find them in shrubs at the edge of a forest, fields and they will visit feeders. They prefer the black oil sunflower seeds.

Gold Finch
Gold Finch: Another bird that has been visiting our feeders regularly this winter is the Gold Finch. The gold finches molt (lose their feathers) in the fall and their winter feathers grow in a lot duller than their bright spring yellow coloring. In winter the males are almost the same color as the females. The males' spring and summer colors are bright yellow with a black forehead and white wing bars, and white on their rump while the females retain their dull colors.
When gold finches fly they have an undulating flight pattern and usually sing one of their calls.

Junco on top branch and Mourning Doves on bottom branch.
Mourning Doves: The mourning doves are a very common bird across the country. They mostly forage for their food on the ground but if snow is covering up their food supply, they will take food from a feeder. When they are taking off for flight their wings make a loud whistling noise. Quite often you will see the mourning doves on telephone wires. One of the mornings where it was extremely cold at our house we found several of them sleeping in one of our back yard trees (pictured above). This helps to insulate their bodies against the cold and retain energy.

"In order to see birds it's necessary to become a part of the silence."
 -Robert Lynd

I enjoy sharing my knowledge
of birds with you.
Hope you found it interesting as well. 
Feel free to leave a comment. . .


  1. Love the birds Sue. We are seeing many of the same including Tufted Titmouse and our first Red-Bellied woodpecker. Fabulous info!

    1. Thanks Donna. I haven't seen the Tufted Titmouse yet this year, but last year they were here and we got some pictures of them. I might post them at a later date.

  2. Good post Sue, information packed. The Downys can be added to the list of hand tamed birds too. Beautiful photos you got of your backyard birds.
    Cornell has a good page on keeping birds from window collisions,
    It is very useful with many ideas.

  3. Thanks for the information, Donna. I didn't realize that the Downy Woodpeckers could be hand fed. I checked out the information on the Cornell website and picked up some new information on helping to keep the birds away from flying into your windows. I might share some of them in one of my future blog posts.

    1. They do know their stuff. I find either having the feeder very close to the window or more then 10 feet away seems good distances. The birds actually come to the window I am photographing them from just to see what I am doing. Once a hummingbird flew right though the open window into the room. In my office is where a few birds hit the windows and no food is out front. They only get stunned and luckily no deaths.

  4. This was such an informative and interesting post and I love your photos of the wonderful!

    1. Thank you Lee. We have been enjoying watching the birds for several years now.

  5. we are having trouble with the squirrels also. The grain store recommended feeding them corn cobs and gradually moving them away from the feeders. This we have done but not too successful. Those guys still come back to the feeders. our platform squirrel proof feeder is somewhat good but the hanging one is better at keeping them out. My biggest concern is those varmints getting into the attic. Time will tell if that happens. Thanks again for your work on the blog.

    1. Squirrels can be a big problem. They will get in garages, sheds, attics and tend to destroy a lot of objects to use for nesting materials. The red squirrels live mostly in the pine trees and that's why we have an abundance of them. They eat the seeds from the pine cones, spruce buds and needles, mushrooms, and bird eggs. I think if you have trees you're probably going to get some kind of squirrel. The squirrel-proof bird feeders to help, but then sometimes if takes the birds awhile to get used to eating our of them. Thanks for your comments.