Today is cool and grey and damp here in Maryland. It’s not the kind of day where you wake up with an overwhelming desire to spend the day outdoors. In fact, staying inside wrapped in something warm is appealing. But often the grey wet days can be the most interesting bird days in the yard.
When I got up this morning, I put on a few layers, grabbed my first cup of coffee and sat out on the back step to see what I could see. The usuals quickly showed themselves: Mourning Doves, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, White-Breasted Nuthatch and Northern Cardinal. The cardinals, particularly the males, have been spending huge amounts of time chasing each other all over the yard. It is a wonder that they have time to eat and sleep with all this zipping around!
I was very pleased to also hear the mournful song of the White-Throated Sparrow when I woke up this morning. Yesterday I only saw one, looking very lonely; I had thought they were starting their northward migration as I usually see more very regularly each day. But today I saw five. I like these little guys and miss them when they’ve moved on. (Their buddies, the Dark-Eyed Juncos have been gone for about two weeks now, having started north on their own spring migration.) But on the bright side, the cute little Chipping Sparrows have arrived to hold up the sparrow team’s spot in the yard for the summer.
The spring warbler migration is in full swing here in Maryland and is bringing birds to us rather than away . . . at least for awhile. Many of them will continue north and we won’t see them again until fall. I’ve been seeing Yellow-Rumped Warblers, one of the more common types, energetically hunting insects at the top of the trees around my yard for about the last week or so as well as a single Pine Warbler the other day who seemed to be moving around with them. Today, four of the Yellow-Rumped Warblers seemed to be favoring the droopy catkins that dangle all over the spring oak trees like yellow-green tinsel. I’m not sure if they are actually eating the catkins or are finding insects there. These warblers move around a lot but aren’t that hard to see (although can be hard to photograph, something I’m still working on.) To locate them, you just have to look up into the trees and watch for their continuous motion.
As I stayed out in the yard longer, I saw more regulars, including American Goldfinches, House Finches, a pair of Brown-Headed Cowbirds, two female Red-Winged Blackbirds and two male Red-Winged Blackbirds, who seemed to be moving in gender segregated groups. (I’ve noticed that a lot with Red-Winged Blackbirds; often the males will be moving around dominating the feeders while the females, if they are with them at all, will be off peacefully eating seed on the ground with the sparrows.)
A European Starling stopped by to make another futile pass at the suet and three Common Grackles kept hovering around trying to get sunflower seed out of the Squirrel Buster Plus feeders. (I’ve got the perches shortened which makes it hard for them.)
Walking around, I also saw some American Robins bobbing around the front yard as well as three Grey Catbirds, moving around as a team. The catbirds were foraging in the leaf mulch under the bushes but also seemed intent on getting some suet. They had some trouble with it because I’ve got the suet starling proofed. The downside of that is that sometimes other birds find it challenging to access as well. Catbirds are not uncommon in my area, but for some reason eBird flagged my sighting as rare. I’m guessing that it isn’t the species that is unusual but rather seeing three together.
Just when I was thinking that I’d seen what there was to see and that I should go inside and warm up my numb fingers, I saw something new. A pair of Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks visited today for the first time. I think the last time I had a grosbeak in my yard it was in the early ’80s when we lived down in Laurel. These are such beautiful birds. The male, with his bright contrasty black and white and red colors tends to get all the attention, but the female is lovely too with crisp patterns of soft brown and white with just a hint of yellow. They seemed attracted to the sunflower seeds in the hanging platform feeder.
Our local pair of Fish Crows have been a bit quieter today. They have been busy building a nest high up in a pine tree in the yard behind us for the past couple of weeks. They come into our yard and break off small twig sized branches from the taller trees in the yard or snag a twig from one of the brush piles I’ve built around the yard for the birds. They crack me up to watch. When they have located something they want, they will sit near it and do their loud nasal call, apparently to announce that it is their’s. Then they’ll pick it up in their beak and fly to another spot. They’ll sit there in a tree quietly for a little while and move to another spot. After moving around this way for about ten minutes, they will have eventually worked their way over to the nest site. As well as twigs, they have also acquisitioned pieces of straw that were spread out in our yard in one area, I’m assuming to help line the nest.
I have noticed that since the Fish Crows have taken up residence that the Cooper’s Hawks have been absent from the yard, much to the relief of the birds at the feeders. The Cooper’s was targeting the flock of American Goldfinches particularly and after being relentlessly hunted for weeks they finally made themselves scarce for awhile to the point where we would only see three or four in a day. (In the winter we typically had about fifty and as many as seventy-eight!) Over the past few days they’ve started to return and now we’re seeing twelve to fifteen a day.
I suspect that the Fish Crows probably mobbed the Cooper’s so she wouldn’t be a threat to their young, although I didn’t witness it; it’s just speculation based on the timing. But this mobbing behavior can go both ways. Today I watched one of the Fish Crows trying to gather more twigs from a tree in my yard with a Blue Jay sitting on a branch nearby yelling at it and occasionally diving at it.
But the Fish Crows aren’t going anywhere. Just now one of them hopped down on the ground near the feeders to pick up some random pieces of suet that I left on the ground when I re-filled one of the suet feeders earlier. Apparently it was quite tasty.
What is happening in your backyard?