2012: The Year in Birds (Part I)

Backyard bird watching has had its rewards and disappointments this year. Among the high points were the first ever appearances of cedar waxwings and indigo buntings. The cedar waxwings just hung around for a week or so, but I’ve planted a number of their favorites (including serviceberry and both black and red elderberry), so I’m optimistic they’ll stay longer next year.

Cedar Waxwing

Sadly we didn’t get any good pictures of the indigo buntings, who were also present for just a brief time in spring. I have lots of asters, Rudbeckias, and other plants that leave seeds loved by buntings and other small finches. I also spread some millet seed on the ground. Not sure which of these did the trick.

We have had some exciting visits from a number of predator birds, such as this red-tailed hawk. We’ve also seen kestrels and, on one occasion, an owl – but no pictures of those.  It seems if you attract enough birds, the predators will show up. Now and then we see a clump of feathers or other grisly evidence of a successful hunt. This doesn’t really bother me, though I wish they would confine themselves to starlings, grackles, house sparrows, and rodents.

Red-Tailed Hawk on the back fence.

One disappointment this year was the scarcity of rose breasted grosbeaks. Last year we’d have five or six at a time, and they were present for at least four weeks in May and June. This year we only saw one or two at a time, and for a shorter period.

Rose Breasted Grosbeak

On the other hand, Baltimore orioles have become a very common sight in our garden from May into September. They first showed up in our yard about three years ago. They normally live high in the tree tops but will come down for the love of grape jelly. We love watching the orioles feeding: how they seem to smack their beaks, then try to wipe their beaks on some hard surface to scrape off the sticky stuff.

Male Baltimore Oriole
Baltimore orioles, adult feeding juvenile.

Robins seem to love our yard, as they are very plentiful. You can see them eating wild currants or hunting for bugs on the lawn or in the mulch. They may be a common bird, but I find them very endearing, especially the young juveniles like the one below.

Juvenile robin at the edge of the bird bath.

So how was the bird watching in your garden this year?

31 Comments on “2012: The Year in Birds (Part I)

  1. Excellent photos! I’ve never seen a rose-breasted grosbeak – what pretty little things. Cedar waxwings are quite common here, and this year I’ve seen more hawks than ever before. Robins and woodpeckers were plentiful this summer as well.

  2. Great bird images, you’re lucky to have a wide variety of birds visit your garden. We just get the pidgeons, noisy miners, sometimes the more colourful species visit, but not for long.

    • I just googled noisy miners, had never heard of them before. Are they really noisy? Very interesting-looking with that color around the eye.

  3. Great photos!!! A sign of a successful bird feeding operation is the appearance of predators – which reminds me, I have not seen “my” hawk lately (it seems to favor mourning doves and rabbits). This year I had a ton of robins, lots of finches, the usual sparrows, a brief appearance by indigo bunting, but for about 6 weeks in late summer/early fall, nothing, even barely any sparrows. They are back like gangbusters now, though, along with juncos, titmice, and nuthatches. I have an oriole feeder I have yet to put up – maybe next year. And I am redoing the “meadow” – I’ve been collecting ideas, mostly from your garden!

    • We have those lulls in bird activity as well. The juncos have appeared recently here as well, along with the white and red breasted nuthatches.

  4. Great pics! I would love to have the Orioles stay longer at my house.. If they come, they usually come around the first of April and only stay a couple of weeks. I also saw my first indigo bunting this summer and they are beautiful in person. My favorites are the eastern bluebirds, though. I have 5 nest boxes around the fields and usually have 2-3 broods each spring and summer. I love watching them grow up.

  5. I envy you your Baltimore Orioles. I think I’m a little bit too far south for them. But how do you keep the ants out of the grape jelly? In my yard, the swarms of robins and mockingbirds have descended upon the callicarpa and winterberry holly berries. We are lucky here in central NC – we have great birdwatching all year. Woodpeckers, chickadees, cardinals, hawks, tufted titmouse, and many others stick around all winter.

    • Honestly, I don’t keep the ants out of the grape jelly, they make a steady vertical commute up the bird feeding pole. But the birds eat them, I figure that gives them some protein with the jelly, plus calcium from the exoskeletons.

    • We have some of the smaller woodpeckers: downy, hairy, and occasional red bellies. We used to have a flicker but not for a couple of years. No magpies, but plenty of other spoiler birds: grackles, starlings, house sparrows.

  6. I so enjoyed your photo of the Cedar Waxwing adult feeding the juvenile. I don’t see Cedar Waxwings very often. I hope as I add more of their food sources, I’ll get more and different birds. As for the predators, I do wish they would confine their eating to the “bad” birds. Maybe they don’t taste as good.~~Dee

    • I wish I could I would offer a bounty to the hawks – one free chicken wing for every grackle head. Guess that would get kind grisly after a while.

  7. You have some beautiful photos of your birds – and they are so colorful and pretty! I don’t feed the birds, due to our cats, although we were graced with a flock of Cedar Waxwings one year. They were glorious. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen them back. Guess they didn’t like us very much!

    • Thanks so much. It seems the longer you feed the birds, the more diverse the species you get. I feed with sunflower, peanuts, nyjer, and suet, plus grape jelly during the warm months.

  8. Great photos, love that picture of the hawk. Our property was just a big lawn 3 years ago when we moved in and as I’ve begun gardening we’ve noticed more and more birds. Unfortunately we have cats that cause issues so I never put food out, just enjoy catching glimpses of them in the trees.

    • Judy gets all the credit for the photographs. That hawk seemed to be posing for us one day. I’m sure you’ll see more birds as your garden comes along.

  9. Great post! We had more birds than ever in our garden this year. I think they appreciated the stocked bird feeders and the bird bath during the drought. I’m terrible at capturing them with my camera, but you’ve done a great job here! I didn’t realize Orioles like Grape jelly! I’ll try that next year because Orange sections didn’t work for me. I love Cedar Waxwings! They seem to spend about a week or two here in the springtime when the Apples and Crab Apples are blooming. Lots of great info and inspiration in this post. Thanks!

  10. I’ve never seen a rose breasted grosbeak but for the last couple of years a flock of evening grossbeaks have visited our feeders for a few weeks in the spring and fall. Rarely we see a western tanager or two stop by to bathe in our pond. I love cedar waxwings but have never observed one in our yard but a neighbor about 6 blocks away saw a flock in her holly tree a couple of winters ago. Their Bohemian cousins were regular visitors to our mountain ash trees in the winter in Alaska. American Goildfinches, our state bird, are numerous year round and are so colorful in the spring and summer. We also have a couple of small hawks that hang around sometimes but would love to (never have) see owls at our place. Stellar Jays are starting to like it here in the last couple of years, their inky blue color making me very happy. Couple of kinds of woodpeckers, sparrows, chikadees, finches, cute little titmice, and noisy armies of starlings round out the population. Do you have cardinals there? They haven’t moved this far west and I’ve never seen one in person.

    • Yes, cardinals are pretty common and are one of my favorites. I’ll have pictures in Part II. There are scarlet tanagers in this area and are on my wish list of birds to attract to the yard. We have no stellar jays but occasional blue jays. Starlings are among the banes of my existence, I like them in small doses but as you say they come in armies.

  11. I’m envious of your Grosbeaks and Orioles, we don’t get those around here except for quick pass-throughs or fly-bys. The highlight for us this year has to be the family of Brown Headed Nuthatches, especially considering we’re outside their breeding range. They are one of my favorite birds, cute and so full of personality. Honorable mention goes to our neighbors (not normally known for their wildlife friendliness) who put up a Purple Martin nest box, so all summer our skies were full of the chatter and gurgles of martins for the first time.

    • We don’t have brown headed nuthatches, but we have white and red breasted. I also enjoy nuthatches, so pretty and quick. I’ve seen martin houses at the prairie in the Chicago Botanic Garden, don’t they need a lot of open space?

  12. Hi there. Great pictures of the birds in your garden. I have recently gotten to know that look of the Red-tailed Hawk! I live in Toronto, Canada, and earlier this week, my wife, Jean, and I came upon an adult Red-tailed Hawk in Markham, Ontario. We have read that stalking a hawk is no easy task,that you have to sneak up on them when they are looking the other way. Well, this Hawk was only looking one way when it landed, and that was right at us! Fortunately, we had our camera with us and got some good pictures and video. We have posted them for anyone interested at: http://frametoframe.ca/photo-essay-red-tailed-hawk-sighting-markham-ontario

    • I checked out your photo essay and loved it! We were lucky, our RTH just perched on the back fence and seemed to pose for a few minutes.

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