2013: Birds of the Garden in Review

Well, it’s that time of year when people review various aspects of the year in the garden. As an avid backyard bird feeder, one thing I like to look back on is which birds showed up, which didn’t, and anything else that stands out in the avian department. So let’s get going, shall we?

Varied Thrush
Varied Thrush

Winter Into Spring

Varied Thrush. Perhaps I should have called this post The Year of the Varied Thrush. Because this bird, which looks like a big orange and black robin, would certainly be my avian MVP for 2013, if there were such a thing as an avian MVP.

The Varied Thrush is not a rare bird at home in the Pacific Northwest, but only one or two are seen in the Chicago area very year. Depending on who you ask, these individuals have either lost their way due to poor health or they simply fly to the beat of a different drummer, preferring their own exclusive winter destinations. (“Dear, simply everyone is wintering in Baja! Let’s beat the crowds and go to Chicago instead!”)

Varied Thrush
Varied Thrush

If the latter applies to my VT, then I have reason to hope I will see it in 2014. This year we first noticed him in late January, and he made itself at home in my back garden until the middle of April. I’ll be keeping my eyes open.

birders
Birders at the back fence.

The VT brought bird watchers who were eager for a sight that usually required a plane ticket to Seattle. Judy and I had to remember to get fully dressed before coming down in the morning, as for several months we were likely to find bird enthusiasts, equipped with some monster lenses, lined up in the alley along our fence.

Northern Flicker
Northern Flicker at the suet feeder

Woodpeckers. It was also a good winter for Northern Flickers, who seemed to overcome their usual shyness and would feed very close to the house. We also saw them feeding on the ground, which I have never noticed before.

Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpeckers were plentiful, and Hairy Woodpeckers made occasional appearances. We didn’t see any Red Bellied Woodpeckers in 2013, though they had been common in prior years.

red breasted nuthatch
red breasted nuthatch

There were a huge number of red breasted nuthatches, which are normally pretty rare around here. The larger and more common white breasted could also be seen frequently walking up tree trunks or noshing at the peanut feeders.

White breasted nuthatch
White breasted nuthatch

Spring Migrants. I have never seen as many Baltimore Orioles as I did this last spring, which is good because they are one of my favorite birds. They made themselves very much at home in my back garden, compelling me to buy about three jars of grape jelly every week. It was nice to see lots of juveniles with the adults.

Male Baltimore Oriole
Male Baltimore Oriole
Juvenile Baltimore Oriole
Juvenile Baltimore Oriole

White Crowned and White Throated Sparrows made frequent appearances.

Cardinal eggs
My very own Cardinal eggs which probably did not come to a good end.

Oh, and I got very excited when I found a Cardinal nest in the tangle of Trumpet Honeysuckle and Prairie Rose against the back wall. Something bad must have happened to the eggs, though, as the juveniles never made their appearance.

Rose Breasted Grosbeak
Rose Breasted Grosbeak.

And there were fewer Rose Breasted Grosbeaks than usual.

Summer

If winter and spring were a birding feast, summer was a quick descent into famine. The pickings seemed to be limited almost entirely to nuisance birds: grackles, starlings, house sparrows. Normally we see Baltimore Orioles all through the summer, but this year they stayed in the tree tops after early July.

There were Mourning Doves, who are fine but not very exciting. Also goldfinches, in modest numbers.

An odd thing was the absence of Chickadees, who are normally plentiful throughout the year.

Fall and into Winter Again

Northern flicker
Northern Flicker feeding on the ground.

Things picked up when the weather cooled, then turned frigid. Our usual woodpeckers and nuthatches became a common sight again. Cardinals became quite plentiful, more so as the transition into another winter began.

bluejay
Bluejay with peanut.

One new development was the arrival of Bluejays, once a common bird but not seen in our garden since we moved here. Not everyone loves bluejays, as they are rude, loud, and greedy. Even so, I was glad to see them, even as they emptied out my peanut feeder.

Cardinal, Deutzia
Cardinal perching in a Deutzia bush.

***

So those are the highlights. I should mention that we saw a number of raptors: Red Tailed Hawks, Coopers Hawks, and Kestrels. In fact we saw a red tailed hawk on the back fence today. But Judy wasn’t able to get any good pictures, either today or the rest of the year.

Have there been any exciting bird developments in your garden?

54 Comments on “2013: Birds of the Garden in Review

  1. My backyard bird of the year has to be the Baltimore Oriole. Most years I don’t even see them in my yard, but in 2013, for about ten days in early May, my yard was completely overrun with them. Glorious birds!

  2. That Varied Thrush is beautiful. I have never seen one. We get most of the other birds you mention, especially the flickers. We also have two pairs of blue birds that come to the same bird houses every year but the tree swallow always try to chase them away. However the blue birds usually manage to raise one brood.

  3. Bravo Jason, bravo,
    What a refreshing and entertaining post. Not at all familiar with the rose breasted grosbeaks. Looks like an engaging cage bird finch. Thanks for sharing, my friend.

  4. It is an absolute treat to see your garden birds Jason, especially as we don’t have any of these. The only one I’m familiar with is the Northern Flicker, but they are all amazing to me. Gosh, twitchers at your back gate, how very astonishing! An absolutely fantastic post.xxx

  5. I love that y’all document your birds. Such a great idea! I had two rufous hummingbirds last winter. It was such a treat and I got spoiled having hummers in my garden year round that year. Very disappointed that neither of them have returned but I am keeping my fingers crossed. I saw a flicker in my garden this fall for the first time. I have also watched it feed on the ground. Like you, I have seen an increase in bluejay populations this year. I think they are beautiful birds. I have too giggle about the amount of grape jelly you go through for the Baltimore Orioles. I don’t see them in my part of the world. What do they eat if not for grape jelly?

  6. The bluebirds have staked out the garden as theirs… and anyone trying to take the houses (even the wren house) are promptly cast out. They were successful nesting this year in the garden and producing some offspring and their numbers have grown to about 10.

  7. What a variety of birds, nice! I guess you feed all year? I really don’t know much about summer feeding, but it seems to bring in a whole new crew of birds that normally are up in the trees out of sight.
    Have you seen any collared doves in your area? I hear they are on their way….

    • I do feed all year, though I wonder if it is worth it. I have never heard of collared doves, not sure if they are common in this area.

  8. You have some gorgeous birds in your area! Cardinals fascinate me as I’ve never seen one in person. Because of our recent cold snap, I’ve had to bring the humming bird feeders in to thaw them out at night and get them back out early in the morning for our local humming birds. Brr!

    • Cardinals are a favorite of mine and look so great in snowy winter. I don’t have any hummingbird feeders but I am thinking about trying them.

  9. Oh yes, I remember that group of paparazzi that came to stalk the varied thrushes in your yard. Its always fun to see the birds that fly into your garden..especially since you know their names and what they like to eat! Thanks for the education on the birds!

  10. It’s fascinating seeing all these birds that are unknown in my part of the world. We had the normal visitors, and currently a family of crows is keeping us entertained. A tamed raven visited us recently and after dipping, diving and calling he did a proper fly-past dipping his wings as he went. Now I know where jet pilots got that idea from!

  11. Great images of your visitors, as Cathy above says they seem very strange to European eyes. Lovely to have so many birds all year although I’m not sure I would be very happy about the twichers!

  12. Wonderful pictures and a great account of the variety of species you get in your great yard! If it had not been for the Varied Thrush I never would have found your blog as I was one of those birders peering over your back fence last winter. I must say you get a greater variety of birds in your excellent yard. I will have to visit again. I think my new yard bird this year was a Gray Catbird but I’ll have to check. Anyway glad to read this as I find myself awake in the middle of the night. 🙂

    • I have seen a gray catbird on rare occasions. I love that feline call they have. I’m sure the jet lag will wear off soon and your sleep will get back to normal.

  13. Hi Jason, I very much enjoyed this post as I’m a keen birdwatcher myself and spot a lot of unknown feathered friends here. I’d love them around here but you can keep the guys hanging over your fence. 😉

  14. Really enjoyed reading about the bird life in your garden Jason. I can never get good pictures of mine. The Varied Thrush is gorgeous–what a treat that would be. Years ago I remember seeing Baltimore Orioles passing through at my previous garden. They only spent an hour or two then went on their way. You really have some nice birds visiting. Here’s one I’d love to see again. When we first moved here twelve years ago we spotted a Summer Tanager, but never again since. Susie

    • There are tanagers around here but I have never seen one. That is one that I really want to attract to my garden, along with cedar waxwings.

  15. i laughed at the sight of all those huge cameras thrust over your fence! the first day they started showing up you must’ve been, “what the…..?”
    So tell us….how did word of the VT get out to everyone?
    Great post and even greater variety of avian visitors!

    • Word got out because I asked for help with ID, then gave a friend permission to post on a Yahoo birding group site. Overall, I don’t regret it.

  16. You got a wonderful selection of birds this year, Jason. Always new birds showing up, but since I started with the birdwatchers, my backyard birds just are not as much fun. There are snowy owls in our area which is rare, but I have not seen one yet. The other birdwatchers all have photos. I have just not gone anywhere to see them yet.

    • I’ve heard there are snowy owls here also, but haven’t seen one. As for birdwatching, it’s really something I prefer to do from the comfort of my enclosed porch.

  17. I enjoyed this rundown of birds in your garden this year. Such good luck that you got some good photos of the varied thrush. Here they are so skittish, they fly off at the slightest sign of movement behind a window. I’ve never managed to get a photo. I wonder if yours are less skittish or more brave than ours? I can’t imagine any of ours sticking around with that enormous horde of watchers gawking at them.

    • That’s funny. I think there was only one varied thrush, but he was something of an exhibitionist. Maybe his unusual personality also explains why he spent his winter in Chicago.

  18. What a sweet post! I think the chickadees were up here all summer. I don’t think a day goes by all year that I don’t see black-capped chickadees. I love their summer song! We also had more northern flickers than in the past, and a very similar experience with their behaviors. No Baltimore orioles, though. Is jam the secret?! Also, I remember your posts about the varied thrush. That is so wonderful! I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one!

  19. Wow…I am astounded by how many birds you have…I swear, we seem to only have half a dozen different kinds (although I’m awful at telling them apart). Is it bad that I kind of miss the good ol’ Blue Jays from back home…I now they are bratty and loud…but they are so pretty!

  20. I probably would have been one of those birders at your fence if I lived closer. 🙂 It is great that you shared your finding with the birding community.

  21. I’m glad I made it here to this post. I enjoyed seeing all of those lovely birds, and got a kick out of their paparazzi. I’m not familiar with that thrush. I was thinking about the fact that I’m not seeing as many kinds of birds around lately the other day. I don’t mind the blue jays, either. We haven’t been filling our feeders, though. We have had lots of seedheads for them to eat, except, now that it has snowed, we plan on getting the feeders filled. I hope spring comes quickly!

    • Things here have been up and down in terms of numbers and kinds of birds. The first half of the year was amazing, then we had a real summer lull. I guess there was lots of natural food so the feeders hold less interest.

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