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Today is cool, grey and damp here in Maryland. It’s not the kind of spring 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 grey wet days can be the most interesting bird watching days in the backyard.
When I got up this morning, I put on a few layers, grabbed my first cup of coffee and sat on the back step to see what I could see. The regulars quickly showed themselves: Mourning Doves, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, White-Breasted Nuthatch and Northern Cardinal.
Cardinals, particularly the males, have been spending huge amounts of time chasing each other all over the yard lately. It is a wonder that they have time to eat and sleep with all this zipping around! It’s a sign of spring.
Sparrows Coming & Going
I was very pleased to hear the White-Throated Sparrow’s beautiful song 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. 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, having started north on their own spring migration. But on the bright side, 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. It is bringing birds to us rather than away . . . at least for awhile. Many 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 in the backyard tree tops for the last week or so. The other day a single Pine Warbler was moving around with them.
Today, four Yellow-Rumped Warblers seemed to favor the droopy catkins that dangle all over the spring oak trees like yellow-green tinsel. They must be finding good insects there. These warblers move around a lot but aren’t that hard to see. (They can still 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 continuous motion.
More Backyard Bird Regulars
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 males seemed to be moving in gender segregated groups. (I’ve noticed that a lot with Red-Winged Blackbirds. Often males will be moving around dominating feeders while females, if with them at all, are 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 to make it more challenging for them.)
American Robins & Gray Catbirds
Walking around, I also saw American Robins bobbing around on the grass in the front yard. And three Gray Catbirds were 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 I’d seen what there was to see and should go inside to warm up numb fingers, I saw something new. A pair of Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks visited 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 twigs from the taller trees in the yard or snag one from a brush pile.
They crack me up to watch. When they have located something they want, they sit near it and do their loud nasal call, apparently to announce ownership. Then they 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 requisitioned pieces of straw spread out in part of our yard. I’m assuming these are to help line the nest.
Cooper’s Hawk & American Goldfinches
Since Fish Crows have taken up residence, Cooper’s Hawks have been absent, much to the relief of other birds. The Cooper’s had been targeting the flock of American Goldfinches particularly.
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 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 a Fish Crow 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 random pieces of suet I left on the ground when I re-filled one of the suet feeders earlier. Apparently it was quite tasty.
Backyard Birds on a Damp Day
Birds in the backyard are often very active on damp spring days. Wet days are great days for bird watching.
What is happening in your backyard?
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