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Posts Tagged ‘bushtits’

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

dark-eyed junco

dark-eyed junco

Steller's jay

Steller’s jay

varied thrush

varied thrush

It’s that time of year again: the Great Backyard Bird Count! I’ve been putting out extra goodies for the birds and faithfully counting–or trying to count–each feathered friend that drops by. It’s as much a challenge as ever to get an exact count of juncos that blend into the winter ground and chickadees that flit in and out, so that I can’t tell if the one at the feeder now is a new bird or the one I just counted. The big birds are easy–the jays, flickers, varied thrushes. But those little gray and brown guys–whew! And then there are the “missing in action”–the birds I know are around somewhere, but that won’t come by to be counted. The cute little bushtits haven’t dropped in yet. One downy woodpecker visited the suet feeder today, but the hairy woodpecker hasn’t been by. I only have robins because I took a walk and saw them down the street.

There’s still one more day left, so if you want to take part, throw out some birdseed and see who shows up. It really is great fun watching the birds interact as they gobble down the food–some of them are real characters. Give it a try! And here are some of the ones I saw today, filmed through the window, so please excuse the blurriness.

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Steller's jay  This past weekend was the annual Great Backyard Bird Count. Whenever I could find the time, I stood by the window, looking out at the dogwood tree that holds a seed feeder, suet feeder, and bird bath. The GBBC asks participants to count the birds at their feeders–or in their backyards. Then you enter your count at their site, and it can be compared with thousands of others from around the world. The number to enter for each species is the greatest number you can see at one time. Sounds easy, right? Well, it is when it comes to the big birds–the jays, crows, woodpeckers, and those nasty starlings. The little birds are another story completely.Bushtit flock

First there are the chickadees. First, because they show up at the feeder before I can even get it hung up in the morning. However, chickadees are perpetual motion machines, never staying in one place for more than a few seconds. And we have two species of chickadees. Try to get an accurate count of those little guys as they whip in and out of the trees and feeders! The bushtits aren’t much easier, although they are awfully cute for plain, little gray birds.

BushtitThen there are the sparrows and related little birds. Juncos, finches, etc. All kind of brown, perhaps with some stripes. House sparrows, house finches, golden-crowned sparrows, white-crowned sparrows… A person could get dizzy trying to keep up. At least the towhees are easy to tell apart from the others. And the lone varied thrush that pecks quietly at the seeds on the ground.downy woodpecker and starling

And how about those birds that show up the day before the GBBC and then disappear, only to reappear the day after. The stinkers! And that single Eurasian collared dove that dropped in for the first time the day after. Why couldn’t it have come a day early? Is it really cheating if I add a couple of birds from the next day?? Then there’s that leucistic sparrow-type bird. If anyone can tell me what it is, please do. I am not quite certain.

leucistic sparrow-type birdTime to turn in my lists and add my tiny bit of data to the Great Backyard Bird Count. It is nice to be a part of such a great program–even if the birds don’t always cooperate.

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Action at the feeder

What an exciting day at the feeder! I didn’t have to work this morning, so I devoted extra time to the Great Backyard Bird Count—and it was definitely worth it. I saw 23 different species, including some I don’t see every day, such as the red-breasted sapsucker, white-crowned sparrow, and pine siskin. Most of the regulars showed up. No bushtits today, unfortunately—I was hoping to get a picture of them swarming the feeder. But lots of others, including a new bird for my life list: the Eurasian collared dove. A flock of about ten landed in a nearby tree and then began dropping, one by one, down to the ground under the feeder. I had to look them up in my bird book, but once I did, the identification was simple. I just wish I had my camera out then!

The birds seemed especially feisty today. (Was it something they ate??) Little birds flitted in and out of the feeders, regular as widgets on an assembly line: juncos, sparrows, finches, nuthatches, chickadees. As I tried to get an accurate count, they played musical chairs, and I could never be certain if the new individual I saw was really the same one I had just counted on the other side of the bush.

Starlings tried to dominate the suet feeder, but the flicker shouldered them out of the way. Two starlings got into a squabble, rolling around on the ground together, pecking at each other, until both took off to other places.

Scrub jay gathering nuts

Then came the jay wars. The jays had been getting along, but then I tossed a bunch of birdseed on the ground. The nuts in it seemed especially attractive to the jays. The scrub jay came in and jammed 2-3 nuts in its mouth, then flew off to eat them. It came back to find a Steller’s jay moving in on its lunch. The scrub jay chased the Steller’s jay, which tried to elude the attacker by flying into the middle of the dogwood tree. Every time it landed, the scrub jay went after it again. The two did loop-the-loops through the tree, until the Steller’s jay gave up and flew off. For a bit. As soon as the scrub jay crammed its mouth and took off to eat, the Steller’s jay returned, this time with reinforcements. The two Steller’s jays gobbled up nuts as fast as they could. No flying off to eat for them; much too inefficient. When the scrub jay returned for seconds, it was not pleased. It chased one Steller’s jay and then the other. The smart Steller’s just waited for the scrub jay to take off with its mouth full and returned yet again. Finally an uneasy peace settled in—perhaps the nuts were gone by then and there was nothing to fight over.

Fun times at the bird feeders! I can hardly wait for tomorrow.

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Why Bushtits?

Bushtit byWill Elder, NPS

I can’t figure it out. I’ve been writing this blog since last August, writing about birds of many kinds, plants, clouds, the seasons, changes in our lives, and a few more odd subjects. And yet every time I check my stats to see which entries people are reading, the same title comes up: Bushtits. If it weren’t for bushtits, my traffic would drop to perhaps 1/3 of what it is now. (not that it’s spectacular now!) So what is it about bushtits? Are people so intrigued by those little gray birds that they are frantically searching the web for more information? Or is it something in the name bushtit that draws them? (I hope not, but I can’t help but wonder.) And yet when WordPress shows me the search terms used to find my site, often “bushtit bird” shows up, so maybe it really is those charming little avians.

Please, someone, if you have come here looking for bushtits, for bushtit birds, that is, drop me a comment to say why. I am really, really curious!

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What is it about little birds that intrigues me so?

 Saturday I went outside to look for birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count. As I headed toward our little one acre woods, walking carefully over the damp grass, all seemed quiet. I entered the woods between alders and brown blackberry vines and stopped to scan the trees and bushes. A bit of movement caught my eye, and I raised my binoculars.

There! A little grayish bird darted from branch to branch. What could it be? I finally got it in my sights. It turned its head my way, flashing the yellow and red marks atop its head. A golden-crowned kinglet! Soon it was joined by a second kinglet. The two flitted from tree to tree, looking for insects on the branches. Such beauty in a small energetic creature.

 Big birds can be majestic—an eagle soaring high above or a snow white egret rising from a lake. Little birds often slip unnoticed through the trees and bushes, and may be hard to identify. “Little brown jobs,” they call those small birds that look so much alike. And yet I like those birds, even the gray or brown ones that get so little respect—the sparrows, the juncos, and those flocks of bushtits that swarm the suet feeder like big gray bumblebees. Each type of bird has its own special character, its own niche in the world.

Black capped chickadee

 I suppose I feel a kind of kinship with small birds. If I were a bird, I am sure I would be a “little brown job.” (There is a reason I named this blog “Sparrow Thoughts.”) I tend to blend into the crowd, to slip unnoticed through life with little recognition beyond my own small circle. And that’s okay. If someday the borders of my little woods expand, and I reach a wider audience, that would be great. If not, well, I’ll just continue to be a little brown bird, getting a little grayer every day…

 What are your favorite birds—and why?

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More Bushtits

Bushtits are friendly little guys, and they don’t mind crowding. Check out the November 16th picture on this blog: http://mdupraw.blogspot.com/  I’ve seen similar sights on my suet feeder, although perhaps not quite so many.

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Oct-Nov, 2009 063The sky had cleared to blue after a wet night. Sunshine on the autumn leaves lured me outside. Time to clean up the garden. I pulled out the pole beans, the tomatoes, the pea fences overgrown with grass.

 I was beginning on the corn stalks when I heard the familiar chatter of bushtits. Bushtits are little nondescript birds—mostly gray with light brown on the top of the head for males. They generally travel in flocks and are one of the most energetic birds I know. These particular bushtits were dancing around in the alders near the garden when I first heard them. Then they swooped down into the garden. Three of them lit upon the tomato cages I had just stacked against the fence. Perhaps they were looking for weed seeds I had missed when cleaning off the cages. Another half a dozen settled in among the dried corn stalks, flitting from one to another, pecking here and there, cleaning out whatever insects might be hiding in the crevices of the dead plants. They were in constant motion, as bushtits generally are, twittering cheerfully as they hopped about.

bushtit-billwalker

Bushtit by Bill Walker

 After a few minutes, they flew off into the alders, a gray swarm of motion. Bushtits never stay in one place very long. I went back to cleaning out the cornstalks. Halfway through, I ran out of energy, leaving the rest for another day. Oh, well. Perhaps the bushtits will return and be glad some corn is still standing.

 Plain though they may be, bushtits never fail to make me smile. I wonder if Emily Dickinson had these little birds in mind when she wrote:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all…

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