Robins call gutter ‘home’

A pair of robins recently decided that a good place to raise their family would be on top of my rain-gutter. It’s actually kind of convenient because I can see right into the nest from my balcony. It’s a big nest, about 4-6 inches wide, & it’s woven really tightly. It’s amazing how birds can weave nests that well with only a beak to do it. They made a huge, messy nest first, & then one day when I looked at it they had knocked the whole thing to the ground, except the bottom few twigs. Then they built it up again much neater & tighter, but the bottom of it is still sticking out in every direction. The robins sit on the eggs most of the time, & sometimes they don’t fly away when I go outside to look at them. I am expecting to see chicks soon. Yay! (-:   (Click the tiny pic to see it close up. Sometimes the photo blows up really huge before it becomes easy to see.)                                                                                                               

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Spring flocks

Yesterday as I was walking along the Mississippi river near my home (it’s just a couple of streets away), I saw two huge black birds flying overhead. They turned out to be a pair of turkey vultures, & they were wheeling & swooping over the river, close enough that I could see their bright red naked heads & black feathers. Evidently there was an appetizing bit of rotting flesh down there. Vultures have naked heads because it keeps them clean when they feed. If they had feathers on their heads the feathers would get very dirty when they fed, & possibly make them sick. These birds have, lately, become common around here. Turkey vultures must get something from the river they can’t get elsewhere; whenever I see them, they are heading to the Mississippi.

A few days ago I looked out my window & there was a Common Grackle at the feeder. These shiny black birds are hard to miss, they are at least twice as large as other common feeder residents, such as finches & chickadees. They will eat sunflower seeds, but they seem to scare the other birds away. When a grackle’s in my yard, it’s the only bird there. Brown-headed cowbirds seem to be getting more numerous too. I don’t see them that often, but every few years there’ll be a spring where they’re all over. What’s interesting is that when that happens, common grackles start to appear more too.

The house finch that was at my feeder a few days ago has come back, & he brought his girlfriend with him. I see them almost every day now. The female isn’t terribly colorful, & I often mistake her for a sparrow, as she has no red, but the pattern of stripes on her back is different, & she’s almost never without her mate. I also recently saw an American Goldfinch. I have never seen one in MN before, although they’re supposed to live all over America. They are tiny but beautiful birds, with their neon yellow feathers & black markings. The one I saw was such a bright color, I could barely see it in all the yellow-green leaves of the just-blooming trees.

Cardinal Pair

"A male cardinal."

Today I saw a pair of northern cardinals hopping around the ground & in the trees & bushes. They follow each other around all the time; wherever one goes, the other’s right behind it. The female came very close to me, maybe 4 ft. away. Cardinals are bold birds & are quite territorial. Northern cardinals often exhibit what is referred to as mate-feeding. The male picks up a seed, hops over to the female, and the two momentarily touch beaks as the female takes the food. Mate-feeding continues throughout the egg-laying and incubation season. Northern cardinal pairs will typically remain together for the entire year, although in winter, they may separate. Pairs are usually monogamous & often stay mated until one dies; then the surviving bird will begin searching for another mate. Cardinals live for about 3 years in the wild, which is on the long side: most yardbirds live just over a year in the wild. Northern cardinals are easy to identify, the male is brilliant red with a crest & a black mask, & the female is pinkish-buff with red highlights & a bright red bill. She also has a crest. Their calls are easy to recognize. One of the most common is a loud, piercing, ascending whistle.

For those of you who love birds & are always looking for ways to attract more birds to your yard & neighborhood, try a ‘bird table’. It’s a simple wooden platform on a post in your yard, preferably with a roof (for snow & rain). You can find decent instructions on Google on how to make them. (Of course, you can always buy one.) Not only will they attract birds that wouldn’t come to a regular feeder, but you can put a variety of food on them for other birds that don’t eat your birdseed, & if you build it right, it won’t end up being a squirrel feeder. (Like everything else I’ve tried.) I will try to put one up in my yard, & if I succeed, (which, sadly, is rather unlikely) I will take a picture & post it on this site. Another thing to remember is WATER. Birds need lots of it.