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.

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House Finch

Yesterday I saw a house finch flitting around my bird feeder. It’s bright red head & chest stood out among all the other sparrows at my feeder, with their feathers of brown & gray. House finches don’t come to my yard a lot, probably because it isn’t their preferred habitat, but I see them now & then. The female house finch looks much the same but lacks the red. The house finch has many different warbling calls & songs, click on the link to hear them: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/House_Finch/sounds. It has some neat info about house finches too. House finches look quite a bit like the purple finch & red crossbill, but have less red & a straight beak. They are widespread & pretty common in most parts of the U. S., & if you set out sunflower seed (their favorite food) & water, they may come to your yard bringing a flock of as many as 50 other house finches with them.