New bird

'the new bird'

I saw a new bird in my neighborhood recently. I believe it is either a Gray Catbird or a Northern Mockingbird. It is about the size of a lean Robin & gray all over. I couldn’t get a very good look because it would hide in thick clusters of leaves high up in a tree (I did not get to hear it sing either). Hopefully it’ll come back again soon so I can have a better look at it. I’m leaning toward gray catbird, but I’d have to see it more clearly. They come to MN in summer to breed, but then leave in the fall. 

Female Grackles

'common grackle feeding'

There have been Common Grackles in my yard for a while now, but it seems as though the males came first & the females followed. The females look nearly identical to the males, but if the light’s right, it’s possible to see that they are actually more brown than black, & they are slightly smaller. They are also slightly less glossy. The birds are ground foragers, but I see them quite often up on the birdfeeder, scaring away the other birds, & eating all the bird seed in a few minutes. They like sunflower seed especially, & often 3 or 4 of them will be on the birdfeeder, all trying to eat at the same time. (If there isn’t enough room in the feeder, they perch on top waiting for a chance at the seed.) Grackles are very aggresive, they have been known to raid nests, & kill & eat other adult birds. However the birds here sort of enjoy them, because they kick tons of seed off the feeding platform when they land to eat.  

Mourning doves returning!

'mourning doves often sit in large groups on telephone wires'

The Mourning doves are back from their wintering grounds in the southern U.S. & Central America. They are hard not to notice with their loud, persistent cooing. Click on the link to hear it: http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/163/overview/Mourning_Dove.aspx. They are milky brown colored birds with darker flecks on their back & wings, & have long gray beaks. They like to visit my feeder, but prefer to stay on the ground & eat the dropped seeds rather than perch on the feeder. Mourning doves are quite common in cities & yards, & often perch in huge groups on telephone wires in front of my house. I often see them in mixed groups with Rock doves (also known as common pigeons). Most of these birds live to be a year & 1/2 old, but the oldest mourning dove ever was 19.3 years old. 

Red-winged blackbirds

'red-winged blackbird wing'

Today there was a Red-winged blackbird in my yard. These medium-sized black birds with red & yellow stripes on their wings usually only hang out in ponds & lakes with marshes, but there must have been something in my yard they liked – 2 of them were walking around in the grass hunting for food. I guess they don’t really go for sunflower seeds; I didn’t once see them fly up to my bird feeder. They like flies & other insects instead. Their only distinguishing feature is the red patch on their wing with a yellow stripe just below it. Sometimes you can’t see the red part of the wing until the bird is in flight, which can make it hard to identify, but if it only has yellow on it’s wing, it’s still the same bird. The female is mottled brown with no colors on her wing. They also have a loud, unique call, click on the link to hear it: http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/144/_/Red-winged_Blackbird.aspx.

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.

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.

Crow town

 

"American Crow"

Crows are becoming more & more numerous as the weather warms up. Big flocks of them fly around, especially over the highways, looking for road kill. They fly in HUGE flocks. You’ll see a couple hundred fly overhead, & they’ll flap noisily away, until you can barely see them, & just when they’re about to disappear, a few hundred more show up. They do that until there must be about a thousand of them, & then they finally disappear. Crows are quite intelligent, & some, if raised by humans, can imitate human voices. The crows most common call is a series of harsh CAWs, but actually they have at least 20 different calls. (Although they all sound pretty close to the same thing to me.)Click on the link to hear them. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Crow/sounds. See See what you think.

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.  

Song birds

"A brown creeper."

Today I saw a brown creeper. They are related to white-breasted & red-breasted nuthatches & they look & act quite a lot like them. They are white underneath, & they have a mottled brown back, unlike the nuthatches gray one. From a distance, they are easy to mistake for a nuthatch, as they climb up & down trees in the same way. Or, from a distance, you probably wouldn’t see them at all, because their feathers match tree bark so perfectly.  

There are a bunch of american robins in my front yard, hunting for worms. They stand still, cocking their head to one side, listening for an earthworm under the ground. When they zero in on one, they stretch out their necks really fast & pull it from the dirt. They can catch huge worms, but sometimes you can see that they are really struggling to yank the worm out of the earth. Robins are quite bold; you can often walk up very close to them (I can get about 6 ft. away fairly easily) before they hop away. And they do hop. They are ground birds – they seem more comfortable on the ground than in the air or in a tree. If they have a choice, they would rather hop than fly.

Black-capped chickadees are migrating back to MN. Everything I’ve read says that chickadees don’t migrate, but I never see them in the winter, & they’re fairly abundant in the summer, so it would seem like they do, at least where I live. They have many different calls: one of the most common ones is the one that sounds like “chicka DEE-DEE-DEE-DEE”. (Which would appear to be how they got their name.) They also have other musical warblings.

  

Bluets

"A bluet."

Bluets are blooming. They’re little blue flowers with long narrow leaves, & they grow all over. They’re about 2 – 3 ” tall. Many people consider Bluets weeds, but they’re good ground cover & they’re pretty. They are also good for butterfly gardens, as they’re bright & smell nice so they attract butterflies & other insects. They bloom early in spring & stay all through the summer. They can grow just about anywhere, such as in the cracks of a stone wall. They’re pretty hardy little flowers.

  

All about herons

"Great Blue Heron."

Today I saw a Great Blue Heron flying with a fish in its beak.They’ve come back to Minnesota from their wintering grounds in states like Iowa, California, & places as low as Texas & some as high as Montana, & the west coast of Canada. But they don’t stay in Minnesota during the winter. 

Great Blue Herons hunt by standing as still as a stone near the edge of a body of water. They’re amazingly patient; they’ll stand forever, waiting for a meal.But when a fish or a frog does swim by, mistaking them for a bush, or a log, the heron strikes with its long neck & swallows the fish with its large bill. It’s really hard even to see it, it’s so fast. Great Blue Herons usually swallow their food without chewing, right away, so the one I saw was probably taking its fish back to its nest, which is called a heronry.

The Great Blue Heron is large, a couple of feet tall, with gray-blue feathers, a white face, & black on its shoulders, belly, & crown. It has very broad wings, which beat slowly as  it flies. When it flies, it folds its neck, so it looks very short, and its legs stick out behind it.

The Great Blues Herons are mating & nesting now. Mature herons only have long feathers & a yellow bill during mating season, to help them attract mates. They often build their heronries miles away from water & places to hunt. Both the male & female incubate the eggs. There are usually about 3-7 of them, & they are light greenish-blue. The size of the eggs increases the farther north you go. Both parents take care of the young until they leave the nest, about 5-30 days after they begin flying at 56-60 days.