By providing water, putting feeders near a place that is out of the wind so birds can find shelter from the elements, and food, we help them. They, in turn, help us by bringing joy as we watch them feed and jostle for space at the dinner table we set for them. Best of all, they are good company during the cold, darker days of winter. Our winter residents have already taken the stage. All we have to do is raise the curtain.
This time of year gives us a great opportunity to study bird behavior. Who comes to the feeders or the birdbath first thing in the morning? Are any of the species in competition with others? Who eats what? What species linger until dusk? Who is wearing the most beautiful winter dress?
At my feeders, downy and hairy woodpeckers prefer the high-energy suet, along with a few black oil seeds on occasion. The red-breasted nuthatch and the chickadees prefer the black sunflower seed (oil seed), but also feast on the suet whenever they can “get a word in edgewise.” House Finch, on the other hand, spend all their time eating safflower or the baked version, called Nutrasaff.
Unsalted peanuts in the shell are a favorite of the Steller’s jay and the California jay. The Steller’s are most entertaining, as they often examine every shelled peanut before deciding which one to take. The largest or the heaviest seems to win out every time. I have taken to putting the peanuts in a single row on the deck railing. I try to predict which one will go first and which will go last. In addition, I watch to see how many shelled peanuts each Steller’s can stuff in its crop before it flies off to hide them in the ground for another day or to enjoy one or two right then and there. Three is the record for my Steller’s! Shelled, unsalted peanuts are also a delicacy for jays and can be added to hanging feeders.
House finch males are showing off rosy, red feathers on their chests and rumps. They want to be dressed for success come spring! Females will certainly be attracted to the best dressed when it comes to finding a mate. The downy woodpeckers are also beginning to crisp up. Molting is the name given to the replacement of feathers and often occurs just once a year, but it depends on the species and its size. Molting will be the subject of a future article. In general, though, smaller species replace all their feathers once, and will often replace some twice.
Keep an eye on your birds — are they molting now or have they already molted?
Winter birding is enhanced by having feeders in our yards, especially If they are placed in view of a window. Our feathered friends provide us with hours of entertainment. It is also an educational experience as they show us behavior in different circumstances. If you haven’t already put up a feeder, try it and give the birds a present for Christmas. They will repay you in full measure with their antics.
Best wishes for the holiday season from me and the birds at my feeders to you. Enjoy the birds!
“Common Birds of the Long Beach Peninsula,” by Kalbach and Stauffer, is available from the Chinook Observer, Bay Avenue Gallery, Time Enough Books and the LB Peninsula Visitors Center.