Monday, November 17, 2008

Saving money on feeding birds

With everyone economizing in these tight times, feeding the birds may seem a luxury that should be shelved until “prosperity” returns.

Certainly, the birds don’t need our food to survive winter, except perhaps in unusually severe conditions. Most of their food is obtained from the wild, not feeders.

Nonetheless, bird feeding is one of North America’s most popular pastimes, with an estimated 55 million people owning feeders. The reason most people feed the birds is the close-up connection with nature that it offers. Feeding birds are simply fun to watch. And in these times, we could use some fun!

So let’s feed with efficiency as well as economy. With that in mind, here are some suggestions.

  • Perhaps the most important consideration in having an efficient feeding station is squirrels. These wily rodents can quickly consume large amounts of expensive seed. Make sure your feeder is absolutely squirrel proof — which is not impossible. The best setup I’ve found is mounting on a six-foot pole, away from nearby trees (from which the squirrels can leap), and using a cone to prevent their climbing up the pole (see photo). There hasn’t been a squirrel on our feeder in years.
  • Use a feeder that distributes the seeds efficiently and does not allow them to spill onto the ground. Some tube feeders tend to be wasteful. I like a feeder that provides a platform for the birds to land on and carefully pick a seed, without spilling or tossing others on the ground.
  • Some people don’t like large birds like Mourning Doves or Blue Jays hogging the food. You can buy feeders aimed at only small birds. This will, of course, reduce overall seed consumption, but also reduces the variety of birds you’ll see.
  • To minimize waste, buy seeds that your birds like. The best all-around food is hulled (shelled) sunflower seeds, but these may be beyond your budget. Whole black oil sunflower seeds are cheaper than hulled, but more expensive than mixes. However, cheap mixes may contain many “filler” seeds that are thrown away by popular feeder birds. They wind up as food for squirrels, chipmunks and maybe even mice on the ground.
  • Shop around, of course. I can’t recommend a best source, but I always buy locally instead of on the Internet (who wants to pay shipping on 50 pounds of seed?). Look for fall sales at feed and hardware stores (though bargains are becoming less common as prices rise).
  • You get the best prices buying in quantity, but make sure you have a cool, dry place in which to store the seeds; otherwise, the seeds can mildew or go rancid, and you wind up wasting money on spoiled seeds that birds won’t eat or, worse, may get sick eating. Put the seeds in a strong sealed container like a big garbage can, so that they won’t attract mice or squirrels (even in your cellar or garage).
  • Many birds love suet. I’ve found that the “suet cakes” sold commercially do not last long — often, they have crumbled within a few days under hard whacks of visiting woodpeckers. I use real suet, the stuff butchers cut off beef. It lasts much longer and is enjoyed by a half dozen varieties of birds. Not many years ago, suet was something that butchers mostly considered waste. Some was packaged at 10 or 25 cents a pound and sold to savvy bird feeding customers. Today, meat arrives at most markets already “de-fatted,” and the butchers actually have to buy the suet from wholesalers! Thus, you will see suet prices that would have amazed an old-time butcher — a couple of dollars a pound for something they used to throw away or send to rendering plants. Nonetheless, in the long run, real suet may still be less expensive and more efficient than cake suet.
  • Don’t waste money on a suet feeder. Use a mesh bag that produce, such as onions, garlic and avocados, is packaged in. Dispose of it after it’s been used for a while. When you buy suet, get the butcher to cut up the chunks into one-inch cubes, which are easier to fit into small mesh bags.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The wise and wary corvids

Many people have remarked on the story that appeared in a recent issue of The New York Times about a scientist’s discovering that crows can recognize individual human faces, but a perhaps more remarkable account of crow intelligence appears in the current issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest

It’s long been known that the corvids – crows, ravens, magpies, and jays – are quite smart, doing things like using tools and employing automobile traffic to break open nuts.

The Times story told of a wildlife biologist at the University of Washington who did an experiment in which crows on campus were trapped and banded by students wearing a “caveman” rubber mask. A Dick Cheney mask was used as a “neutral” mask by students not involved in the trapping.

In the weeks and months that followed, student volunteers who walked around campus with caveman masks were yelled at by the crows, which ignored the Cheney-masked students. Two years later, the number of crows recognizing the caveman mask as dangerous had spread to many birds that had never been trapped, indicating that parents and others in the community had taught offspring that this was a dangerous face.

In the current Bird Watcher’s Digest, columnist David Bird (yes, his real name – he’s a professor of wildlife biology at McGill University in Toronto) recounts an experience witnessed by ornithologist Russ Balda, which appeared recently in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology.

Mr. Balda was watching a crow eating seeds on a large platform feeder in Flagstaff, Ariz. Unlike other birds that came and went, the crow just stood there, hogging the feeder.

A Steller’s Jay landed on the edge of the platform and started scolding the crow for about 10 seconds. The crow ignored the pest, so the jay got closer and started making feinting movements at the crow. The crow then turned and faced the jay, which backed off.

The crow resumed eating, but the jay kept returning and repeating its harassment performance. Then the jay tried aerial techniques, swooping down on the crow a couple of times, without actual body contact.

After that didn’t work, the jay did something that astounded Mr. Balda. It flew to a mahogany tree and broke off a twig about four inches long. With the twig in its mouth and the narrow end pointed outward, the jay landed on the platform and lunged at the crow, narrowly missing it with the stick.

The crow jumped toward the jay, which dropped the twig and moved backward. The crow then picked up the twig and lunged at the jay!

The jay then took off, followed by the twig-wielding crow in hot pursuit.

In effect, and perhaps in fact, both the jay and the crow were employing a weapon – perhaps the first time this kind of “combat” has ever been observed, at least, by a scientist.

Weapon use of a different sort – bombing – has been observed in a couple of species. Professor Bird points out that Black Eagles have been recorded dropping sticks on the heads of intruders to their nests. “A female American Crow was observed dropping pine cones, not once but three times, onto the head of a human climber ascending to its nest,” he said.

Corvids’ using tools has been widely reported, and of course, a weapon can be considered a form of tool, but the Flagstaff indicate was different.

“Balda's observation may indeed be the first incident of a bird holding an object in a weapon-like fashion to undertake an aggressive action against another bird,” Professor Bird said.

He adds, “It was a pity that the crow did not have its own stick to duel with the jay.”

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Two-ton snakes

What is it about snakes?

Is it that they are legless and armless, so much different from our well-appendaged selves? Is it because they slither so low and we walk so tall?

Or is it just that we fear some rattler or copperhead will sink its fangs into a leg and send us to the Great Beyond?

Prejudice, pure and simple. The snake is a wonderful creature that spends its days making our lives better by gobbling up rats, mice, shrews, voles, and other vermin.

Fear not our snakes. Fear, instead, a real killer: the shiny, glittering, ordinary, everyday automobile.

Over the past century, cars have killed scores of people in my own little town. Not one person has died of snakebite – or even snake-fright.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Mousetrap in a tree

If you were to go walking in the woods on a moonlit night, a dog in a tree might watch you.

More likely, though, the gray fox would have slipped far away before you were anywhere near being seen by him. He would not have been pressed to run up a tree – a feat he can easily accomplish, unique among North American canines.

No, the fox would have heard you coming from a long distance off. Sensitive ears, able to detect a mouse squeak at 300 feet, help make him a valuable pest-control device. Vermin like rats and mice are among its favorite foods and, as disease and tick carriers, one of our least favorite visitors.

Early in the morning, in the pre-dawn light, you may spot the long, low form of a gray fox winding around your lawn, ears up, nose down, a four-footed mousetrap.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mating matters

The season of nesting is a good time to take a look at the kinds of male-female relationships that exist in the bird world. Many birds form lifetime partnerships – though they may have quick “flings” on the side – while others mate for only short periods or have multiple mates.

Ornithologists describe three kinds of mating arrangements: monogamous, polygamous and promiscuous. In monogamous pair bonds, the birds mate for at least the breeding season, raising their young together. Ornithologist David Lack estimated that at least 90% of nest-raised birds come from monogamous pairs. So do 80% of precocial birds – those able to walk about and feed themselves shortly after birth.

In many, perhaps most cases, monogamous pairs remain mated until one of them dies. Canada Geese are among the most faithful birds, mating for as long as 20 years. Most gulls also pair for life. The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at the left are monogamous. This system is the most efficient and effective, providing the best protection and service for the brood of nestlings.

Some birds, such as House Wrens, generally stay with one mate for only one brood. In fact, while the male is raising the first brood, the female may take off, find a new mate, and begin a second nest. Talk about energy!

In the case of polygamous pair bonds, one male or one female may have several mates. In the more common arrangement, like the harems of lore, one male has several females. This is called polygyny. Wild Turkeys, Ring-necked pheasants, grouse, Bobolinks, and Red-winged Blackbirds are polygynous. The male generally sticks with and protects his several wives and their offspring while each female takes care of raising the children. This system is more selective than one-on-one mating; The one male that is able to build a harem of several females will be stronger and perhaps healthier than the average male and will likely pass on these traits to offspring.

In a few species, the female makes use of several mates. The Spotted Sandpiper lays eggs in several nests and the males incubate them. This system, called polyandry, allows one female to produce many eggs and is useful in situations where the breeding season is short, such as in the Arctic.

Promiscuous mating occurs when two birds have sexual relations and part company. Typically, and perhaps not surprisingly, the male takes off, leaving it up to the female to raise the resulting family. The most famous practitioners of promiscuous mating are the hummingbirds and woodcocks. Dr. Steve Kress, a noted ornithologist with National Audubon, says that typically, either the brood is small, such as in hummingbirds, allowing the female to raise the chicks alone, or the offspring are precocial, as in woodcocks, able to walk and feed themselves soon after birth.

For a long time ornithologists thought that monogamous birds were totally faithful to one another. However, DNA testing and close observation have revealed that monogamous birds may have fleeting “affairs” with other partners.

Zoologist David Barash and Judith Eve Lipton reported in The Myth of Monogamy in 2001: “When it comes to actual reproduction, even bird species long considered the epitome of social monogamy, and thus previously known for their fidelity, are now being revealed as sexual adventurers. Or at least as sexually non-monogamous.” These include eagles and geese, long thought to be strictly monogamous.

Swans, doves, finches, hawks, wrens, flycatchers, thrushes, and warblers occasionally switch from monogamous to polygamous pair bonds.

What happens when a mate dies during the nesting season?

Birds that form monogamous pairs do so largely to share in the job of raising young. Nesting season is a dangerous time, full of threats to the parents as well as the eggs and nestlings. Predators, as well as disease and accidents, may kill birds, leaving a widow or widower to care for the nest. Among monogamous pairs, it’s difficult or impossible for one bird to find food and protect the nest.

Fortunately, there are what ornithologists Allan and Helen Cruickshank call “a floating population” of unmated birds that are available – even anxious – to jump in and replace missing mates.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Happy hummers

The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are back and, from our own experience at least, there are plenty of them.

For years, Sally and I have had hummingbird feeders of various kinds, and always got a modest showing of Ruby-throats. Last year, because of some modifications to our house, we did not have our usual feeding station.

This year, we decided to try something new: Feeders hanging from windows, one in the kitchen (where we’ve never had one before) and one in the bedroom (which had been our traditional location).

While thumbing through a Kinsman Garden Company catalogue last winter, I noticed “super suction hangers.” “Bring your hummingbird feeders right up to your window glass and enjoy a super close-up view, with this high quality suction hanger,” Kinsman said.

Our previous feeders were hung from steel swing arms mounted solidly to the house. The catalogue said the suction hangers could safely handle feeders (or small plants) up to three pounds. They were only $6.95 so I ordered two.

I wanted some equally affordable feeders, and checked the master maker of hummingbird feeders: Perky-Pet (an odd name for a company specializing in wild bird feeders). There, among more than 50 (!) hummingbird feeders, I found Model 211, a plastic unit holding eight ounces and costing a mere $6.99. (Model 201 costs only $5.99, but it holds 18 ounces, which, in our territory is too much – more on that below).

So in April, I hung both feeders, one on a kitchen window 10 feet from the ground – it’s raised and lowered with a line – and one on the bedroom bay window, which can be reached by a crank-open side window. We waited a couple weeks, sighting only a couple of male hummers stopping on their way north. Then suddenly last week, the females arrived.

Now from before dawn till dusk, we have hummingbirds visiting both feeders. Often two show up at once and one winds up chasing the other away – typical territorial behavior. Having two feeders at different sides of the house may allow two females to set up nearby nesting territories and each to have the convenient food source.

The window mounts let us to observe all this activity as close as a foot or two away. The small expense – about $30 for two feeders and mounts – is well worth the entertainment these birds provide.

Don’t waste your money on special hummingbird mixes or nectars. Many commercial products use red dye – mostly as a sales gimmick. A red feeder, often with yellow around its openings, is all that is needed to attract hummingbirds; red fluid is unnecessary.

To make your own effective, inexpensive nectar, mix a quarter cup of white sugar with a cup of water. (Do not use brown sugar, honey or other sweeteners.)

Some people recommend boiling the water from public supplies to reduce the amount of chlorine – not a problem if you’re on a well.

Change the nectar every few days; in hot weather, even sooner. Potentially harmful bacteria can grow in the solution if left to “ferment” in the sun.

In the East, where there is only one species of hummingbird, feeders holding a small volume of nectar are more practical than big ones. Two or three hummers won’t consume 18 ounces in three or four days, the safe life of the nectar. They probably can’t even handle eight ounces. Out West, where there are many species that are probably not fighting each other for territories, feeders can serve many birds at a time and tend to empty more quickly.

Perky-Pet has a little three-ounce feeder that I will also try. Model 215P costs only $5.99 and is designed to be hung in planters.

Bird Watcher’s Digest has an excellent online guide to hummingbirds, including an extensive collection of “frequently asked questions.” Visit birdwatchersdigest.com, look for “Backyard birds” on the green menu bar, and select “hummingbirds.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ash yellows

For folks with White Ash trees, early May can be a nail-biting time as they wait and wait for the leaves to appear.

Ashes are one of the last native trees to leaf out in the spring. Many are still not out yet.

But ash owners aware of the “ash yellows” are particularly anxious to see leaves in the hopes that this deadly disease has not struck their tree. The result could be a hulk costing many hundreds of dollars to remove.

Ash yellows is a protoplasma, a kind of parasitic bacteria possibly transmitted by beetles, that attacks ashes and can kill them as in as quickly as one year – an amazing feat, considering White Ash may be anywhere from 50 to 100 feet tall, with up to a five foot diameter trunk.

One sign of a diseased tree are “witches’ brooms,” spindly clusters of leaves amid limbs that are otherwise leafless (see picture)

No one knows for sure how it spreads or exactly how it works, and no one has a way of preventing ashes from catching it.

But by now, if your ash has avoided infection, at least leaf buds should be appearing. If not, better plan on calling a tree crew.

Save the wood, though – ash is great in the fireplace.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Treetop visitors

Spring’s leafless trees are a far cry from Shakespeare's bare ruined choirs of winter. Where late the sweet birds sang is springing to life with song. Those branches are the hotels and summer homes of countless migrants.

The earliest of the tree flowers are blooming. Where there are flowers, there are usually insects. And where “bugs” are, birds are sure to follow. In fact, insects drawn to the early-flowering trees are important food for warblers, tanagers and other small migrants heading north in the weeks to come. Some will stop here to nest for the summer while many others eat and run, heading farther north.

For bird watchers the leafless limbs of early spring are a blessing. The scores of colorful arrivals are much easier to spot without lots of green blocking the view.

So instead of watching spring arrive on the thermometer, dust off the binoculars and point them to the passing parade of treetop visitors.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Why this weed is a winner

Got one of those March colds? In the old days, you might have turned to a March weed for help.

Many roadsides will soon be lined with Coltsfoot, a wildflower whose bright yellow blooms are often mistaken for dandelions.

Although it’s colorful and among the earliest and hardiest of the spring wildflowers, Coltsfoot was imported from Europe not for its beauty, but for its alleged abilities as a cough medicine. Its generic name, Tussilago, means “cough dispeller,” and for centuries its juices were used like Pertussin or Robitussin (notice those coughing “tusses”) from the drug store. Ailing New England children in the 19th Century were fed Coltsfoot drops, made of plant extract and sugar.

Don’t do it today, however. Modern research suggests ingesting Coltsfoot may cause liver tumors.

Instead, enjoy Coltsfoot for a different characteristic. The import has adapted to some of the worst soils North America can offer. The most likely place to see it is in within a foot or two of highway pavement – soil permeated with winter sand and salt, oils from asphalt and cars, and, yes, litter.

If there’s a terrain in need of beautifying, it’s our roadsides, especially in spring when we are hungry for outdoor color. This post-winter weed is a winner.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Intercalation

Yes, it’s a leap year and Friday is leap day, but why are we all leaping?

“Leap” means many things – mostly to do with jumping or bounding – but none seems to relate to Feb. 29, when we attach that quadrennial day to the calendar. In fact, adding Feb. 29 would seem to delay the leap from February – the worst month weatherwise in the year – to March, the most hopeful month, the one in which spring begins.

A century-old edition of the venerable Oxford English Dictionary fails to clarify the issue. In explaining “leap year,” it offers: “The name may refer to the fact that in the bissextile year, any fixed festival after February falls on the next week-day but one to that on which it fell in the preceding year, not on the next week-day as usual.” Back when feast days meant more to people than they do today, that sentence probably quickly made sense.

Perhaps we can be thankful that, for whatever reason, we call it leap day. Its other name is more of a mouthful: intercalary day.

Yet, intercalary day makes a lot more sense. It simply means to insert something – like a day – into a calendar.

And intercalating is exactly what we do Friday.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The humble Valentine

While many of us may suspect that St. Valentine’s Day was invented by the modern greeting card, flower and candy industries, the holiday is ancient – and unsaintly.

More than 2,000 years ago, Romans celebrated Lupercalia, a fertility feast that included ceremonies in which men drew women by lots. When the early Christian church tried to “depaganize” Roman feasts, it turned this one into a festival of love in which people drew the names of saints instead of women. It was named for St. Valentine, probably because his feast day roughly coincided with the mid-February celebration of Lupercalia. The priest had been beaten and beheaded around Feb. 14, 270, for practicing Christianity.

By the 19th Century the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day in England, at least, was not unlike today’s. One British author wrote in 1873: “The approach of the day is now heralded by the appearance in the printsellers’ shop windows of vast numbers of missives calculated for use on this occasion, each generally consisting of a single sheet of post paper, on the first page of which is seen some ridiculous coloured caricature of the male or female figure, with a few burlesque verses below.” These, the writer adds, are employed chiefly by “the humbler classes.”

So have a humble – but happy – Valentine’s Day!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Delightful warnings

Red sky in morning, Sailors’ warning.
Red sky at night,
Sailors’ delight.

The ancient adage may have developed from maritime experience, but it’s based on sound science – at least in this part of the world, where most weather systems move from west to east. Just last Friday, a blood-red dawn presaged a day of rain and, in my home town, messy ice.

A red sky in the morning occurs when clouds arrive from the west and the sky to the east is clear. As the sun rises, billions of dust particles in the otherwise clear atmosphere bend the solar light to the red spectrum, causing the edge of the cloud front to glow. More moisture in the air yields richer reds. Often the clouds signal bad weather, perhaps just rain or snow, but maybe the wind, too.

A red sky at night means the sun’s setting rays are passing through hundreds of miles of cloudless atmosphere, weather that’s heading our way and promising a sunny day tomorrow.

Whether delighted or forewarned, we should pause to enjoy either sky’s ephemeral light show, bursting with brilliance that countless artists have pursued and none has ever really captured.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sharp shoes

Remember studded snow tires? Chains? In the era of all-wheel drive and efficient highway maintenance, both of these once common winter transportation aids have all but disappeared.

Back before the automobile, however, winter travel needed its own version of studs or chains. At this time of year, the shoes of horses had to be kept very sharp so that hooves could bite into the ice. A horse with dull shoes could slip and injure a leg.

Later, horseshoes were equipped with devices called calkins or calks. A calk was a tapered wedge or cone-shaped piece of iron or steel projecting downward on the shoe of the horse to prevent slipping.

According to one old source, it was a Ridgefield, Conn., man who invented calks. He sought the aid of an attorney to get a patent. However, the attorney stole the idea from the poor inventor and took out the patent in his own name.

The Ridgefield man was so upset, the story goes, that he went out of his mind and wandered aimlessly around the village the rest of his days.

Maybe the man should have left well enough alone. For him, good advice might have been, “If the shoe slips, bear it.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Winter harvest

There’s an old saying that firewood keeps you warm twice: Once when you’re cutting it and once when you’re burning it. But that’s not why winter was the time for woodcutting among the old farmers who lived in town a century or three ago.

Winter was woodcutting time for more practical reasons. First and foremost, farmers had the time – there were no crops that needed tending in January and February.

In winter, it was easier to pull large loads of wood on a sledge or “stoneboat” because the winter woodlands were usually covered with snow or ice and the forest floor did not have much of the thick underbrush that made travel among the trees difficult at other times.

The wood was drier in winter, lacking the sap found in spring, summer and fall. Logs would season more quickly and be safe and ready for the following winter’s home fires.

Good farmers loved the outdoors and always needed something to do. Wood was their winter harvest.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Winter hoods

Along the Atlantic Coast south of Cape Cod, the cold months are the best time to see Hooded Mergansers. They winter along our unfrozen coast, favoring brackish water, and spend the summers inland to the north and west, on wooded lakes, ponds and rivers.

They are famous for the big, white and black head crest that males display when trying to attract females. In his Essential Field Guide Companion, Pete Dunne says it “opens and closes like a Chinese fan.” The female also has a collapsible crest, which is reddish and not nearly as showy.

These birds are excellent at diving and can chase and catch fish with ease. They also eat just about anything else in the water, from crabs and insects to plants.

Hooded Mergansers used to be sort of rare, but their numbers have been improving. One reason for their resurgence is the large number of nesting boxes that have been set up, mostly to attract Wood Ducks. Hooded Mergansers, also cavity nesters, have been appropriating the Wood Duck boxes.

Of course, they will also use sizable holes in trees, and the reforestation of our once agricultural region may also be contributing to the population increases in the Northeast. Not surprisingly, the nesting trees must be near water.

In the spring, a few days after their eight or so offspring hatch, the babies must begin finding their own food. But first they have to get to water. If the nest hole is high in a tree, the parents will probably carry them one at a time down to the ground and nearby water. If the nest is low enough, the ducklings may be encouraged to jump – or tumble – down. The babies can swim, dive and feed themselves long before they are large enough to fly.

In a book called Our Amazing Birds, Robert S. Lemmon wrote in 1951 that “in all the bird world, there is no more charming sight than a pair of hoodeds, convoying their brood of eight or ten wee ducklings on the clear water of a forest lake, often with several of the little ones riding with evident enjoyment on their mother’s back.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tunnel time

The snow, so cold and lifeless itself, tells tales of unseen life. On an early morning walk after a fresh layer has fallen, you may see scores of tracks of all sizes and shapes, the record of creatures roving the night in search of food.

If the snow is not too deep or if it is melting, you may also spot narrow tunnels that curve, loop and zigzag under the crust and near the ground. They are a sign that shrews have been foraging for overwintering insect eggs and grubs. Tiny and weighing a fraction of an ounce, shrews are the hummingbirds of the mammal world. They live a high-speed existence, with a heart that beats up to 1,200 times per minute - 20 beats per second! To keep that machine going, shrews must eat up to three times their weight each day.

No wonder they wander in all weather. But unlike commuting humans, shrews probably like traveling in the snow. It helps hide their movements and sounds from the sharp eyes and ears of nocturnal predators like owls and foxes who might love a juicy shrew for a midnight snack.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Feathered hope

Backyard bird watching and feeding are said to be among most popular pastimes in America. Birds are, after all, entertaining. They offer variety, action, even comedy as they jockey for position on your feeder or wander your lawn and shrubs, in search of a bite to eat.

In winter, though, they also offer a bit of hope. When the winds are blowing, the snow is falling, the temperatures hover around zero, and even squirrels are hidden in their nests, the sight of chickadees, titmice, jays, and juncos flitting around outside your window bring a lot of action to an otherwise lifeless landscape.

But real excitement comes when, in the middle of winter, a robin shows up in a bush or a bluebird at the feeder. While these birds are symbols of warmer times, many spend all winter in the North, mostly off in wetlands where there’s a bounty of berries and seeds to eat. However, a good storm may bring them to your yard in search of food and perhaps shelter.

And in their blue backs and red breasts, we get glimpses of the spring to come, when the full array of life will return to our now barren landscape.