By Ranger Steve Mueller
National Bird Feeding Month (part 1)
The Tufted Titmouse has a white belly, appearing gray when not well lighted, but its sides brighten to white in good light. Gray wings largely hide a burnt orange just above its white sides. A black nosepiece and erect head crest add beauty that people to the north do not witness. Our latitude is just south of the bird’s northern distribution.
Black-capped Chickadees crowd my feeder. This diminutive bird has broad shoulders, and a black nape, head crown, and chin. It flashes white cheeks when it flies in for a seed and quickly departs. One would think each would burn too much precious energy coming and going.
American Goldfinches take a turn at the feeder while chickadees quickly return and depart. The finches hold fast at the feeder lunch table rather than carry their meal to a picnic location like chickadees. They wear winter camouflage but vivid black and white wings draw attention. Less noticeable is dark around their eyes. Their olive winter plumage is already showing flecks of bright emerging yellow. Much of winter is still ahead but lengthening daylight is perceived through their eyes causing hormone changes that generate growth of spring’s fresh feathers.
A larger White-breasted Nuthatch darts to the feeder startling goldfinches into flight. The nuthatch’s almost woodpecker-like bill intimidates birds within close reach. Its white breast with crimson undertail coverts contrasts with gray wings rich with white dashes.
Goldfinches draw attention with the appearance of yellow patches, but chickadees two-note whistles appeal to our ears on bright sunny days foretelling spring will come. Visiting Red-breasted Nuthatches indicate winter is here and we should not heed the hasty spring song of chickadees. The red-breasted visitors will let us know spring is near when they depart for their North Country conifer nesting grounds.
Common Redpolls do not appreciate the restricted tightness of trees surrounding our small yard but seven occasionally come. They prefer open space, so I walk the White Pine State Park trail to enjoy them and wintering Eastern Bluebirds. Instead of the appealing blue back and orange breast seen on bluebirds, Northern Cardinals offer bright cheery red in the yard. Male House Finches offer a more subdued red. Occasionally Blue Jays create colorful commotion. The mostly black and white yard abounds with moving color at feeders all winter.
Red-bellied, Downy, and Hairy Woodpeckers depart forest stands to visit our small yard opening but the suet feeder hangs on a large sugar maple and offers security. Dark-eyed Juncos hop under the suet and sunflower feeders gathering bits of food scattered by the maelstrom of birds above. Ground walking Mourning Doves join among the hopping juncos.
Keeping feeders and feed simple, inexpensive, and easy can entice many species of birds into close view. The nature niche you might call yours is probably more theirs than yours. Birds are present all day and night and do not leave your surroundings for work and recreation. February is “National Bird Feeding Month” so consider feeding them. February’s Nature Niche articles will elaborate on feed, feeders, and yard landscapes that create and enrich pleasant encounters with resident wild neighbors.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433, or call 616-696-1753.