This is my first blog post for Wildlife Wednesday, a meme hosted by Tina and her blog My Gardener Says… with the objective of celebrating the wildlife that lives in our gardens. I must say I had a lot of fun going through the photos I took over the past month in order to choose which ones to include. Most of them wouldn’t have passed muster because they were too blurry or fuzzy or out of focus! The ones I finally chose all pay tribute to the feathered friends who occupy my garden either on a constant basis or as occasional visitors. I tried really hard to find some insects or spiders or furry critters to include, but the bugs were difficult to find during our strange December weather and you can only take so many pictures of squirrels!
I try to keep my camera handy so I can quickly point it at one of several birdbaths in our back yard. I happened to catch this pretty little female Northern Cardinal on what seemed to be bath day for every bird in the neighborhood. She took over the birdbath and seemed to be having quite a good time cleaning up!
Northern Cardinals live for an average of about 3 years in the wild, though some individual birds have been known to have lived for up to 15 years! I’ve never given it much thought, but I guess the turnover rate for birds in any given area is pretty high. The Cardinals hopping around in my back yard today very probably aren’t the same birds who were doing the same thing three or four years ago. I find that a little sad.
The Northern Cardinal gets its name — Cardinal — due to the bright red plumage of the male, which is thought to resemble the red color of the robes worn by Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church. The descriptive word ‘Northern’ was apparently added to the name to distinguish this particular bird from several South American species of birds which are also known as cardinals.
I love these birds. That bright splotch of red flitting through the bushes catches my eye whether I’m in the house near a window or plodding away in the garden. Whatever I’m doing, I always have to stop and admire their beauty and energy. Their warning call of “chip-chip-chip” is very distinctive and usually makes it easy to locate them wherever they are.
I’ve noticed that Cardinal pairs appear to watch out for each other while they’re out and about looking for food. Several weeks ago I watched a pair that nests in our back yard as they were feeding. While one was at a bird feeder, the other was perched on a nearby birdbath, cocking its head and keeping an eye on what was going on close by. A little later they switched positions and went through the same routine. It was fascinating!
Cardinals will make themselves at home at bird feeders if they’re given sunflower seeds and safflower seeds. The latter is somewhat pricey so, needless to say, they don’t get any from me unless it’s included in a mixture of some type. During the winter there are usually a couple of suet feeders in our back yard at all times, but I never remember seeing a Cardinal at one until I started making my own suet this year. They seem to really enjoy the homemade variety that includes crunchy peanut butter!
Here’s the obligatory photo of a Northern Mockingbird. If you live in Texas you have to get a few shots of the state bird. This one seemed to be striking a pose for the camera! He actually followed right behind the Cardinal but only took a drink and not a bath.
Mockingbirds can mimic the songs of other birds, as well as other creatures and objects. They’ve been known to mimic sirens, barking dogs, cats, pianos, squeaky gate hinges — and are thought to be able to learn up to 200 different sounds during their lifetime. And they seem to sing constantly! I’ve heard them at night when there’s a full moon and the street lights are on, singing as though it was broad daylight.
The Ring-Necked Dove in the photos below was enjoying a stretch along with his bath! He found a pan of water left outside for the smaller birds to drink from and then just lazed around in it for a while, as if he didn’t have a care in the world (which I suppose he didn’t).
I’m not exactly sure what he was doing — maybe catching a breeze to dry out his feathers or perhaps sunning himself? Whatever it was, he was having a good time!
The water had to be really cold but it didn’t seem to bother him!
Here’s a male Great-tailed Grackle. These birds are very visible during the winter in this part of the country. They seem to appear out of nowhere and take up residence in trees or along power lines. Sometimes the trees are so full of these birds, and other types of blackbirds that seem to accompany them, that the trees appear almost to be alive. And what noise these grackles make!
The bird below is possibly a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, but not being an expert on these birds, and because so many of the immature birds look so similar, I’m only hazarding a guess. Whatever he is, he’d just completed a meal in one corner of our back yard. He was there for quite a while and looked so regal that I just couldn’t help but snap a few photos. On a number of occasions I’ve been outside and experienced the woosh of these birds as they circle and swoop, so I was glad I was behind the window and inside the house when I spied this one.
On the comical side — here’s a bluejay that jumped out of the birdbath and gave himself a shake just as I snapped the photo. He’s nothing but a blue blur! The only part of him that’s not moving is his feet.
Blue Jays can mimic the call of a hawk. While outside, I’ve looked overhead for hawks after hearing their call. Seeing none in sight, I’ve located a Blue Jay nearby mimicking the sound the hawks make. I wonder if they do this on purpose to chase other birds away from their territory?
This morning, as the wind blustered from the north in 30 mph gusts and the wind chill hovered at 10°, these little Dark-Eyed Juncos hopped around looking for water and the birdseed I’d just braved the weather to scatter.
Dark-Eyed Juncos are actually a type of Sparrow. They’re relatively common in North Texas during the winter. I usually see them hopping around under the shrubs in the back yard, feeding alongside House Sparrows.
This little one perched on the bird bath for a drink but found nothing but ice!
There were just two Juncos in the yard this morning. Perhaps they’re a pair?
Well, I guess that’s it for this month. I really enjoyed putting together this post for Wildlife Wednesday. Hopefully I can find subjects other than birds for next month.
Thanks, Tina, for hosting this meme. To those of you reading this post — please visit My Gardener Says… and read about the origins of Wildlife Wednesday. Then consider posting your own photos and stories. It’s a great way to see what’s going on in other people’s back yards and gardens!