Only when the squirrels manage to outsmart my arsenal of prevention devices does monitoring the birds in my backyard cause me any angst at all. I love to stare out the window watching them fly, flit and fight over free seeds.
Obviously the food is free for them and not for me, but I can find all I need at reasonable prices from my local Buchheit store. A combination of black oil sunflower seeds and the cracked corn, wheat, milo and millet simply called Wild Bird Mix attracts a great variety of birds.
The hometown favorite is probably the northern cardinal for its association with the local baseball team as much as the bright color it brings to a bland winter background. They are big fans of the sunflower seeds. I guess they have that in common with the ball players too.
Both male and female cardinals can be bullies at the feeder. They’ll take a spot on a perch and then spend more time trying to keep other birds away than actually eating seeds. They are the biggest of the common song birds around the feeder and are always willing to throw their wings and weight around.
Despite the redbird’s diligence, the quick hitters still manage to retrieve plenty to eat with their dash and dine strategy. They snatch a seed and then quickly retreat to a nearby tree to crack the shell and get their reward. Sometimes they will get the cardinal to chase them from perch to perch before grabbing and going.
The tufted titmouse is a swoop and scoot expert. With a pointed crest he looks a little like a smaller version of his cardinal nemesis, but with gray back, wings and crown. Males and females look much the same and can be hard to spot against the gray tree bark, but their non-stop chatter makes them easier to find.
Carolina and black-capped chickadees are from the same family as the titmouse, and they are experts at the in and out game too. A bit more bold than their cousins, they will roost closer to the feeder waiting for an open opportunity.
The two chickadees are almost identical, and most easily distinguished by their location. Birds in the northern half of United States are black-capped, and any in the south and east are Carolina chickadees. The dividing line swoops straight across Missouri, so we may see both in Jefferson County. Black-capped chickadees have a tiny bit more white on their wings and a slower pace to their similar songs. Those slight differences are hard to notice.
Other year-round residents likely to find their way to the stash of seeds are white-breasted nuthatches. Similar in color to the chickadees and titmice, their unique trait is a propensity to travel down tree trunks headfirst. They even appear to be upside down on the bird feeder while getting a bite to eat.
Other common birds at the feeder in the winter include Carolina wrens, house finches, and American goldfinches. (Their feathers are not the familiar bright yellow of spring and summer.) Several different sparrows are winter residents in the area, and the dark-eyed junco “snow bird” is a regular on the ground underneath the feeder, hopping and hoping for scraps.
Four different woodpeckers can be attracted to a suet feeder filled with seed-infused blocks of animal fat. The red-bellied woodpecker has more distinct red on his cap than on his front, but he is not a redheaded woodpecker, which is bright red from the neck up. His feathers are more solid black and white rather than the zebra stripes of other woodpeckers.
Downy and hairy woodpeckers are almost identical except for their size. The downy version is about the same size as wire feeder cage. The hairy woodpecker has a longer bill and looks large compared to the feeder as he hangs on and eats.
My favorite of the bird feeder woodpeckers is the common flicker. There is nothing ordinary about him in comparison to the others. He is larger than all but the pileated woodpeckers, which are less likely at the feeder. His brown color is unique and his wings hide a bit of golden yellow. Both male and female have black bibs at the base of their necks, and males can be distinguished by a smart looking mustache.
Occasional and accidental bird visitors are a real treat of backyard bird-watching, including the hawks who come looking for birds rather than seeds. To my chagrin, the scheming squirrels still get more than their fair share.
Originally published by Leader Publications Feb. 3, 2022.