Fluttering Flocks of Feathery Fun
If you have backyard birdfeeders, you have probably had flocks of small birds visiting this winter. Perhaps you’ve seen a brilliant red cardinal, or a cheeky blue jay. Their bright colours really sparkle on a dull day. Or maybe you have black-capped chickadees, looking like little bandits stealing seeds from the tray. Possibly you’ve got mourning doves, their lovely speckled grey wings and pinkish under parts contrasting with the white snow. All are lovely, but none are as numerous as the goldfinch.
At first glance goldfinches don’t look very colourful, with their olive-yellow backs, pale under parts, and dark wings. However, a closer look reveals light stripes on the wings, pale streaks on the outer feathers, and a variety of yellow patches on their heads and backs. The males are the brightest, subtle shadows of their full gold and black summer glory. The female and juvenile birds are more muted and grey.
These acrobatic birds can cling to perennial stems, pecking out the seeds. For this reason I don’t tidy my flowerbeds until spring. Their favourite food is seeds, and they prefer nyjer and sunflower seed in the winter. Their conical beaks are well-designed for cracking the shells. They like to visit all types of birdfeeders, and don’t mind feeders that sway in the wind.
In my garden they arrive in the top part of the tree. Then, like autumn leaves, they flutter down closer and closer to the feeders. There is constant movement from birds fighting over preferred perches. Some odd movement will startle the flock and they will suddenly rise back up into the branches above.
Flocks often include two other similar sized winter visitors, pine siskins and common redpolls. Pine siskins have dark brown streaks on their breasts and back. They also have more slender bills, and yellow on just a patch on the wing. Common redpolls are brown and white birds with heavily streaked sides. They have a small red patch on the forehead and black markings around the bill. Male redpolls have a pale red ‘vest’ on their chest.
No matter what birds visit, it’s important to keep your feeders filled throughout the winter. They become dependent on these handouts and will suffer if this supply is cut off. For me, they’re beautiful entertainment, and a daytime complement to an evening watching the fireplace. Always moving, always different, never still – tons of fun!
Nancy Melcher is The Nature Nut. Send details of your sightings or questions about the natural world to: email@example.com.