Archive for Backyard Birds

Cedar Waxwing adult 9/17/18

Cedar Waxwings are rather inconspicuous birds and I generally hear their high pitched buzzy trills in the treetops before spotting them. When seen up close they change from drab brown birds to a silky confection of browns, grays and yellow, with black, white, and red highlights. Very handsome! Cedar Waxwings subsist almost entirely on fruit. The color band at the tip of the tail varies from lemon yellow to bright orange depending on their diet during the previous molt. With the breeding season over, some will migrate south, others will join flocks to wander throughout the winter searching for fruits and berries.

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Barn Swallow male 8/23/18

Barn Swallows are leaving and in many areas have already left on their long distance migration to Central and South America. Originally a cave-roosting bird, they became a worldwide species having successfully spread with human development—taking advantage of open human structures like barns and bridges for breeding, and wires for roosting. They prefer open country near water, catching insect prey on the wing. They have shiny cobalt-blue upper parts, cinnamon foreheads and bibs, and off-white underparts. The long outer tail feathers of adults makes them easy to tell apart from the other North American swallows, and the swallow tails of males are considerably longer than in females.

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House Wren chicks 8/15/18

Believe it or not there are 7 House Wren chicks packed into this nest I found under the eave of an entryway. They’ll be fledging shortly, it’s hard to imagine any of them moving about without pushing one of its sibs out of the nest. House wrens build twiggy nests in a wide variety of cavities or other protected places such as garages, flower pots, nest boxes, and brush piles. They are quite common little brown songbirds with a loud burbly song frequently repeated.

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Red-winged Blackbird female 7/29/18

Female Red-wings are smaller than males. Instead of black they are a smoky dark brown above with a dark streaky breast underneath. She doesn’t sport scarlet epaulets, but some females have a reddish tint in their face (though this one only has a hint). In the northern part of their range where they are migratory birds, females arrive on the breeding grounds after the males. They are fond of fresh and saltwater wetlands, especially those with cattails, and breed in loose colonies where the female does all the nestbuilding, brooding, and young rearing. Red-winged Blackbird nests are heavily preyed upon and during the nesting period. Males stand guard, alerting the colony with warning calls, and ganging up to drive off predators.

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Dark-eyed Junco female and nest 7/26/18

Dark-eyed Juncos are sparrows, only unlike their brown and streaky cousins the eastern subspecies are mostly charcoal gray with white bellies and white feathers edging their tails. Females like the one above, and juveniles have more brown in them. Junco subspecies from other parts of North America sport different plumages. They are ground birds, foraging on the forest floor for seeds but during the breeding season they supplement their diet with insects. I came close to mowing over this nest hidden in thick grasses until I saw the woven cup and three brown speckled eggs.

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American Redstart male 7/14/18

A common wood warbler, small and hyperactive, American Redstarts flash the brightly colored patches in their wings and tail to scare up insects, at least that’s one theory. Males are mostly black above with white bellies and orange patches, while females and immature males are more gray and green above with yellow wing and tail patches. They forage for caterpillars and other insects in the upper canopy but nest close to the ground in deciduous woods across southern Canada and Eastern US.

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Blue Jay 6/13/18

The word “Jay” was first used to describe loud and garrulous people and flashy dressers, and then later began to be applied to a European bird exhibiting similar characteristics. Today there are close to 60 species of jay worldwide, many of which are found in the American tropics. They are closely related to crows, ravens, and magpies in the Corvid family, all of which are known for their intelligence, and jays in particular for being able to plan ahead as well as their incredible abilities to mimic. The Blue Jay is primarily a year-round forest bird that has adapted well to the park-like habitats of human residential land use in eastern North America. They have one basic plumage of blue, sky-blue, black, white, and pale (sometimes lilac) gray that doesn’t vary year round or between sexes.

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