Tag Archives: backyard wildlife

Feeding Time

There are many hungry baby birds around, keeping their parents very busy. Here are a few photos of feeding time.feeding time




A Dove’s Springtime Nap

The springtime sun sure feels good after a long, cold winter. Why not enjoy the weather fully by finding a nice comfortable sunny spot to relax in? This mourning dove took that advice and was tucked away in a secluded corner of our backyard.
mourning dove
But after the dove starts enjoying the warmth and comfort…
mourning dove
…naturally it begins to feel sleepy, very sleepy.
mourning dove
There’s no fighting that sleepy feeling. It’s time for a springtime nap!
mourning dove nap

Hawk’s Breakfast

hawk with grackleA few mornings ago, I walked into the backyard to put something away; suddenly a hawk flew from the grass, right in front of me, up into a tree branch. The spot where he had been on the lawn was covered with the feathers of a grackle. The feathers were fresh. I left momentarily to get my camera and returned to take a few photos of the hawk in the tree before it decided to fly away. I didn’t realize until I downloaded the pictures (and could look at them closely) how fresh those grackle feathers really were — the grackle’s body was being firmly held underneath the hawk. I had interrupted the hawk’s breakfast. The grackles had only returned to our backyard in the past week or so after being absent all winter. The hawk must have been thrilled with their recent return!
hawk with kill

Hawk’s Backyard Behavior

backyard hawk

Backyard Hawk

Most of the time, when hawks visit our backyard with lunch in mind, they follow the same pattern of behavior. They position themselves on a high tree branch, in an incognito location, quietly waiting to see what prey moves around down below. Not so, with the hawk that stopped by the backyard today. He perched on the most prominent lower branch of the tree, right in the center of the yard. This branch is only a foot or so above the hanging suet cages and is adjacent to where the bird feeders are. After only a minute or two of sitting and looking around (while I hung out of the sliding glass door and quickly took some photos) the hawk dove directly into the nearby spruce tree where the sparrows like to hide. It vanished completely from view for a few seconds, but came out of the tree empty-handed (or empty-sparrowed) and flew away.

Pothole Bathing

pothole bathrobin bathWe have two areas in our yard where birds in the neighborhood can get freshened up on a dusty day. In front, there is a large stone birdbath. In the rear, we have a small pond with a very shallow stream of water running over a ledge. Many birds land by the pond and walk over to the ledge for a quick rinse. By far, however, the all-time favorite bathing spot is the pothole in the street in front of our house. Every time it rains and water collects in the hole, a variety of birds come – some solo, some in small groups – to bathe. Maybe the hole is the perfect depth and width to attract them, or maybe they just like muddy rainwater, whatever the reason, it attracts more visitors than the birdbath and the pond.grackle bath

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

rat inside flower pot, backyard wildlife

Our backyard wood rat. He pilfers birdseed from inside an overturned flower pot.

We have a new backyard visitor. Actually, he thinks he’s a long-term resident. A wood rat has been living in the yard for at least 6 months. For the past month or so, he’s been burrowed underneath a thick layer of snow and ice. Now that spring is coming and the snow is melting, the rat is no longer staying inside. We’ve been watching him prancing back and forth along his self-made trail. First, he runs straight from his den to the seeds that have spilled from the bird feeders. Then, he returns back to store the seeds inside. Today, he found a nice cache of seeds that had fallen inside an overturned flower pot.

The video below shows him racing back and forth to collect the seeds. You can see why they are called pack rats.

See other interpretations of the “Inside” theme at: Weekly Photo Challenge.

Blue Jays Back

bluejay pic
As I sit at the laptop and type, I am listening to a cacophony of blue jay calls in the backyard. Lately, I’ve been noticing groups of blue jays banding together in sound and purpose just about everywhere. Blue jays have always been one of the staple backyard birds of my New Jersey upbringing. I have a vague remembrance of my father being dive-bombed by a blue jay as he mowed the lawn – perhaps he ventured too close to a nest. During the last year, blue jays seemed noticeably absent. I would glimpse an occasional lone jay but, for the most part, the usual crowd at our feeders included sparrows and finches, eating their seeds without verbal interference from blue jays.

After experiencing firsthand some of the effects of Hurricane Sandy last year, I wasn’t surprised when I read recently about the impact the storm had on birds, mostly because of storm damage to either the bird’s habitat or food sources. An article from the National Wildlife Federation specifically mentions blue jays as one of the species that flew south in search of food after the storm. Based on my own casual observations, I think they’ve now returned back to the north!

Giant Hornets are Bark Strippers

The giant hornet on a lilac bush

A giant hornet on a lilac bush

The bark was stripped away by a giant hornet

This bark was stripped away by a giant hornet

This is not a giant hornet's nest

This is a bald-faced hornet’s nest, not a giant hornet’s nest

Our lilac bush has pieces of its bark being stripped away by large flying insects called giant hornets (Vespa crabro). In late summer/early autumn giant hornets are regular visitors to our backyard. They are yellowish-brown, about an inch in length and seem to have a special fondness for our lilac bush.

Giant hornets put the bark they strip to good use; they use it for constructing their nests. As evidenced by all the activity on our lilac bush, we must have a hornet nest nearby. Although we haven’t been able to find the nest, we’ve watched the hornets make repeated visits back and forth from our bush to wherever it is located.

A giant hornet’s nest doesn’t look like the large oblong-type you see hanging from tree branches. Those nests are primarily made by bald-faced hornets. Giant hornets tend to build their homes in crevices, making the nest harder for humans to locate.

Recently, there has been a lot of coverage in the news about a different kind of hornet. The Asian giant hornet has been wreaking havoc, swarming and stinging people in China. Fortunately, the hornets in our backyard are considered the European type and are not as volatile. They don’t normally bother humans unless you mess with their nest.

Reblog: The Song Sparrow’s Friend (or Foe?)

Note: The sparrow is back! I’m reblogging this post from last year because, for the past few mornings, our song sparrow (or his next of kin) has once again been greeting our arrivals and departures with song. April 2, 2014

Our heralding song sparrow

Our heralding song sparrow

Song sparrow on top of the car mirror

Song sparrow on top of the car mirror

Sparrow hanging out on top of the Jeep

Sparrow hanging out on top of the Jeep

Why do birds sing?
A song sparrow with a personality has recently made our front yard its territory. The bird seems to intentionally serenade us as it stands guard on the overhead wires. With a trilly song, it heralds our arrivals to and departures from the house.

This sparrow has also begun a love (or hate?) affair with our Jeep’s side mirror. It will sit on top of the mirror and then scoot down to look at its reflection, back and forth. When the Jeep is gone, our other car’s mirror attracts the bird’s attention instead. The sparrow’s preference, however, is definitely the Jeep; the abundance of “white stuff” coating the top and sides of the Jeep’s mirror is proof positive. This has been going on for almost two weeks.

These antics are cute and entertaining, but I started to wonder what was actually going on with this sparrow. Are his tweets a welcoming song, or was this bird threatening us to keep our distance? Is the car mirror a newfound friend, or is it an avian enemy to be chased away? Is the sparrow’s song a joyful, sweet symphony, or a warning message to a potential foe?

When I had a parakeet, we mounted a small mirror in the bird’s cage to keep it company. Perhaps our sparrow’s reflection in the car mirror is perceived as a friend or a potential mate to be won over. On the other hand, maybe all the commotion is because the sparrow feels threatened by an imaginary rival in the mirror.

I began searching online to find out reasons why birds sing. The All About Birds website states that birds may sing to attract a mate and to defend their territory. Male birds seem to sing one way to attract a female, but sing in a different, aggressive manner toward male competition, according to a study referenced on the UCSB website. An ASU Biology post mentions that birds sing as a form of communication with other birds. For example, there is a specific bird call to declare sources of food and another to warn about nearby predators.

Many people have problems with birds banging into the windows of their home, over and over again. While some of this is accidental, often a bird sees its own reflection in a window and thinks another bird is infringing on its territory. Although our sparrow’s reaction to its reflection in the car mirror didn’t appear like an aggressive behavior to me, it could have been having the same type of territorial response. I also found out that interactions between a bird and a car mirror aren’t unique to our situation. There are plenty of videos on YouTube about birds attacking car mirrors! (This video in particular made me chuckle.)

Since we don’t know if our sparrow is a boy or a girl and we aren’t experts in song sparrow body language or vocalizations, there’s no way to determine what is really going on in our front yard. I’d like to believe that the song sparrow is serenading us as a result of overflowing birdy joy, but the verdict is inconclusive. Our car’s mirror, and my family, may be the song sparrow’s friend (or foe), but we’ll never know for sure.

Remembering a Groundhog/Woodchuck Invader in our Garden

groundhogwoodchuck coming out of his holeWhen we had a vegetable garden in our backyard, woodchucks were our adversary. Woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, are a type of mostly plant-eating rodent that digs burrows. They are actually part of the squirrel family.

I remember one time, when looking out through the rear window of my house, I realized the plants in our garden were swaying. Seconds ticked away as my brain processed why this was happening. Suddenly, I realized that there wasn’t a breeze or a storm blowing in; it was a certain short-legged intruder munching on the baby veggies. I flew out the back door yelling “Caaa-Caaa” while loudly clapping my hands together and chased the woodchuck into his underground tunnel beneath the neighbor’s shed. It was all in vain though; it didn’t take long for him to return and take a bite out of nearly all of that day’s ready-to-pick vegetables.

My neighbor also had an eye out for woodchuck invaders. We called her Babcia (babshee?). She was Ukrainian and, I believe, in her late eighties. With her hair pulled up in a bun and wearing her muumuu-type dress, she spent almost all day tending her garden of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, corn, and other expertly-grown produce. She was a sweet neighbor, until the groundhog decided to venture out from under the shed into her garden — then she became ruthless. For an elderly woman, she could be very spry. In a flash, I’d see her grab a broom and chase the critter. After she passed on, I picked up her technique for myself…Note to readers – I only scared them away, no groundhogs were injured in the process!

Woodchucks were actually a double threat to our garden. Not only can they burrow under the fencing, but they can also climb quite well. woodchuck on grassWhen the groundhog became nervous about being in my neighbor’s garden, it would climb the chain link fence into our yard. I never realized they could climb that well, until I watched one skillfully pausing at the top to make sure the coast was clear. As soon as he decided he could visit without interruption, he’d jump right down from the fence into our garden.

If you can forgive them for raiding your veggies, woodchucks are quite fun to watch. They waddle around like large, rotund guinea pigs. They are quite humorous when they stand on two legs, probably checking the landscape for broom-carrying humans. I’ve never had an encounter with one that was aggressive; they seem to run away quickly when a human being comes near. Other than human entertainment and their yearly prediction of when spring will come, groundhogs do make a contribution to the ecosystem. Other animals use their burrows as shelter and all their digging helps improve the quality of the soil. Interested in learning more about these creatures? A general woodchuck overview can be found on this school website.

Bunny Perspective

This is our backyard bunny with his ears flattened.

This is our backyard bunny with his ears flattened.

This is the same bunny from the front. Sometimes it's all in the perspective!

This is the same bunny from the front. Sometimes it’s all in the perspective!

Signs of Spring

Trying to get the female cardinal to take notice

It’s spring, time to get the female cardinal to take notice

The male cardinal fanning his tail feathers

First a little singing, then fanning the tail feathers

The attentive female cardinal

The attentive female cardinal takes it all in

There are a few scattered piles of unmelted snow in the dark corners of my backyard, but some telltale signs of spring have come. The daffodils started poking out of the ground and, a few days ago, the spring peepers began calling from the boggy area down the road. I thought the birds would still be waiting for warmer weather, but the cardinals have already abandoned all thoughts of winter and progressed straight into the spring mating season.

I heard the male cardinal tweeting repeatedly the other day, so much so that I stopped what I was doing to look outside. From the top of a small tree, the male cardinal was loudly carrying on. The reason for all the ruckus? A female cardinal was perched nearby in an adjacent tree. After he finished his serenade, he flew over closer to the female and began chipping and strutting about, fanning his tail feathers and putting on quite a show. She played cool though, sitting very still and seemingly not giving him a glance. Today, I noticed the cardinal pair checking out the site of last year’s nest, so I suppose his display won her over. Spring is here!

Linking to “Signs of Spring” at the Outdoor Blogger Network.