We 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.
Tag Archives: bird watching
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!
The kestrel that I saw flew fairly close to where I was walking. It landed in a tree and then moved to a few different branches before perching on a nearby wire. Moments later, it was in the air. It hovered in place while beating its wings, before suddenly diving down. It’s amazing how it can stay in one spot, despite the wind. The kestrel put on quite a display searching for food before I lost track of it. I couldn’t tell if it succeeded in catching anything or not.
Guide books describe the American Kestrel as a raptor of the falcon family, similar in size to a mourning dove or a jay. They are very attractive-looking; the colored patterns on the underside of the kestrel reminded me of a common flicker.
An American Kestrel in central New Jersey was certainly an out of the ordinary sight for me.
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.
The first raptor visit was early this morning when I was in the kitchen. Through the window, I saw the hawk perch low in the walnut tree next to our bird feeders. I wanted to take a photo through the sliding glass door, but the hawk flew off just as I returned from down the hall with my camera. Later this afternoon, I was outside in the backyard, with my camera, when the hawk returned a second time.
Normally, when a hawk is nearby, the backyard birds flee into the hidden areas of the bushes or pine trees and there is silence. All chirping ceases. This afternoon, the hawk appeared so suddenly it seemed to take the birds by surprise. They weren’t able to resort to their normal safety routines.
The female cardinal didn’t flee and hide. Instead, it stayed completely frozen in place on a tree branch, not moving whatsoever. The tufted titmouse was a little bit braver. It made a short, sudden warning call and then immediately dropped into the pine branches out of sight. The mourning doves stayed still in the same position they had been sitting in previously. The downy woodpecker, however, was the stealthy one. First, he froze on the tree branch. He didn’t move his head to the right or to the left, but you could tell he was aware of the danger. Then, he pressed his body down as close as possible to the branch. His final move was to swiftly rotate around to the underside of the tree branch to get out of the hawk’s direct line of sight. The woodpecker stayed completely still in that position, keeping the branch between himself and the hawk, until the hawk finally flew away. Once the danger was gone, the woodpecker moved back around to the top of the branch and started to eat some suet. The other birds also resumed their activities like nothing had happened.
Blackbirds, crows, ravens – I never thought much about them before. If I happened to come across a small, dark bird, I called it a blackbird. Anything slightly larger was identified as a crow. The common raven was a more mysterious bird to me, reserved for the legends of nevermore. This past summer, however, I came to realize that ravens were in our midst.
At first, I never actually saw a raven; I just heard something loud and unusual. It was such a strange noise that, when I heard it, I stopped washing the dishes so I could listen. It was more like a croak or a growl or a honking, definitely not the caw-caw-caw call of a crow. I dismissed the noise that day, attributing it to either the kids in my neighborhood or a stray cat spooking around outside.
Several days later, I heard the noise again and ran outside to try to locate the source of the sound. I kept this routine going for several weeks – I’d hear the strange noise and look around outside – but I could never figure out where the sound was coming from.
Finally, one day in late August, I heard the noise, ran outside, and saw the creature fly right between our house and the neighbor’s house…a crow, a blackbird, what was that? I wasn’t sure. I had never seen a crow come close to our house before and crows usually don’t fly solo. It was too large to be a blackbird.
I started looking on-line at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bird Guide and stumbled upon the raven. After I listened to the recorded bird calls I knew that was it! The bird I’d been hearing for the past month was the common raven. I certainly don’t remember ever hearing a raven in our neighborhood before. By the end of August, the sound of the raven was gone and I haven’t heard it again.
Early this December, the postal carrier delivered our copy of the winter 2012 edition of the New Jersey Audubon magazine. Inside was an article by Rick Radis about a bird that is becoming more common in New Jersey. The article was entitled, “The Return of the Raven”. Here was the proof, in black and white, that the range of the raven really has been expanding in New Jersey and their population has increased. I was quite happy that the strange bird noise I heard this past summer helped me notice something “new” in my New Jersey neighborhood.
What do ravens sound like? Here’s a short clip I recorded at the Raptor Trust:
Our yard seems to have transformed into a baby bird nursery. Nests in the front yard, nests in the backyard, nests on the side of the house…we’ve seen baby cardinals, baby mourning doves, baby grackles, baby house finches, baby house sparrows, baby robins, and baby song sparrows. A walk around the backyard produces a din of angry chirps and tweets from bird parents telling me to begone or risk being swooped at.
Ma and Pa Robin were the most outspoken. While hatching their four blue eggs next to our front porch, they chirped a warning every time I stepped off the porch steps. Once the babies came, their behavior became more frenzied. They relentlessly chirped and fanned their tail at me as I walked by. If you got too close, you’d have a speeding robin flying toward your head. Fortunately, I have not had actual contact with an angry robin’s beak.
Now that most of the hatching has taken place, baby birds are fluttering about the yard trying out their wings and discovering the world. Adult birds are zipping to and fro watching over their young and bringing worms, butterflies, and other tasties for their nourishment. Two things have amazed me about the bird nursery: 1. Adult birds seem to be able to find food for their babies quite quickly, over and over again; and 2., Birds can chirp pretty loudly despite having a worm hanging out of their beak.
Pretty soon we should be able to walk around our yard without creating a cacophony of angry bird sounds. In the meantime, it’s been fun observing the babies, and their parents, in our backyard bird nursery this spring.
We have a Northern Mockingbird who frequents the wire outside our house near the willow tree. This bird is very noisy, especially in the morning, but it doesn’t make me angry. Its repertoire of trills, tweets and chirps always makes me laugh; what an incredible range of sounds from one bird. Mockingbirds are appropriately named. If you didn’t know any better you’d think you had a half-dozen different types of birds in your backyard. This mockingbird can even imitate a bluejay (listen at :019 in the video).