Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Rare Visitor

Look who dropped by the other day!

This Northern Flicker shows the distinctive black spots on the white breast. The black "moustaches" on the side of the face indicate a male.

The Northern Flicker is one of 7 woodpecker species found in Indiana, and a rare visitor to the back yard. In our area, flickers are yellow-shafted, which means that underwings and tail feathers are yellow, visible from below. This one stayed only a few minutes and was primarily interested in the hanging suet feeders in the walnut tree. This tree is our "woodpecker tree," a favorite of downy, hairy, red-headed, red-bellied, and pileated woodpeckers all winter. The one Indiana species of woodpecker we've never seen is the yellow-bellied sapsucker, a small woodpecker that really does eat sap.

Flickers, like all woodpeckers, eat insects when they're available, and their favorite food is ants. They will forage on the ground or in trees, and will take berries or seeds when they can't get ants. They are monogamous, nest in cavities, and won't be persuaded to use nest boxes. They often migrate a bit south in the winter, but in Indiana they're present all year round.

When I spotted the flicker in our yard, I made a grab for the camera and hung out the window to catch a shot. My photos aren't really very good and don't do justice to this beautiful bird. I hope he'll come back soon so I can try again.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Yard Alarm

A lot of people don't like blue jays. They can be aggressive toward smaller birds, and are known to eat the eggs of other birds. They're loud, raucous, in-your-face birds.

But sometimes that's a good thing. Yesterday, we suddenly heard a blue-jay commotion out in the back yard. It sounded like every jay in the neighborhood was right outside our door. Cat? I wondered, as I peered out the kitchen window. No, not a cat -- a HAWK! Sitting in our woodpeckers' favorite tree, big and supremely confident, he surveyed our yard, looking for an easy meal.

All the birds had long since scattered. Not a bird to be seen anywhere, and none to be heard, except for those blue jays. They kept up the alarm until after the hawk had flown off, still hungry (thank goodness).

As for me, since the birds were safe, I made a grab for the camera, but missed him. He came back later in the day, and once again, the yard alarm went off, but I missed him again. It was probably a Cooper's Hawk, as far as I could tell, although there are a few hawks that are similar. Here is one I photographed last year in Illinois.

I would feel terrible if our bird feeders turned into hawk feeders. As far as I'm concerned, the blue jays are very welcome at our place!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sleepy Finch

Birds sleep in the oddest places. Spurning our attempts to provide a warm place to sleep, they prefer an open branch out in the cold.

Several months ago, my mate-4-life designed and built a roosting box for the little birds in our back yard. It's a beautifully constructed box complete with heating coil embedded in the floor, and it keeps the box about 30 degrees warmer than the coldest nights, with an upper limit of 50 degrees (we wouldn't want to toast the little guys, after all). It is an engineering marvel. But the "Birdie Hotel," as we call it, seems to remain unused.

I hung a little plant saucer from the hotel and filled it with sunflower seeds, thinking that the free food might draw attention to the comfortable roost just above. So what do we find? The hanging saucer itself has become a favorite roosting spot for this little house finch. He sleeps, fluffed up against the cold with his beak tucked in, on the edge of the dish, or sometimes inside it. Go figure.