winter bird watching

Winter bird activity

We hope everyone had a great holiday season and many thanks to all of you who shopped with us and brought us baked goods. We greatly appreciate all of you. During the holidays we get so busy running the store our weekly blog takes a vacation. Many of you give us favorable feedback on our blogs, which is nice to hear, but if there is a subject you think we should touch on please let us know.

So far this has been a fairly uninteresting winter for bird feeding enthusiasts. Although people have seen Red-breasted Nuthatches at feeders sightings have slowed. If you live where there is a presence of pine or cedar trees keep a close eye on your feeders this cold weekend. Red-breasted Nuthatches show a preference for areas with pine and/or cedar. Since I have no pine trees I recently ventured out to Montgomery Bell State Park and only had to step out of my truck in the visitor parking area to see a group of 5 or 6 in the cedar tree I had parked near. By the way if you really want to see Red-headed Woodpeckers you will see them at Montgomery Bell. They, too, seem to prefer open areas adjacent to forest along with lots of pine trees. I enjoy golfing and birding at MB and marvel at the great numbers of “Red-heads “present.

Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Red-headed Woodpecker.

Red-headed Woodpecker.

With the fluctuations in temperature come fluctuations in feeder consistency. On warm days, anything in the 50’s or more, insects become active and your feeder birds may gravitate to the sudden availability of protein. Birds do not live on seed and suet alone and never will. Customers sometimes make the comment “the birds must be confused”. Not likely. They simply adapt to changing weather patterns and take advantage of whatever food sources become available. Although, on Tuesday when it reached nearly 70 degrees I heard some birds singing which is usually reserved for spring and summer. So maybe they are a little confused, or perhaps eager.

Some notable sightings around Nashville include numerous reports of Sandhill Crane flocks flying over, a Bald Eagle regularly seen around Hillwood Golf Course, and a Snow Goose at Radnor Lake. One sighting of an Evening Grosbeak in east TN got me a bit excited because it’s been 30 years since notable numbers of them have been seen in this area. And they like to visit bird feeders. But more sightings were not reported and the chance to see them here fizzled.

Sandhill Crane.

Sandhill Crane.

Evening Grosbeak.

Evening Grosbeak.

Bird Bio: Red-breasted Nuthatch

Male Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Females have browner caps and paler rusty underparts.

Hello backyard birders. The bird feeding action has gotten fast and furious with the onset of some cold, wintery weather. All over middle-TN there have been an abundance of great winter bird sightings. Pine Siskins and Purple Finch have arrived early and in good numbers. It is believed these species will show up here in greater numbers to spend the winter when certain food sources they require are lacking in more northern areas of the country. Look for them to go to feeders with sunflower, safflower, and finch feeders with nyjer or sunflower chips. The usual cast of winter characters is being seen around feeders as well. Look for White-throated Sparrow and Juncos feeding on the ground, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Kinglets and Brown Creepers showing interest in suet feeders.

The bird we are featuring this week, though, is the Red-breasted Nuthatch. I consider seeing this beautiful, busy little bird as a real treat. It’s not every winter they show up in this area but so far this year is showing a lot of promise.

The Red-breasted Nuthatch is smaller than the more common White-breasted Nuthatch, about 4.5” in length, and has a broad black line through the eye and a white line above it. Its call is higher and more nasal than the White-breasted and has been described as being similar to a tiny tin horn. They are considered common in areas with lots of pine and/or cedar trees, so if you have any pine and cedar close to your home be on the lookout for these great little birds. They have been seen recently all around Nashville visiting seed and suet feeders. There have been lots of posting about the Red-breasted Nuthatch in the Tennessee Birding Facbook group. If you haven’t visited this group it’s one way to keep up on new sightings.

New seed crop is now coming in our deliveries. I always look forward to the arrival of the new crop. The seed is very clean and has a fresh, earthy smell. See you soon.

Winter Birds Arriving

Dark Eyed Junco

Dark Eyed Junco

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

Although things have been a little quiet at the feeders some of our winter visitors will soon begin to appear at feeding stations.  This is the time when I begin ground feeding more.  Birds like Juncos, White-throated sparrows, White-crowned sparrows, and Fox sparrows start to quietly sneak into the picture below feeders and near areas of good cover like the brush piles I’ve created.  This handsome group of little birds likes white millet on the ground.  Sometimes you have to look closely to see them as they can blend into the leaves.  

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Purple Finch

Purple Finch

Other birds we look forward to seeing are Pine siskins and Purple finch, which may be seen in good numbers at finch and sunflower feeders.  Pine siskins and Purple finch are here practically every winter but their numbers may vary greatly.  Pine siskins may go unnoticed at finch feeders, blending in with the Goldfinches in their dull winter plumage.  Siskins are the size of a Goldfinch and their plumage is described as heavily streaked with a touch of yellow in the wings and base of the tail.  Listen for the buzzy “shreeee” sound Siskins make.  A flock of siskins may sound like bacon frying.  Goldfinches have slowly been returning to my feeders this week, although at first they were almost imperceptible because of their lack of color. 

Purple Finch on the left. House Finch on the right.

Purple finches are often confused with House finches.  While we see House finches year round at our feeders Purple finch are typically here only in the late fall and winter months.  The male Purple finch has a more raspberry red color that is most prominent on the chest, head and rump.  The head of the Purple finch is slightly crowned too. 

Suet feeders often produce some of the best surprises of the winter.  Golden and Ruby crowned kinglets will visit suet, as will the Yellow-bellied sapsucker and Red breasted nuthatch, Yellow-rumped and Orange crowned warblers, and Bluebirds and Brown Creepers

You may have noticed a lack of Goldfinches at your feeders. This is normal for this time of year. Read our post on “where did all the Goldfinches go”.  And every winter there are a few folks that will enjoy an overwintering hummingbird, like the Rufous, Anna’s, or even Black-chinned hummingbird.  If you see a hummingbird in the month of November or December please give us a call.

As always, a consistent supply of water is a great way to attract birds, especially in the winter.  Birdbath de-icers are now in stock.

Bird Bio: Orange Crowned Warbler

In the recent wintery weather did you see anything “different” at your feeders?  Just yesterday, Jan. 17, I noticed something different at a tube feeder with a variety of Wood Thrush Shop blends.  What caught my eye was a bird smaller than a Goldfinch that moved differently than the other birds.  It was quicker as it moved among the branches to the feeder, and it was by itself.  I then keyed in on the color which was more greenish-yellow than Goldfinches.  Looking through my binoculars that I keep by the window where I watch birds it became clear I had an Orange-crowned Warbler.  And it was the first recorded in my yard.  I got a little video to share with you although the quality isn’t great. 

The Orange-crowned warbler measures about 4 ½” in length and has no wing bars or distinctive marks.  It’s olive-green to gray above, and yellow-green below.  Looking through binoculars you may notice faint streaks on the breast.  The orange on the crown is barely visible and seldom seen.  They are primarily insect eaters but in this kind of weather they can adapt to small bits of seed and fruit. 

Other birds of note during the snowy weather are the Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Fox sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Eastern Bluebird (eating suet and mealworms), and Red-winged blackbirds.

Always be extra vigilante during winter weather for the more unusual birds.  They notice the additional bird traffic at feeders and follow in to investigate.

Bird Bio: Ring-billed Gull

Adult Ring-billed Gull

Adult Ring-billed Gull

Recent questions about “seagulls” from a few observant customers inspired this blog.  We were asked “why are seagulls here in TN”?  Gulls are a large diverse family of birds in North America and, in fact, there is not one named “seagull”.  Most everybody refers to them as such because they go to the beach and coastal areas and see gulls and that’s what they call them. 

Some species of gulls are mostly pelagic, meaning relating to, or living or occurring in the open sea. Other species of gulls frequent coastal waters or inland lakes and wetlands.  So, to see gulls on any of the lakes or rivers in the area is completely normal.  In winter more uncommon species of gulls may be seen as they get pushed down by cold temperatures north of here.  It is quite common to see gulls flying about in the parking area of Walmart and Lowes on Charlotte Pike because the Cumberland River is just a short distance from there.  Gulls are adept scavengers and frequently find discarded food items in parking areas.

In general male gulls are larger than females, which is the opposite of raptors, for example, where females tend to be larger. 

There are at least six gulls that can be seen in TN.  The Ring-billed and Bonaparte’s gulls are the most common and regularly seen.   Laughing, Herring’s, Franklins, and Lesser Black-backed gulls are less common and irregular.  

Ring-billed Gull

Adult Ring-billed Gulls are medium sized, have a white head and tail, and underparts are white, too.

The back and upper wings are light gray, and the wingtips are black with white spots. The adult's legs and eyes are yellow, and the bill is yellow with a black ring near the tip. They are about 18” in length with a wingspan of nearly 4 feet.  Like many gulls, it takes 3 years for a Ring-billed Gull to reach adult plumage.

“Ring-bills” are primarily an inland nesting gull that frequents garbage dumps, parking lots, and southern coastal beaches in large numbers during the winter

It is Tennessee's most common wintering gull arriving in late September and departing by early May.