Words on Birds

When dark-eyed juncos leave their summer mountain forest summer homes to invade our rural farmlands, lowland forest and suburban backyards, that’s when we know that winter is truly on its way.

For those of us that enjoy watching wild birds, we grow to depend on the birds to give us signs of the seasons. When I see the first rufous hummingbird or flock of red-winged blackbirds, I know that warmer weather is ahead, and there is an excitement of anticipation of warm weather ahead.

But when the northern flickers and the dark-eyed juncos make their first appearance in fall, it’s a mixed blessing as they fly in with the rain and cold and wind.

Watching the change of species that visit the feeders and helping to provide them with the sustenance they need to survive the winter season is one of the greatest joys of a wild bird lover.

John and Bobbi Ross live in the open mixed forestland outside of Toledo. Their home is surrounded by oak, maple, alder, wild cherry trees, fir and cedar — providing a variety of cover for their huge variety of fall and winter guests.

The northern flickers have arrived in en force, John said, and are “eating suet like crazy.”

The Ross’ lay out trays of cracked corn for the ground feeding doves and scatters a few handfuls in the yard for the smaller ground feeders.

There are forest dwelling nuthatches and chickadees, jays and pine siskins who visit to rob the feeders of raw nuts and sunflower seeds.

“We also have a lot of little wrens,” John said, “but they’re very secretive and hide as soon as we open the door.”

Janet and Jim Graham enjoy watching the antics of the birds in their Rochester home.

“As I go outside to scattered the shelled peanuts,” Janet said, “there is always one of the scrub jays around. I shake the tin pan before I throw the peanuts in the yard and when he hears that he starts chattering to alert the others and they all fly in.

Janet is also seeing a few new northern flickers and a large flock of dark-eyed juncos have arrived for the season.

Janet and John Lucas, who live in the far reaches of the Middle Fork area, enjoy keeping an eye on their feathered friends.

“The neighbors call me the Bird Whisperer,” Janet said.

The couple feed a flock of fifteen peacocks that hop the neighbor’s fence twice a day to enjoy a meal of chicken scratch.

“They are here every morning and afternoon,” said Janet. “They’re very noisy and kind of messy, but I enjoy them. They have a lot of different calls they use.”

“We have a great flock of mourning doves, juncos, run-of-the-mill sparrows, flickers and jay,” said Janet.

There has also been a small hawk watching over the doves and Janet has watched him make attempts to gather his own meal from her flock of dove dinner guests.

“He hit one of the doves the other day,” Janet said, “but he was too small to carry it away.”

Janet saved the downed dove from the under-sized hawk, she said, and today the dove seems no worse for wear.

“He’s back with his flock, eating with the rest of them,” Janet said. “He’s missing a few tail feathers, but he looks fine.”


Kimberly Mason is a freelance Outdoors writer and enthusiast who lives in Cinebar. Visit her photography blog, The (Almost) Daily Bird (blogs.chronline.com/dailybird), follow her on Twitter (ChronKim) or find her on facebook (Kimberly Mason — The Chronicle). Contact her via email at kz@tds.net or call 269-5017.