Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.
Oak leaves, at least the ones in my yard, turned directly from green to brown and fell in droves during the windy days of the past week.
The trees are largely bare, most of the flowers that survived the fall have now perished in the year’s first frost and big, brown oak leaves cover many of the open spaces in the region.
There’s not a lot of color to be seen these days, except for evergreens and the occasional blue sky.
Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers may not be the most dynamic birds in terms of color but fall and winter is their time to shine. The subtle oranges on the titmice and chickadees, the gray-blue backs of the nuthatches, and the red on the heads of male downeys seem to be noticed more as the number of bird species we see at our feeders dwindles.
Even the white throat and yellow lore – the region between the eyes and nostrils — of a white-throated sparrow appears to glow brighter during these days.
Mourning doves may not be dazzlingly colored, but their muted tones are welcomed just the same, especially in the winter when a group roosts right outside a window and snow collects on their backs. Talk about brightening a dreary landscape.
Male juncos are simply black and white, and female juncos are brown or gray and white, but the brilliant contrast of those colors makes a junco sighting in the winter cause for rejoicing.
Then there are the ultimate day-brighteners: cardinals. Even female cardinals radiate in the winter, but male cardinals are the very symbol of bird beauty in winter. Untold numbers of Christmas cards, gaudy sweatshirts and paintings are adorned with the image of red cardinals amid a snowy background.
There’s no denying the cardinal’s rightful perch atop the bird world’s echelon in winter, but my personal favorite winter sightings are blue jays and red-bellied woodpeckers.
When I’m watching the chickadees and titmice flit back and forth at the feeders and a blue jay roars in, all attention is drawn to the large, handsome bird. They are a little awkward on the feeders but make quite a sight perched on a branch or scouring the ground below.
Blue jays were my original favorite birds when I was a kid. As I became a birdwatcher, I quickly realized that it’s impossible to pick one bird species as a favorite. I now have at least a dozen favorite birds, but blue jays are a list-topper.
Red-bellied woodpeckers are winter favorites because of their large size, attractive colors and odd vocalizations. These birds rule my feeders. They don’t visit the feeders often, but when they do, the other birds give them a wide berth. That includes blue jays, starlings and grackles.
Throw in the occasional hawk sighting and numerous waterfowl sightings on our waters and this season isn’t so colorless after all.