Snow photos: Here come the cardinals

Photo by Chris Bosak A northern cardinal grabs a seed from a feeder in Danbury, CT, March 2019.

More snow photos from the other day. Here’s a female cardinal sharing a platform feeder with a chickadee and a male looking sharp in his red plumage.

Quick facts: Did you know that fewer than 40 percent of cardinal nests actually fledge young? That’s according to the folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Lab’s NestWatch team studied cardinals and came up with some interesting results. For instance, despite that low success rate, cardinals are a successful species overall. A long breeding season and occupying a variety of habitats are part of the reason.

The article on the NestWatch website also looks at why male cardinals are so darn colorful. Hint: Yes, it has to do with impressing female cardinals. Here’s a link to the insightful story.

Photo by Chris Bosak A cardinal and chickadeee share a platform feeder following a snowfall in Danbury, CT, March 2019.

Barred owls abound

After my latest bird column published in The Keene Sentinel this week, I received a few additional photos of barred owls from readers in SW New Hampshire. Funny how they are showing up on feeding poles so often.

Here is the column explaining the Year of the Barred Owl.

First (below) is the original photo I received and then two additional ones.

Photo by Bob Sullivan
This barred owl perched on a bird feeding pole and took several dives at a vole under the snow in Westmoreland, N.H.
Photo by Dale Woodward This barred owl was spotted on a feeder pole in February 2019 in Walpole Village, N.H.
Photo by Rick Allen This barred owl perched on a feeder pole in Swanzey, N.H., during February 2019.

Titmouse and the peanut

Photo by Chris Bosak
A tufted titmouse take a peanut from a railing in Danbury, Connecticut, February 2019.

Here is a short series of photos showing a tufted titmouse contemplating and ultimately deciding to make off with a peanut, which looks comically large in the bird’s tiny bill. Good thing titmice don’t swallow their food whole.

I got this.

Continue reading

Live was a flop, but here are some photos from today

Photo by Chris Bosak
A song sparrow takes shelter in an old Christmas tree during a snowfall in Danbury, Connecticut, February 2019.

My attempt to go live from my feeders today was, well, a learning experience. The video quality looked much better on my iPhone screen than how it translated onto the big screen next to me. Also, Facebook live makes you shoot vertically (not how you’re supposed to do it!) so the first several minutes appeared sideways. Who knew?

The birds were fairly cooperative during the 15-minute live shoot. A group of pine siskins covered the tube feeder while mourning doves, titmice, chickadees, goldfinches, juncos, downy woodpeckers, and white-breasted nuthatches visited the various other feeders. A song sparrow, an irregular visitor at my feeders anyway, also showed up and took seeds from the platform feeder.

What was somewhat expected but didn’t show up were blue jays, cardinals, and red-bellied woodpeckers.

I guess it’s time to look into a new camera capable of streaming live video. The iPhone just didn’t cut it – at least for this experiment. Thanks to those who did tune in. Next time will be better.

In the meantime, here are some more photos from the action Continue reading

How birds stay warm in winter (a For the Birds rerun)

Here’s a For the Birds column I wrote a few years ago. Seems appropriate with a cold, gusty wind blowing today.

Photo by Chris Bosak An American Tree Sparrow perches near a feeding station during the snowstorm of Feb. 13, 2014.

One of my favorite times to watch birds is when the snow is falling. Not a driving snow with icy temperatures and high winds, but an otherwise rather pleasant day with frozen crystals falling from the sky and covering everything with a fresh coat of white.

I do not shy away from taking walks to look for birds when the snow is actively falling, in fact I thoroughly enjoy walks at such times. But I also enjoy very much watching the activity at the feeders during snowfalls.

As long as the snow is not falling at too fast a rate, the birds will continue coming to feeders. Indeed, during light and moderate snowfalls the birds may be seen at higher-than-usual numbers at backyard feeders.

I will often grab my camera, open a window, pull up a seat and capture images of the hungry birds as snow falls and collects around them. I could do that for hours. Heating bills be damned. The usual suspects such as Northern Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and White-breasted Nuthatches are typically seen in high numbers during snowfalls. It’s also a great time to see birds such as Carolina Wrens and Dark-eyed Juncos.

But what about when it’s a heavy snowfall? I mean, right in the middle of the worst of it? Birds are scarce then. Wouldn’t you be, too?

Where are the birds then? Most humans are holed up at home or work or some other place of shelter. Birds do pretty much the same thing. Whether their shelter is an evergreen bough, a patch of thick brush, a bird house, an old nest hole in a tree, or even under the snow, birds do their best to stay out of the harsh weather. 

Birds don’t have the luxury of a thermostat to crank up during these times. They don’t need artificial sources of heat, however. They have several natural defenses against the cold. One such defense is to puff up their feathers to trap warm air within their down feathers. This keeps the cold air away from their bodies. It’s the same principle as us putting on a jacket (especially a down-filled one.)

Depending on the species, they may also huddle together for warmth, often holing up together in a birdhouse. That’s why it’s important to keep your birdhouses up all year and to clean them out after the nesting season. Some birds, such as grouse, will even use the snow to their advantage by burying themselves into the snow for shelter. Those birds are insulated by the snow and out of the elements. The danger with that strategy is sometimes snow will turn to ice and a hard surface may form on the top of the snow.

Birds also know beforehand when a storm is coming. Sensing a change in air pressure, the birds build up their fat reserves to use as energy during the storm. That, obviously, makes the time leading up to harsh weather a good time for us to watch feeders, as well. Food, eaten beforehand, is important to birds’ survival of storms.

So make sure your feeders are well stocked this winter and offer a variety of foods in different feeders. I’m sure more snow is coming before too long. 

A shot from the storm: Cardinal in snow

Photo by Chris Bosak A northern cardinal eats seeds from a feeder during a snow storm, March 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A northern cardinal eats seeds from a feeder during a snow storm, March 2018.

Here’s one shot from today’s nor’easter that hit parts of New England hard. Here in Danbury, Connecticut, we got socked with over a foot of heavy snow. The day started out calmly enough, but around 3 or 4 p.m., the heavy stuff started falling and accumulating FAST. I got this cardinal before things got out of hand. Hopefully, there will be more shots to follow.


No wonder the birds suddenly stopped coming to the feeder

Photo by Chris Bosak  A Cooper's hawk looks up after landing on a snowy branch during a moderate snowfall in Jan. 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Cooper’s hawk looks up after landing on a snowy branch during a moderate snowfall in Jan. 2018.

Watching birds at my feeders during a snowfall is one of my favorite things to do. This year I’m getting nothing out of the ordinary. Not that I’m complaining because I love seeing the titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers (downy, hairy and red-bellied), blue jays and juncos, but I haven’t seen a single siskin, redpoll, Carolina wren or even goldfinch or white-throated sparrow. A male cardinal makes a very rare appearance.

During a recent snowfall I saw nothing for a long stretch. I had been seeing lots of birds earlier in the day and suddenly, nothing. I looked behind the feeding station and noticed why. You guessed it, Cooper’s hawk. Along with sharp-shinned hawks, Copper’s hawks like to check out feeding stations periodically for an easy meal. And why not. The “feeder birds” are there for an easy meal; why begrudge birds of prey one?

Leftover snow photo 4: just another junco

Photo by Chris Bosak  A Dark-eyed Junco perches on an evergreen during a snowstorm in Feb. 2017 in Danbury, Conn.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Dark-eyed Junco perches on an evergreen during a snowstorm in Feb. 2017 in Danbury, Conn.

Tomorrow we’ll think warmer thoughts on this site (stay tuned) but for now here’s another photo from that snowstorm last week. Remember, juncos were the most prolific bird in my yard that day, so naturally I have plenty of junco photos.

Leftover snow photo 2: Titmouse eyes a peanut

Photo by Chris Bosak  A tufted titmouse contemplates grabbing a peanut from a deck railing following a snowstorm in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A tufted titmouse contemplates grabbing a peanut from a deck railing following a snowstorm in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 2017.

Here’s another leftover snow shot from last week’s storm. Titmice were the second-most reliable sighting in the backyard during and after the storm(s). Junco was the best most reliable with dozens in the backyard at any given time.