For the Birds: Welcome mat for the typical birds

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers. Thanks for checking it out …

Photo by Chris Bosak A blue jay grabs a peanut from a deck railing in New England, fall 2019.

The word typical often has a negative connotation.

It is usually used to describe something boring or mundane. “Just a typical day at the office.” Or worse, as a word of exasperation to draw attention to a recurring negative behavior: “He said what? Oh, that’s so typical of him.”

But I’m going to use typical in a positive way here. After all, Thanksgiving is a fresh memory, the holiday season is upon us, and 311 is my favorite band. The band encourages “positivity” and closes its concerts with “Stay positive. Love your life.” So I will do that here with the word typical.

The other day, all the “typical” birds showed up at my feeder. And that’s a good thing.

My typicals include black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers and blue jays. You can throw juncos in there, too, during the winter — and late fall as they have already arrived.

Other birds visit from time to time, but those are the birds that are always here. Many people have written to me lately about a lack of chickadees at their feeders. It’s definitely a trend to keep an eye on, but thankfully, I still have plenty of chickadees visiting my feeders. I still haven’t solved the mystery as to why so many people are experiencing a scarcity of chickadees, but I can tell you that I see them often.

I’m not trying to be boastful about my feeders or the fact that I see a lot of chickadees. There are some obvious bird species that I hardly ever see in my backyard.

Cardinals, for whatever reason, are rare sightings at my feeders. I see them all the time in the bushes along the sides of the road when I am driving through the neighborhood, but they avoid my yard like the plague.

Although I get more than my share of juncos in the winter, I rarely see white-throated sparrows — a usual accompaniment of juncos. At my previous houses, white-throated sparrows were a common winter occurrence and easily outnumbered all other winter birds. Here, I barely see them. I’ve seen more fox sparrows here than white-throated sparrows and that’s just plain odd.

I do see a ton of chipping sparrows in the spring and summer, but not enough to add them to my typical list. I am lucky enough to get good numbers of rose-breasted grosbeaks each spring, but their length of stay is too short to make the list. I do enjoy that short window each year, though.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds miss the cut by the barb of a feather. I see them daily from late April until the end of September, but I couldn’t bring myself to include a bird that is not a year-round New Englander. The hummingbirds are off sunning themselves and gorging on insects in Costa Rica or thereabouts, not like the chickadees, titmice and nuthatches that visit me daily regardless of the temperature.

I don’t just give out the title of “typical” to anything, you know.

Northern Cardinal looking right at you

Photo by Chris Bosak Northern Cardinal at backyard feeder, Oct. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Northern Cardinal at backyard feeder, Oct. 2014.

Getting back to my common backyard bird series … the Northern Cardinal is common, but certainly not plain. The cardinal is a favorite bird of many people — and it’s hard to argue.

My favorite thing about the Northern Cardinal is that it is a year-round bird for us here in New England. It doesn’t fly south when the days shorten or temperatures drop, like most colorful birds we see here. It breeds here and remains here, giving us a flashy bird to look for all 12 months.

Purple Finch: A welcomed visitor to the feeder

Photo by Chris Bosak A male Purple Finch eats sunflower seeds from a feeder in New England, Oct. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A male Purple Finch eats sunflower seeds from a feeder in New England, Oct. 2014.

The Purple Finch doesn’t exactly fit in with my series of “Common Backyard Birds,” but this handsome fellow visited my feeder over the weekend so I’m including it anyway.(No, that’s not your cursor on its bill, that’s a sunflower seed shell.)  It doesn’t fit in with the series because, sadly, the Purple Finch is not really a common backyard sighting in New England. The introduced House Finches certainly are, but the native Purple Finches visit less frequently.

Purple Finches and House Finches can be tricky to differentiate, but that’s mostly because we don’t see enough Purple Finches to get used to their looks. Some particularly colorful House Finches can resemble Purple Finches and throw off the ID. But, as someone once told me long ago, “When you see a Purple Finch, you’ll know it.”

I can differentiate the finches because the Purple Finch is larger and bulkier. Its “purple” (really reddish pink) is also more widespread on its plumage. The females are even more tricky, but again, are bulkier than their House Finch counterparts.

So an October sighting of a Purple Finch was most welcomed. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come this fall and winter.

Did you know: The Purple Finch is the state bird of New Hampshire.

Kicking off a celebration of our common backyard birds

Photo by Chris Bosak A Tufted Titmouse perches on a branch of a fading sunflower before heading to a nearby birdfeeder.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Tufted Titmouse perches on a branch of a fading sunflower before heading to a nearby birdfeeder.

This photo of a Tufted Titmouse is pulling double duty. It accompanied my latest column in The Hour (Norwalk, Ct) and The Keene Sentinel (Keene, NH), which may be found here.

It is also being used on this post to kick off a celebration of our common backyard feeder birds. This is a great time of year for feeding birds as the feeders are active with titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals and other birds. Under the feeder, birds such as White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos have returned. So to celebrate that, I’ll post a series of photos highlighting some of our more common, but beloved, backyard birds.