Chickens are not the only birds we feed here at the ranch. We’ve got a collection of birdfeeders by our house to feed all of the feathered denizens of the woods around us as well as those who just stop by for a snack. We serve sunflower seeds and suet and add sugar water and jelly to our summer menu. Our arrangement with the birds is that we provide food for them and they provide entertainment for us. Win-win, right? Regularly glancing out the window to see who has stopped by for a snack is just part of life.
When our kids were young, they learned all of the birds’ names—and not just the last names (e.g. Cardinal, Grosbeak) but also the first names (e.g. Carl and Carla Cardinal, Gary and Mary Grosbeak). Of course, there were many cardinals and grosbeaks, but the males were all Carl and Gary and the females were all Carla and Mary—this system only presented a problem when multiples birds of the same species would show up at the feeder at the same time and then we could just say that Carl and Carla were entertaining guests.
Watching the birds at the feeder happens the year round, but it is especially fun in the spring as we wait for the first appearance of our migrators and the occasional glimpse of the birds that briefly stop by as they migrate through. With the Fourth of July behind us, we’re moving out of the spring season—nests are built, eggs are hatched, and fledglings are getting ready to leave the nest. On to summer! Here are a handful of springtime bird pictures that I’ve taken over the last several years.
Rose Breasted Grosbeaks are usually the first spring arrival at our feeders. They winter in Central America and Northern South America and are ready to chow down on some sunflower seeds when they show up.
Orioles winter in tropical South America and make the trip north each spring in a week-long Herculean effort that includes 24 hours of nonstop flying over the Gulf of Mexico. Orioles eat insects, but also like nectar, so are visitors to our hummingbird feeders. They also like fruit and the main feeder attraction is the jelly tray.
We only have one jelly tray—we like to encourage the Orioles to get a balanced diet and not eat just jelly. But the availability of only one tray sometimes leads to long queues of orioles impatiently tapping their feet and looking at their watches as they petulantly wait their turn.
About the time the orioles show up, we also start seeing the Hummingbirds—and we’ll have the feeders up and waiting for them. While you can buy premade hummingbird nectar, we make our own by dissolving a quarter-cup of sugar in a cup of water.
There are 300 species of hummingbirds, but we only get Ruby Throated Hummingbirds here in Minnesota. Ruby throated hummingbirds winter in southern Mexico and Central America. They live solitary lives, and unlike other birds migrate singly, and not in flocks. It takes them two weeks to make their trip; not surprising—they’re tiny little birds with tiny little wings and must be really tired when they finally get here!
Scarlet Tanagers show up in May and go for the same grape jelly that attracts the orioles. They are as frustratingly hard to attract as they are beautiful to look at. We may see them at the feeder for a few weeks after they arrive here and then they build their nests high in the canopy of our oak trees and seldom grace us with their presence.
Indigo Buntings are as brilliantly blue as the tanagers are red, and are every bit as elusive as the buntings. Their appearances at the feeders are rare and celebrated events!
There are more warbler species than you can shake a stick at. We see many of them only because they migrate through on the way to their summer breeding range north of here. I don’t necessarily see each of these species every year. I’m sure they pass through every year, and they more than likely stop by, so it’s just a matter of me being in the right place at the right time to see them.
Yellow Rumped Warbler:
Cape May Warbler:
Goldfinches live here year-round and visit our winter feeders in huge flocks. The thing we look for in the spring is when they go through their spring molt and males start wearing their fancy bright yellow outfits!
The “Red Finches” are also year-round residents, and like the Goldfinches flock to the feeders in the winter. When they go through their spring molt the guys wind up with handsome red outfits. House Finches and Purple Finches are the two species that I lump together as “Red Finches” because it is so hard to tell them apart. I think the bird in this picture is a Purple Finch? Maybe?
The Wild Turkeys are year-round residents as well and come frequently in the summer for water from our birdbath and also show up in the winter to scratch through the sunflower seeds that the other birds have spilled on the ground from the feeders. The thing we wait for in the spring from the turkeys is that day when the first turkey mom shows up with her babies in tow.
We have many year-round woodpecker species, but the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is one that migrates—it spends its winters in the southern part of the US and its summers here and points north. The last few years we’ve been able to spot several nests in hollow aspen trees after hearing the loud peeps of hungry babies. The dad in this picture was on one of his never-ending trips for food for the family.
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