“In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”
― Robert Lynd
March 20th came cold and full of snow. That week we received an additional foot of snow to add to all the other feet of snow that fell this very white winter. But this was spring. A time of warming, blooms, birds returning. Fat chance of any of that since the forecast was for more snow and cold. The beginning of spring would look just like winter.
I was thinking it was a good thing I added the suet feeder to the winter garden. It has become very popular with the woodpeckers. At least the birds would have some suet. Little did I know true these words would be!
The first weekend of spring warmed just above freezing with a bit of sun, but still the garden was covered with snow. And still there was a flurry of activity out in the garden that I noticed out of the corner of my eye. So naturally I had to see what all the commotion was.
Low and behold the European starlings had arrived back for spring to find the ground frozen and encased in snow. But they found the suet feeder with no problem. And clever birds, they moved the roof of the feeder so they could had easy access to the suet. When starlings descend, there is no easy way to scare them away so they will stay gone. So I just made sure we had enough suet. I know the starlings are not native birds, but I feed all in this garden. Note: Starlings were introduced to the US in 1890 from Great Britain, and are the most numerous bird found throughout the world.
I enjoy watching bird behavior in my garden so I decided to keep close tabs on the “feeder follies” as I was sure it was going to be very interesting. I was not disappointed.
The starlings dominated the feeder until the hairy woodpecker swooped in and everyone scattered. His bill is long, hard and sharp. Not something to trifle with. Of course the downy woodpeckers were close by looking for a chance. Even a red-winged blackbird sailed in to take part in the suet feast (he was too fast for me to get a picture). Of course the large numbers of starlings bullied everyone away. They even ate the suet pieces lying all over the snow on the ground much to the chagrin of the dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) who bravely kept a close eye on the starlings for a break to catch a piece or two of suet.
I was ecstatic when the Juncos finally appeared in my garden again (see photo at the top of the post). They visited during the earlier March thaw vacuuming everything in sight. I love to see these beautiful sparrows as they clean up any seeds left over that the finches missed. But once the snow came again, they were relegated to picking up pieces of suet that were scattered under the feeder. These ground feeders are charming birds that methodically work the garden in groups to make sure no seeds remain.
Juncos remain all winter here in my neck of the woods, but I rarely saw them this very snowy winter with the ground covered in white most of the season. They’ll be gone soon as they get ready to head North to Canada their breeding ground. But while they are here I will enjoy their company. And the robins have shown up now that the ground is exposed and unfrozen. I have missed their lovely spring song.
And what of the suet? We’ll we keep replacing it for another month until the garden grows and the insects reappear so the birds can forage naturally. And I am sure we will have many more follies in the wildlife garden, as the season has just gotten under way. I know I can’t wait to be entertained by the critters that stop by.
Folklore: Junco hyemalis, have been called “snow birds”. The name hyemalis is Latin for “wintry” one reason for the snowy name. Also it is thought that Juncos foretell the coming of winter in their southern range. Of course the name may have come from their snow-white bellies that lie below their gorgeous slate-colored feathers.
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