Backyard Birding
As is often the case when I'm reading blogs, The Common Room's observations on 'minding animals' left me thinking about other, related subjects. I couldn't help but think of "My Side of the Mountain" when young Sam Gribley shares with us how you perceive the weather differently when you are in it and subject to its changes. Animal behavior changes dramatically with the weather, and the more you 'mind the animals' the more you can tell when the weather is about to change for the worse.

This morning, as I looked out at my feeders, I had a feeling that the bright sunny day and melted snow was not indicative of the weather for the day. Thirty eight goldfinches, the largest group I have ever seen at one time, were lined up at the feeders. Our finch feeder serves eight at a time, and normally when more arrive, the remainder wait patiently in the bush for their turn. But today, the finch feeder was full, the hopper was busy, there was a fight going on in the platform feeder and the ground was alive with fluttering finches looking for dropped seeds.

As I write this, the sky is darkening and snow is beginning to fall. The wind is howling. And just a minute ago there were 45 goldfinches at our feeding station.

Many of my readers know we are participating in FeederWatch this year, and, among other things, we have enjoyed witnessing how the activity level at our feeders changes according to the weather. The nicer it is, the fewer birds we have...unless a storm is coming. Then we can hardly keep the feeders full. For anyone who missed joining FeederWatch this year or thought it was too much of a commitment, the Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up February 16-19. No registration is necessary and you can watch birds from anywhere you like. They only ask that you commit to watching for birds for at least 15 minutes, but you can watch longer if you choose.

During the last snow storm, we made an attempt at photographing the hustle and bustle at our feeders. The pictures are sort of dark because it was cloudy, snowy and they were taken through a window.

Here is my favorite, the Dark-eyed Junco. Juncos are migratory birds, and winter here while our wimpy native birds head further south. They feed exclusively on the ground, making them rather inconspicuous unless there is snow cover.

This little American Tree Sparrow is one of North America's native sparrows. He is a new visitor for us. I first noticed him because he was feeding differently. House sparrows sweep with their beaks while eating, which can be annoying when they are at your feeders. They spray the seeds everywhere. But our native sparrows uncover seeds by hopping back and forth, scratching with their feet. I had never noticed this behavior before, and then noticed the different color on his head and was able to identify him. He is also a winter visitor to Nebraska.

Last but not least is this monster of a sparrow. He looks like he is on steroids. You can't tell the size here, but we knew we had something interesting when a sparrow the size of a cardinal showed up. I hadn't a clue what it was. I knew the Harris' Sparrow was quite a large, native sparrow, and one which I had looked forward to hopefully attracting to our feeding station. A little research confirmed that this big guy is a juvenile Harris' Sparrow. This is most assuredly his first migration south! Soon he'll be flying home to his native tundra in Northern Canada.

Hopefully you'll take some time to check out the Great Backyard Bird Count! Let me know if you decide to participate. Happy birding!

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