For the Birds Radio Program: Winter bird activity

Original Air Date: Jan. 4, 2001

This winter, Laura’s feeders have been hopping with birds, but she’ll be in Costa Rica this month so won’t get to enjoy them for a while.

Duration: 4′25″


For the past several winters, activity at my bird feeders has been pitifully slow. But this year I’m going through a fifty-pound bag of sunflower seeds every week, and my feeders are busy all the time. Part of the seed isn’t going to birds–at last count I had 20 squirrels coming every day.

But in addition to my regular nuthatches, chickadees, and downy and hairy woodpeckers, this winter I also have a dozen juncos, two White-throated Sparrows, as many as five cardinals, and two or three hundred Pine Siskins. One day a Northern Shrike landed in the box elder just outside my upstairs home office window. Another time a Pileated Woodpecker flew into the same tree, inches from my window. A Sharp-shinned Hawk spent an afternoon in my yard, too. I like hawks from a distance, away from my birds, but it was still exciting seeing this beautiful hunter. I’ve also had flocks of both Purple and House Finches. For the first winter in over a decade, whenever I look out the window I see birds flying about. I feel rich beyond measure.

Pine Siskins are drab little finches, but what they lack in beauty they more than make up for in sociability and jolliness. Dozens can crowd into a single platform feeder, since they’re wonderfully easygoing with their own kind. They don’t have what you’d call lovely vocalizations, but their friendly twittering calls and zippy song are enough to keep me smiling. And with so many, I can often hear them even through double-paned tightly closed windows.

The purple and house finches are fun in part because identifying them can be so tricky. I don’t wear my glasses for close work, and so they aren’t on when I’m working at my computer. But when I look up to an out-of-focus reddish finch in my feeder, it’s fun guessing which it is before I grab my binoculars or put on my glasses. I’m getting more and more accurate in my guesses thanks to these visitors.

My nuthatches and chickadees are always fun to watch. Chickadees are endearing to just about anyone. I don’t know what it is about nuthatches that so attracts me. Is it their topsy-turvy way of looking at the world? Or their amusing calls? White-breasted Nuthatches look so gentle and mild for having voices that sound so cranky. To my eyes, Red-breasted Nuthatches always look like they’re in a good mood, but to my ears they always sound whiny, like little children with nothing to do on a rainy day. But something in that whiny tone makes me smile.

Woodpeckers always seem busy and focused-I think of them when planning my own New Year’s resolutions. The shrike seemed just plain hungry. As it flew in, every one of my other birds disappeared. Predators always make me feel ambivalent-I was as happy and relieved for my songbirds as I was sad for the poor hungry butcherbird.

Ironically, now that I finally have a lot of birds to watch again in my yard, I’m not going to be here to enjoy them for just about all of January. As you hear this program, I’ll be in Costa Rica. While I’m watching exotic hummingbirds, trogons, and my yearned for Resplendent Quetzal, I probably won’t be thinking much about siskins and juncos and all the rest. But my husband and my son will be keeping my feeders full while I’m gone, helping these birds make it through the coldest month of the year. It will probably still be frigid when I return on January 27th but their sociable, friendly ways will make my homecoming warm and sunny.