Now that the majority of birds have made their migratory trips, except for those Canada Geese and several mallards who visit the fields across from Sunset Beach, bird watchers shift attention to those year round bird species in Alberta Fortunately, by having a few trees and shrubs in or near ones’ yard and putting out feeders, a variety of birds will find your birding haven and keep you company.
Common to many yards are house sparrows. Often Elaine and I will see up to 150 sparrows eating with great vigour as many black-oiled sunflower seeds as they can manage. The more innovative sparrows will sit below a suet block and pick up fragments chipped off by industrious northern flickers carving out a meal with their strong bills. If you have spruce trees that provide shelter in or near your yard, you may find black-capped chickadees darting from the spruce tree to your feeder, usually announcing their presence with a “chickadee-Dee-dee” call. With some luck you may have the diminutive downy woodpecker check out your suet blocks. The males have a striking red “cap” that illuminates any wintry day. Expect to see house finches, the males sporting a reddish hue especially the head. I always listen for the scree of the blue jay, announcing its presence and possible arrival at the feeders. Attracting blue jays with unshelled peanuts works well. It’s remarkable how they swallow several peanuts at one go, taking them to a hiding place. Although not a popular bird, the black-billed magpie, much like the blue jay, enjoys shelled peanuts. You may find them quite cautious in coming to a feeder, quickly grabbing a peanut and flying off into a nearby tree. Mountain ash trees have an attractive food source – the berries. Bohemian waxwings may arrive in flocks to inspect yards for berries. An ample berry supply can give you several hours of enjoyment as these beautiful winter waxwings devour the fruit.
As pastoral as a backyard covered in birds might be, you may see one predator visit every now and then. The fast flighted Merlin, a small falcon eats other birds. When a large flock of sparrows are present in our backyard, we await the arrival of a Merlin that likely lives at Founder’s Point. While sitting at the kitchen table a few days ago, Elaine noticed feathers,descending from above, landing on the deck. I went out to look at the roof and as sure as it was Tuesday, a Merlin was dismantling a house sparrow. Impressive in appearance, this falcon is a part of the natural cycle of nature, even if it is a little unnerving watching another bird being consumed.
Truly fortunate birders may see the odd pine siskin, common redpoll, red-breasted nuthatch or great horned owl come through their neighbourhood. In addition to black-oiled sunflower seeds and suet blocks, a dish of water is appreciated by birds. Winters are dry and even birds need to quench their thirst. Although the brilliant migrations are over, our true homebodies can keep us company on those cold days. Enjoying a cup of coffee, while watching feeders can keep you, the birder, in touch with the subjects of your hobby.