Best Birding in the Yard

At Winding Pathways, we venture into our yard nearly every day, even if it’s raining, windy,

House Finch

Some birds homestead at Winding Pathways.

or frigid out. Of all the times, early May is our favorite to linger outdoors. Why? It’s the best birding.

Very late April and the first couple of weeks of May boast normally glorious weather, blooming flowers and birds. Lots of birds, including those we can only enjoy for a fleeting week or two.

Here’s how we group the birds that we enjoy in our yard. Odds are the same or similar species follow this pattern in backyards with good habitat across much of the continent.

THE HOMEBODIES

Some birds don’t migrate. They brave the cold and grace winter feeders. In summer, they often raise broods of babies on the edge of the yard. These include titmice, chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, house sparrows, and many woodpeckers.

THE NORTHERNER

Juncos are almost always under our feeders all winter gleaning seeds. To a Junco Iowa is the balmy south with a “warm” winter. Around mid-April they head north to nest in the boreal forests of Canada and Minnesota.  We won’t see them again until around Halloween.

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Canada Geese Life Rhytym

Rich made a New Year’s resolution to walk around Cedar Lake at least 100 times in 2017 after making over 90 lake circuits last year. The 60-acre lake is near downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and  features a 1.7 mile long paved trail following its shore. Every day pedestrians and bicyclists share the trail with Canada Geese.

“Lake circuits are always interesting, and many migrating water and shore birds visit Cedar Lake, but I especially like watching changes in goose behavior as the months go by,” Rich said.

Many people hate Canada Geese, mostly because of the mess they leave on the trail and lawns. But geese are fascinating animals. Closely observing them gives insights into their rhythm of life.

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Pileated Woodpecker on Suet

The pileated woodpecker checked out the suet and finally flew to the ground then up to the feeder to hammer out chucks of suet. Then, off to the tree where a female played hide and seek with it.

Turkey Time!

Well, the turkey characters are at it, again! Up they come each morning even  before sun up, looking quite fit and hale, and gobbling for breakfast.  At Winding Pathways we get a kick out of the web pages and sporting flyers that detail all the equipment one needs to bag a turkey and how early one has to get up to beat the turkeys out of bed.  Special camo clothes, calls, camo guns, shells. To the credit of the web sites, they do offer intriguing information on strutting, clutches of eggs, turkey senses, and habitat. A Kidzone site shares an interesting story of the “mix-up” of the name. and, of course, Audubon gives a great set of pictures and details about turkeys.  All fun reading.

From the comfort of our home, we sip our coffee and watch a crew of seven meander up from the ridge where they roosted and another eight that saunter over from the neighbor’s trees.  Then, it is the Sharks and the Jets (think West Side Story) as they squabble over the seed tossed out – not for them – but for the song birds. Or look at us with pathetic longing, trying to make us think they are starving.  Ha!

Meanwhile, the less dominant males slide in for a feast.

Same with mating. The dominant males strut and intimidate and the less aggressive males sidle up to a female that is ready and mate. Maybe we will eventually have less pushy turkeys.

Enjoy this gallery of winter and spring turkey antics.

Bald Eagle Parents

We’re lucky to have a pair of bald eagles nesting within walking distance of our home. Occasionally we clamber through the woods to check on the couple, but we’re careful to not disturb them. We stay a hundred yards away from their nest tree and spy on them through binoculars.

On March 12 Rich witnessed a remarkable trait of eagle parentage. Incubation is a female task with most birds. The male rarely sits. Not so with bald eagles.  The soon-to-be father helps keep the eggs warm. Rich happened to be near the nest during the changing of the guard.

Nest

Watching from a distance.

He could see just the white crown of the sitting eagle’s head protruding from the huge nest built high in a white oak tree. Its mate perched on a limb about 50 yards away. Suddenly the sitting bird climbed off the eggs, spread its wings, and began circling the nest. Its mate joined the circling.  After a few revolutions around the nest the recently sitting bird made a beeline north, presumably to look for dinner. The remaining eagle circled a few more times before settling down on a branch near the nest. After a minute or two it hopped into the nest and settled down over the eggs.

Who was who? Male and female bald eagles look alike, so Rich couldn’t tell if the male or female was the first incubator. It doesn’t really matter. Cooperation between the two is fascinating as this link shows.

Eagle parentage is an exercise in teamwork. The pair built the nest, take turns incubating, and both hunt for nestling food.

Eagle On Nest

Eagles share parenting duties. Photo by M. Norlander

Eagle nests are becoming more common everywhere. The birds mostly feed on fish, so likely nest locations are near rivers, lakes, or the ocean. Nests are enormous piles of sticks, usually high in a tree and easy to spot. Bald eagles don’t seem bothered by roads, stores, or houses and often nests are within sight of heavy human activity.

Find a nest, dress warmly and sit some distance away with a pair of binoculars. You’ll be treated to examples of outstanding parentage.  We plan to spy on our local eagle pair from a distance through the 35-day incubation period and as they raise their chicks.

Titmice – Late Winter Songsters

Nearly everyone who feeds  birds across the eastern United States enjoys luring

Tufted Titmouse

The tufted titmouse is a year round resident in much of the Eastern United States. It’s late winter call is a sure sign of spring.

the black capped chickadee, white breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker, goldfinch, and cardinal to the yard. All are fascinating nonmigrating birds of  deciduous forests and suburbia. We love all these birds but especially enjoy the tufted titmouse.

The titmouse also loves living in suburban areas and wooded places. It’s a homebody that doesn’t migrate, so   they can be seen all year. However,titmice are most commonly spotted when visiting feeders for meals of sunflower seeds.

The titmouse has a more limited range than chickadees or nuthatches. At Winding Pathways in Eastern Iowa we are near the northern and western edge of their range. From Iowa they range east to the Atlantic Ocean and south from New England to the Gulf of Mexico.

A titmouse has a surprisingly loud voice for such a small bird. We enjoy hearing them as we walk in our yard. To learn more about this beautiful bird, and to enjoy its song go to the Cornell University  Laboratory of Ornithology’s website.