Fall at the Feeders

As the seasons change, so do the birds that frequent my backyard feeders.

House finches and Chickadee
Two male house finches (red), a female house finch and a chickadee

The regulars are always around – the ubiquitous house sparrows, the happy house finches, and the daily morning visits of blue jays looking for their peanuts, always announcing their arrival.  The jays fly in fast, rocking the feeder as they land, and then spend some time choosing just the right nut, picking up and putting down several before finding just the right one.  Sometimes they fly to the nearby mulberry tree to eat the peanut.  The ground below is covered with broken shells here, belying their favorite perches.  Often, though, they fly off into the woods to cache their food for another day.  And then they come swooping back to the feeder, calling the whole way, to sort for the next best peanuts – back and forth until all the peanuts are gone.  And then the jays are gone too, until tomorrow morning.

Fall brings out the nuthatches as they stock up for winter, taking seeds to tuck into the cracks in tree bark to be eaten later.  I see them once in a while throughout the year, but in the fall, they are here every day.   They arrive like clockwork and signal the changing of the seasons.  For some, fall is a time of preparing for the coming winter.

White-breasted Nuthatch

A downy woodpecker pair is also making regular visits since I put out their favorite food, a suet cake.  In the summer, if I hang suet I’m only feeding the raccoons.  For some reason, the raccoons don’t come around very much once it gets cold.  Lucky for the birds.  These woodpeckers will visit the feeder all through the winter.

The adorable, tiny chickadees have become the most frequent guests at the hanging diner, even outnumbering the house sparrows most days.  They take just one sunflower seed at a time.  Flying back to the cover of the bushes at the edge of the deck, they hold the seed against a branch with one foot and hammer it open with their beak.  Over and over again, back and forth, calling chicka-dee-dee-dee.

Chickadee in the saftey of the bushes
Black-capped Chickadee

In my part of the Midwest, juncos are the harbingers of winter.  Some people are happy to see them back; others hate that they mean winter is peeking around the corner.  Juncos are winter residents here, leaving in the late spring to spend summers in the far north and returning with the coming cold each fall. I saw the first one on Halloween this year.  A few more are around now.  Once winter hits, there will be flocks of them.  They are one of my favorite birds.

Junco Cuteness

They prefer to eat seeds off the ground, doing a little shuffle dance to expose the fallen seeds underneath the feeders. I will strategically scatter seed atop the newly fallen snow for them, out of sight of my two dogs who also like to eat sunflower seeds off the ground.

Not a Bird
Not a Bird

Being on the Mississippi flyway, which is one of the few major bird migration routes in the US, fall migration often brings new birds who stop over on their way south.  In early November, a golden-crowned kinglet stopped briefly checking out the seeds left on this season’s Black-eyed Susans.  He left too quickly for me to get a picture.  I see them occasionally in the spring also when they pass through going north.

Flock of Pine Siskins
A flock of pine siskins

A flock of pine siskins spent a few days here last week refueling on sunflower seeds. I’ve never seen them in my yard before.  They are a little smaller than the goldfinches, who look similar in their drab winter feathers, but they are distinguished by striped bodies.  I always enjoy seeing a new visitor.  Just as quickly as they all came, they were gone.  For some, fall is a time to get moving to keep ahead of the cold.

As fall turns to winter, cardinals and chipping sparrows will join the regular crowd of juncos and house sparrows.

All girls – A female cardinal with house sparrows behind her and house finches on the left.

The nuthatches and chickadees will become more scarce. And all year round the Cooper’s hawk will come by to take advantage, too. It is a bird feeder, after all.


Cooper's Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk

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