A blog about a first-time house owner learning to maintain his backyard, and thoughts about nature, science, history, and life.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Feed the Birds...

Before I get to the topic of today's post, a quick update on the weather and the creek.  We've had the rainiest week since I moved here, and as a consequence, the creek is also the highest it's been in that time and running faster than I've seen it.  The dock is within a couple of inches of being completely submerged, but it's holding strong.  I think, having watched it withstand relatively high levels of water before, that it would take something like a flood wave to displace it.

One of the interesting things about my yard is that I never know what I'll find in it.  In the letter that I recently received from the village's unofficial historian, she mentioned that one of the previous owners of the property next door, which was carved out of my property, ran a car garage repair shop and "didn't keep things very neat, so you might find most anything out back."  And I certainly have.

But this post starts with something that I found out front.  In the photo above, you probably don't see anything out of the ordinary.  And in my first three months of living here, neither did I.  But this weekend I happened to look at the ground near the base of the tree, and I found an artifact from a former homeowner who apparently loved birds.  Some time ago, I posted about a suet feeder that's nailed to one of the trees in the backyard.  In the frontyard, they kept a more conventional bird feeder.

When I examined the feeder up close, I found that the birds hadn't completely emptied it before it fell to the ground.  It appeared to be full of some strange combination of birdseed, mud, and mold.

This was an ironic find, because earlier in the afternoon, I had taken a quick survey of the natural food sources for the birds that are going to tough out the winter here around my yard.  They seem to spend most of their time in the nature preserve on the other side of the creek, but I've seen them invade my yard in numbers on a feeding spree before, and I expect as they get hungry they'll do so again.  Right now, it's still relatively warm, and we haven't had too many cold nights, so there are still some prey - of the insect variety - around.  Yes, that's a rather large mosquito silhouetted against the clouds in the photo below (only a few inches above the camera), not a bird flying high.

Most of the birds that I've seen invade my yard, though, have been small seed-eaters like sparrows.  There's still plenty of seed there for the taking.  There are the smaller trees that I haven't identified yet (though I do have a tree identification book now) that have clusters of purplish seeds high on their branches.  The birds seemed to enjoy these quite a bit, and the branches offer a sturdy spot from which to peck at them.

And then, closer to the ground, there are smaller clusters of seeds (the brighter patches in the photo below) on the top of the many goldenrod plants that are scattered in the wildflower patch beneath those trees.  These may harder for the birds to get at, because the goldenrod stalks are too narrow and fragile to support a bird's weight.  I did see some smaller birds feasting on goldenrod seeds from the comfort of a fallen tree branch, though, and over time I expect that the goldenrod stalks will continue to bend over, bringing the seeds closer to the ground.

And finally, for the berry-eaters out there, though the raspberries are long gone from the black raspberry plants, the other thorny plants in the yard (which I haven't yet identified) sprouted small red berries late in the summer or early in the fall, and these - I assume they're edible - remain there for the picking.  It would seem that even if I don't clean the bird feeder and keep it filled or provide suet in the suet feeder, there's still plenty of food to keep the birds coming back to the yard this winter.

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