“In the midst of winter I found within my self an invincible summer”
I am not a person who loves winter. The cold, the darkness, the lack of flowers and green plants all get me down. Although I try to continue walking outdoors on most winter days, the free swinging feeling of walking outside is somewhat suppressed under multiple layers of coat, sweaters, hat, scarf and gloves. So in the winter, more than ever, I turn to birds with appreciation and pleasure.
The hearty winter birds are a true inspiration to people like me who tend to shudder at the first cold snap or snowflake. Small, feathered miracles, they withstand the blasts of winter, the wind and freezing rain, and still keep foraging, fighting, and singing.
Of course, most bird “fights” are merely warnings: the lifted head tuft or the fanned tail feathers remind other birds to make some room. But with so little food available in winter, it behooves every bird no matter their size to take a stand even on a tiny patch of ground or the narrowest branch.
Winter birds and the joy they bring are all around us, but in order to coax them nearer, we need to commit to feeding them. In fact, feeding birds, especially in winter, is a big business, with lots of money spent on bird feeders of every type (including those designed to discourage voracious squirrels) and a wide variety of bird seeds and suets to attract the widest variety of birds.
For years I have arisen fairly early in the morning with the facetious fantasy that I have to “feed the livestock”. No farm girl, (and with a salute to all real farmers), I am merely having fun first thing in the morning filling the cats’ bowls with kibble, putting fresh seed in the bird feeder, and more suet in the suet feeders.
I am rewarded for all these exhausting efforts (that must take all of ten minutes) by two purring cats and by dozens of winter birds who get needed extra sustenance, especially after a storm or hard freeze.
Who are some avian visitors whom you could expect to see at your feeders in winter? Here are some of the more common (and always delightful) ones:
- Chickadees, the kindergartners of the bird world who have irrepressible energy and cuteness.
- Tufted titmice, little bodies of soft grey feathers who make up in feistiness what they lack in size.
- White breasted nuthatches, whose white, grey, and black coloration almost seems to mimic killer whales, and who always descend a tree head-down.
- Red-bellied woodpeckers, confusedly named, since the bright red is found at the back of their heads, not on their bellies.
- Downy woodpeckers, slim and elegant in black and white, ravenous for suet.
- Carolina wrens whose smooth feathers of golden brown are a lovely contrast to the more usual winter bird colors of black, white, or grey.
- Cardinals, male and female (he a brilliant red, she an exquisite, muted orange/khaki) without whom the Christmas card industry could not survive.
These are just a few of the birds you might attract to your yard with a very small effort. If you are new to bird watching, I strongly advise you purchase a bird identification guide, available at every bookstore or online. It certainly adds to the pleasure of seeing birds when you can identify them by a few useful tips.