Enjoy the Great Outdoors
We are coming to the end of a seemingly long year and we look back on 2020 acknowledging our trials and some victories as well. We are looking ahead to the New Year with hope for better things. Winter is the time to enjoy the warmth of our homes and the love of family and friends. Looking out our windows at our feathered friends is encouraging to my heart no matter what time of year. Certainly, Nature provides for the birds even in the most extreme times for them. It makes me happy to keep a heated birdbath in wintertime for the birds who find it hard to get to open drinking water. I put out cracked sunflower seeds and high protein suet with seeds and peanuts. These drive the squirrels to distraction because I use caged feeders to prevent their reaching them. But enough falls to the ground to help them out. And they daily drink the water too.
We have lived in Colorado for 35 years. I still miss the Eastern songbirds, like the Cardinals, but have enjoyed the birds in different elevations in which we have lived. My favorite for the 16 years of living above 8,000 feet in elevation was our tiniest visitors, the pygmy nuthatches. The interesting thing about them is that they communally roost in winter. They will search out hollow logs or trees and sleep up to as many as 150 together to share body heat and prevent freezing. They forage in small noisy groups in the coniferous forests. The other nuthatches were the White-breasted nuthatch and Red-breasted nuthatch. All these species forage by walking down trees headfirst looking for bugs and seeds hidden by other birds. I admire these little acrobats who live upside down from the normal. We had Mountain Chickadees who are great insect feeders. They are the spider catchers of the forest in the summers. I have read the oldest Mountain Chickadees banded and caught lived over 10 years of age. Amazingly they are so tiny and weigh so little and yet sleep alone and manage through our harsh winter wea
ther, but in winter need 20 times the amount of food as compared to summer, just to live. No wonder they need the suet for replacing the insects that are not available. We loved the Juncos (also called Snowbirds), Downy woodpeckers and Common (Northern) flickers, noisy visitations of Evening Grosbeaks, Crossbills, the Steller’s Jays and Clark’s nutcrackers. The Clark’s nutcracker is an incredible bird. It can carry up to 100 pine seeds in its mouth and fly up to 20 miles and bury 100,000 seeds in 5,000 to 20,000 hiding places. These will be our re-planters of the pine forests in our burn areas!
Our favorite summer visitors were the Hummingbirds. We had only seen the Ruby-throated hummingbirds in Western North Carolina. But in Conifer we got to know the broad-tailed Hummingbird and the Rufous Hummingbird. Rufous males are brilliant copper throated, brown bodied, little fat guys. The females are green and some brown. They are the most aggressive of the hummers we have encountered. They have the longest migration route of all the North American hummingbirds. Nesting is in the northern western states all the way to southern Alaska. Usually, in Conifer, the first males would reach us about mid-July as the males begin the slow migration back to Mexico for winter. The females are pretty shy and soundless. The loudest were the male Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, who make a buzzing sound by shaking their tails. Since my wife and daughters were red-headed, the hummingbirds often flew close to check out their hair. Our favorite activity was to stand still by a feeder and put out a finger for them to perch on while feeding. It really works.
In traveling and camping in Colorado we’ve seen some more rare types. Western tanagers, Bald eagles, Sandhill cranes, water dippers or Ouzels, and many we never could figure out!
Now in Loveland’s lower elevation, we have regularly at our feeders Goldfinches, purple and house finches, Mountain chickadees, White-breasted nuthatches, Pine siskins, Eastern Blue Jays, and Downy woodpeckers, flickers, Red-winged blackbirds and Mourning doves. And Robins that come for drinks of water. We have a neighborhood Great Horned owl that we regularly hear at night. We feed cracked sunflower seeds all summer. But we save the Suet cakes till cooler weather drives the bugs into hiding and the birds have an increased need for protein. We love to see the Osprey nests on the Loveland lakes. And Blue herons, ducks and geese that nest on a small island in Lake Boedecker. Every walk around a lake like Boyd Lake or the River’s Edge Natural area always gives us plenty to check out, like white pelicans, seagulls, western grebes, cormorants, and ducks.
We are in no way great bird watchers or identifiers but that is the fun of being a year-round observer and enjoying when we see something new that keeps us engaged. I encourage you to give it a try if you haven’t.
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