Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The blackbirds are back

I heard the first red winged blackbirds of the year today. Two males were sitting in the top of the big maple tree in the yard singing their hearts out. The males usually show up here toward the end of December or early January, the females follow later, around the middle of February. I often wonder where they go. I saw them around here in late October feeding on the seeds of the sunflowers left in the garden, and then they were gone. They can't have gone all that far in two months. I know that the males and females form separate flocks in the winter and come back together when it is nesting time. We always have a large flock of them here as we have a marsh on the farm. It is a great place for the blackbirds, the occasional duck and Virginia rails. I've never seen a rail but we hear them in the marsh all spring.

Now that the black birds are here the bird seed in the feeders will start to go down fast. They are greedy birds. Up until now we have had our usual population of juncos, song sparrows, fox sparrows, and towhees at the feeders. I also saw the first pair of purple finches today.

And this winter the golden crowned sparrows seem to have stayed around. They usually show up in the spring to eat as many of our tiny seedlings as they can before they head up to the interior of British Columbia to nest. It took quite a few years before we figured out what was happening when a whole bed of peas would start disappearing. We'd blame slugs, cutworms, whatever, the usual culprits until I watched a flock of golden crowned sparrows run around in a bed of seedlings nibbling on the leaves that had just come up through the soil. They are funny little birds, looking almost like little mice down under the plants. They will fly up into the bushes just a few feet away and wait until you leave to drop back down into the garden. We quickly learned to cover all beds with floating row covers as soon as we heard their distinctive "Oh, dear me, oh dearie me" call in the spring.

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