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For the Birds....

It's gotten cold over the last week.  Winter cold.  Cars-covered-with-frost-in-the-mornings, heat-running-pretty-much-all-the-time, ice-covering-parts-of-the-beaver-pond cold.

So I've done the things that we generally do around the house when winter begins in earnest.  I closed the vents to the crawl-space under the house, I've opened up the fire place and stacked a bunch of wood, and I've filled the bird feeders.

For those of you who don't know, I'm an avid birder -- have been since I was seven years old.  The birds we attract to our feeders aren't terribly exciting -- no rarities or exotics.  But there's something so satisfying about having even the most common birds come to the feeders and eat the food we put out.  Both my daughters love it, and the younger one delights in telling me which species she's seen during breakfast.

This year's most exciting feeder bird at our house is a hermit thrush.  He's warm brown on the back, with a rust colored tail that he pumps up and down excitedly.  His breast is white, with a light sprinkle of black spots.  He never deigns to hop onto any of the feeders, but he's there every day, roaming the ground beneath them, catching the seed and scraps of suet dropped by the chickadees, nuthatches, and downy woodpeckers.  As I say, hermit thrushes aren't rare, but they're not usually so conspicuous.  Normally one encounters them in the early spring, and even then one is more likely to hear their fluted song than to see one.

As the winter goes on more birds will find the feeders.  Tiny Carolina wrens, with their harsh scolding calls; pileated woodpeckers, as large as crows, their cackling cries making them sound slightly insane; huge, chattering flocks of goldfinches; the occasional reticent bluebird.  We'll get hawks, too -- sharp-shinned or Cooper's -- watchful and alert, eager to make a meal of one of the aforementioned visitors to my feeders.  A Goldfinch McNugget to go.  Yum.

If you don't feed birds, you should.  It helps them through the winters, and it's great fun.  You can find cheap feeders and decently priced food at most home supply stores. (Sunflower seed is best for attracting chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice; thistle seed works well for finches of all sorts; the so-called "wild bird seed", which is a mix of millet and sunflower, will bring in mourning doves, sparrows and juncos; cardinals will eat both sunflower and millet, though they like safflower best; suet cakes are favored by woodpeckers.)  If you have questions, leave them below.  I'll answer as quickly as I can.

Today's music:  Bill Frisell (Good Dog, Happy Man)

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David B. Coe
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