Busy and Beautiful Birds of the Winter Garden

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Busy and Beautiful Birds of the Winter Garden

Categories: Blog, Newsworthy

Nothing enlivens the winter garden more than its bird-life.  If you’ve never taken time to watch their busy activities and observe their beautiful plumage, now is the best time to do so as they are easily attracted to feeding stations for an up close and personal look.  Powell Gardens’ Visitor Center is a great place to observe a marvelous diversity of birds, readily viewed from the warm comfort of the building.  We have set up a special observation area as part of Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s (study of birds) Citizen Science project. 

The most popular winter bird is the cardinal, its official name is the Northern Cardinal because other species are found in the Southwest and South America.  This bird was once found only in the American South but spread into the Midwest and Northeast with settlement and the planting of evergreens.  It’s favorite wintertime food are black oil sunflower seeds so it is easily attracted to feeding stations.  Only the adult male bird has the gorgeous red plumage.

Here’s an up close and personal look at a female Northern Cardinal.  Cardinals are known for their relatively large bill that readily cracks open seeds. 

This dapper sparrow is actually the largest species and a Heartland specialty: its the Harris’s Sparrow.  This winter adult was perched in the Flowering Dogwood just past the feeding stations.  It is the signature bird of the local Burroughs Audubon Society and two of the nation’s greatest birders: John James Audubon and Roger Tory Peterson recorded their first of this species in Jackson County, Missouri.

A Harris’s Sparrow did eventually come in close for this personal picture!  They are relatively easy to identify by their size, black face and bib. 

The male Purple Finch is another colorful bird making a good show this winter.  In the wild they eat ash and boxelder seeds, juniper cones and even the seeds from buckbrush.  Their favorite food at feeders is black oil sunflower seed.

Water is a critical component to a good feeding station so Eric Jackson, Our Director of Education set up this dandy water feature which the birds love!  The water is heated so it can operate all winter.  The bird drinking is a winter plumage American Goldfinch.  Yes, they stay here all winter but the males loose their yellow plumage for the winter.

Attracting a good diversity of birds to a feeding station is all about HABITAT.  Here’s the big picture of the wall where we sprinkle seed (the water feature is just to the left out of this image), with bird feeders beyond.  There is a wonderful diversity of plants around the Visitor Center that also provide food and cover for the birds.

We leave as many seedheads on herbaceous plants as we can.  Birds love the seeds from these Yellow Giant Hyssop (Agastache nepetoides) growing below the wall in the Hummingbird Garden.  Yellow Giant Hyssop is not that showy in flower but its flowers are extremely nectar rich and loved by hummingbirds and bees, the winter seeds are a favorite of goldfinches and juncos.

Here’s a panorama of the winter landscape of the Visitor Center.  The feeding stations are on the wall on the left / south wing of the building.  Deciduous shade trees of native oaks, hickories and walnuts; evergreen magnolias, young oaks with marcescent (clinging) leaves, dogwoods and other small trees, shrubs and beds of herbaceous plants provide a rich and diverse habitat for birds. With careful observation, 40 bird species can be seen around the building on a winter’s day.

Some birds like this robin do not come to feeders but feast on the abundant fruit in the garden.  Their official name is the American Robin and yes, many do overwinter here though visitors do not recognize them as the same bird on their summertime lawns.  This one is feasting on Possumhaw / Deciduous Holly berries and all is all fluffed up in the cold.

Cedar Waxwings are my favorite bird and a huge flock of nearly 200 has been flying around the garden gobbling up all the fruit on the garden’s trees.  They just would never sit still and this is the best image that I could get!  These are also feeding in a possumhaw.

So make some time to enjoy the wintertime birdlife in the winter’s garden.  All these images were taken by me from indoors (except for the panorama taken outdoors) over the past 3 days at the gardens.  Below are a few more images to enjoy:

An adult White-crowned Sparrow amid a swarm of American Goldfinches.

At the top of this feeder are a pair of Purple Finches.  Below is an identification challenge  because they are partial views but it is a Pine Siskin on the left and a female House Finch on the right.

Here’s a male Red-bellied Woodpecker with dramatic zebra-striped back and flaming crimson crown and nape.  It does have a more subtle red belly.  It was named from museum specimens where the birds are layed on their backs in droors — then the red belly is more apparent!

Here’s a striped Pine Siskin which is a northern and western relative to the goldfinch (forground right).  This winter there has been an invasion of Pine Siskins at area feeders.