Winter Birds

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Winter Birds

Categories: Blog, Garden Guru

Powell Gardens is a fine place to watch winter birds. Feeders have been placed outside the cafe for your entertainment and enjoyment to watch while you have lunch. The feeders have been a flurry of activity during the recent snow and ice as birds have had a tough time finding food with everything encased in ice.

At the cafe feeders watch for many Northern Cardinals (the official name of our cardinal or red bird), Blue Jays, American Goldfinches (in their drab winter garb), Purple Finches (males in raspberry stained attire — females streaked brown with a white eye-brow), Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and a plethora of unique winter sparrows including: the Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco (often called “snowbirds”), American Tree Sparrow (with a rusty cap and black spot on their tummy), Song Sparrow (streaked with a tummy spot), White-crowned Sparrow (adult birds have a white racing stripe on their head) and the local endemic and largest of all American sparrows: the Harris’s Sparrow (with a black bib) which is almost as big as a cardinal. Harris’s Sparrows nest near Hudson Bay and winter in the lower Great Plains and are much sought after birds by East and West Coast birders.

Virtually every species of wintering sparrow has shown up feeding on cracked corn sprinkled on the walls outside the cafe (Harris’s, White-crowned, White-throated, American Tree, junco, Song, and Swamp Sparrow are regular; while Lincoln’s, Vesper, Savannah, and Field Sparrows are rare here in winter). The Missouri Department of Conservation puts out a nice pamphlet on the identification of winter sparrows in Missouri — they are not all just “little brown birds!” Come out and take a look at their subtle and beautiful plumages.

We have aerators in the lake which keep it unfrozen so Powell Gardens is also a good place to see waterfowl. Take a moment to look at the ubiqutous geese! This time of year our local big races of Canada Geese are joined by northern (truly Canadian) “Lesser” Canada Geese which are much smaller. There are always a few of the smallest geese, now officially considered a separate species named Cackling Goose — these birds have a squeaky voice and are the same size as a Mallard duck. They simply look like miniature, short-necked, little billed Canada Geese. Occasionally our flock of mixed geese contains a Greater White-fronted Goose, white Snow Goose and its dark form “Blue Goose” and the small Ross’s Goose here on occasion (it looks like a miniature Snow Goose).

There are some local free-flying (feral) Greylag Geese (the European goose that is at the opening of the movie “Winged Migration”) around too and they have hybridized with the local Canada Geese so you may see some weird unidentifyable hybrid geese here too. I put them on our bird checklist because so many visitors ask what they are: “What’s the loud goose with the orange bill and the big white butt?” All our geese are a lot to learn if you are a beginner but join us on February 17 and we will take the time to show you all these nuances (regardless of your level of skill) during our bird hikes for the Great Backyard Bird Count sponsored by the Cornell Labratory of Ornithology.

Employees have reported many other birds on the immediate grounds so keep a keen eye and ear while visiting. A Great Blue Heron likes to hang out on the ice free shore below the west bridge to the island garden and was joined by a Wilson’s Snipe last Friday. Mallards, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler and Common Goldeneye are species of ducks that can be seen with our geese lately. The large, crow-sized Pileated Woodpecker has been making appearances and a wintering flock of beautiful Red-headed Woodpeckers can be seen in the woods off the walk to the chapel. Cedar Waxwings continue to be seen along with a few Eastern Bluebirds feeding on what little fruit remains. I shall hike the long Byron Shutz Nature Trail for a future report! Birds add considerable life, sound and color to the winter garden so come out and take a look.
Good birding,
Alan Branhagen