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Winter Blirds

January 26, 2013

It’s winter in Vancouver. It can literally change from a downpour to a drizzle and back again for days on end. Overall it’s not the depressing brown that you see in the mid or eastern parts of N.A. because our plentiful evergreen shrubs and grass stays green, but everything else reflects the grey clouds that loom over your head.junco
One of the only things that keeps me from getting the winter blues comes to my balcony with fervent peeps and feathery little bodies.  I have a simple millet mix for the Dark-eyed Juncos, a type of woodland sparrow that breeds high in the mountains of northern Canada and comes down to the suburbs and valleys for the winter to forage.  Surprisingly, the invasive House Sparrow (a weaver finch of Europe) hasn’t visit my balcony, although I’ve seen them on the street side of our building.  I do have a regular pair of Song Sparrow. Both of these species tend to stick to the ground and pick up the scraps the other birds have thrown around.
housefinch1My hanging feeders include one filled with Black-oil Sunflower, a favorite with most birds who are capable of opening it because it is filled with high energy fat.  Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and House Finches all help themselves and I find myself refilling it at least every other day.
siskins1

I also offer suet fat. Most of the chickadees, nuthatches and a Downy Woodpecker will come take some nibbles, but who really attacks it with gusto are the Bushtits.  These 3 inch drab little brown balls of fluff stay in tightly formed flocks of a dozen or more scouring the neighborhoods for tiny morsels.  They must live a pretty nomadic lifestyle because they only visit me once or twice  a week. Another traveler but more common at my thistle sock feeder are the Pine Siskins. Streaked with fine brown lines and highlighted with yellow these finches hardly stop singing all year round, they are constantly chattering among themselves.
However as much as I enjoy all these birds there is one who charms me more. hummer1Hummingbirds are indigenous to South and North America’s, you will not find them on any other continent. In eastern N.A. we have only one species of hummingbird, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. They breed in the warm months of summer but when autumn comes they leave us to spend it in tropical Central America. However, here in B.C. we can see about 3 different species but one decides to stick around for the winter! The male Anna’s Hummingbird wears a beautiful flashy fuchsia helmet while the female a cape of the most emerald green.  From my observations they must try maintain holding their territories because they sing on top of their favorite perch even in the dead of winter. Once you know what they sound like I hear them so much more than I see them…that insect like buzz of a song. Hear it here
http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Annas_Hummingbird/id
My balcony doesn’t seem to be the ideal place for them because in the summer my humming bird feeder gets ignored, but when the cold air lingers they make it a point to stop by. How this bird,who weights no more than a nickel, and has to lower its body temperature and slow its heartbeat to go into a hibernating like state every night, survive day to day? It can only be a miracle.  I remember last winter it had recently snowed and was quite cold. A male I had coming, went back and forth from feeding to sitting on the backyard tree, all of a sudden he dashed out and went into a midair dog fight with another hummingbird. All I could think was that it was too cold to waste precious energy fighting, obviously he didn’t think the same. Here’s some fun facts about hummers
http://birding.about.com/od/birdprofiles/a/hummingbirdfacts.htm

References: http://www.allaboutbirds.org

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