One of the great joys of the winter garden is the comforting, lively presence of busy birds. Fluffing their feathers up for warmth, many birds overwinter here, animating the garden through the coldest, bleakest months of the year.
Ellen Blackstone of public radio's popular BirdNote reminded me this week that birds aren't just hanging out on the skeletal remains of ornamental grasses and perennials. They're working their way up and down and around the trunks of trees.
Red-breasted Nuthatches spot things other birds miss by moving down tree trunks rather than up. From this perspective, they can spot and eat all the tasty morsels missed by the rest of the birds working their way up the tree. Check out the nuthatches clever behavior here.
The Brown Creeper, on the other hand, insists on working its way up the trunk, then flying off to the base of another tree to start up again. This was the signature bird of famed Seattle environmental activist Hazel Wolf, who founded 21 of the 26 Audubon chapters in Washington State.
The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker in the country. Its petite size helps this little opportunist take advantage of food sources that larger woodpeckers couldn't manage, including tiny branches and plant galls. Downies often join up in the winter with chickadees, kinglets, and nuthatches, the better to keep an eye out for predators. The female downy is pictured above, the male, below:
Attracting birds to your garden, and nurturing them, is more a matter of what you don't do than what you do - avoid all chemicals and poisons. Don't be too tidy - leave some wildness in your garden to shelter and feed birds. Don't cut down perennials and grasses as long as they're still standing up...and you'll be rewarded by a garden alive with birdflight and song...
Photos courtesy of Mike Hamilton - thanks, Mike....