|Cardinal before dawn|
|A female cardinal|
|A male cardinal|
Throughout the day, many birds come to visit as I provide a wide variety of choices — seeds, nuts, dried berries and fruit, suet — and what started as a simple attempt to attract and have birds nearby became a rewarding, enjoyable, though time-consuming, hobby; I love to photograph birds in the closest proximity that they will allow.
|A mixed flock at the feeder|
My feeder is just inches beyond my window as my camera’s zoom is not strong, and I have had the chance to study them in a very personal way, and to notice things I could not have observed from a distance.
One of my favorite local birds is the Carolina wren.
This little cinnamon-colored bird with the jauntily-angled tail and beautifully-patterned plumage is the acrobat of my visiting birds. He will hop all over and under objects, and pops up with ease through the hole in the middle of my platform feeder. One is left with the impression that the wren is having fun. I know he will look for more than one female this spring, sometimes keeping two families going at once. I’ve loved having these birds take up residence in my small birdhouses; but, take care when leaving your garage door open for long as wrens will have a nest going in no time. Wrens are especially fond of suet and insects. I had four fledglings visit the feeder once, and was absolutely delighted with their antics and behavior as they checked out every nook and cranny.
|A native White Throated Sparrow|
I see, feed and photograph many commonly-sighted birds visiting my feeders, and the occasional towhees, pileated woodpeckers, rose breasted nuthatches, sap-suckers, cowbirds, and grosbeaks; I see a number of species of our fairly common native sparrows which please me very much. I much prefer to take photos of the birds perching on branches or foraging on the ground rather than on a feeder as they look more natural.
|A Black Capped Chickadee holding a seed|
|A watchful Junco|
I once supported so many mourning doves that roosted in an oak in the wood just across from my window-placed platform feeder, that it prompted someone to alert me to the fact that I was maintaining a rookery.
|Mourning Dove in snow|
|Blue Jay looking in|
|Blue Jay working a kernel out of the seed|
I did enjoy how the proximity of the birds at my window allowed us both the chance for mutual scrutiny. This they often did, and it is a funny sensation when a bird peers into your kitchen and looks you over. Holding still, I stared back, and occasional took a photo. Those were some of my favorite moments.
|Red Bellied Woodpecker|
I became accustomed to some of the behaviors over the years. Blue jays, tufted tits and chickadees will pick up safflower or sunflower seeds and hold them between their talons, crack the shell and eat the seed’s kernel on the spot, then pick up another to repeat.
|Tufted Titmouse holding a seed|
Years ago, I received an unexpected gift from the birds. Birds are a major force for seed dispersal. Coming to my feeders, they would sometimes leave droppings on the ground beneath, and this resulted in the germinating of a nice little patch of common asclepias, or milkweed; I came to refer to it as my “science project’, and I left the plants to thrive from year to year, though their site was less than ideal. I began to get caterpillars which became pupae and then monarchs!
|Great Spangled Fritillary enjoying the milkweed patch|
The milkweed, the host plant of the monarch butterflies, also provided nectar and sustenance for yellow and black swallowtails and other butterflies as well as many kinds of bees and other insects. I used the milkweed patch for my macro-photography for years, as it came up every year after its first emergence.
On occasion, my photography of birds has developed into a photo-session marathon. I may go days or weeks without taking a bird pic, and then there will come a day, when the snow comes down and the birds come in, and there’s nothing else to be done but to drop all other activities and stand at the window to photograph, observe, and learn. Dreary days make the birds’ colors stand out, and the white snow reflects light up to highlight their undersides beautifully. The falling snow adds to the beauty of the photos as well.
There are several interesting behaviors worth mentioning that I’ve observed for some years. In the first, there may be very few visiting birds for several days, and then one bird species will arrive, followed minutes later by another, and another. Within the space of an hour or two, many kinds of birds will be back to feed. I later learned that these are called ‘mixed flocks’ that tend to travel together.
|Downy Woodpecker and male Cardinal|
Another behavior I have observed is birds ‘freezing’ in place when there is a predator or some danger nearby. I don’t know if one birds gives out a warning that all the birds heed (I have my doubts that the jays can always be relied up for they are known to give a warning cry just to clear the feeder for themselves). I have seen birds remain unmoving in any way except for a slight movement of the head and eyes to check out their surroundings; this may go on for fifteen minutes.
Just as suddenly they all go back to their usual activities. I watched a red-bellied woodpecker, not known to be a swift flyer, move to the house side of a tree and stay there for some time, while a chickadee sat motionless in the same tree. The doves, being very swift flyers, sometimes choose flight, though they are sometimes caught. It seems logical that predators home in on the movement of birds, and this seems to be the case. I don’t think this ‘freeze’ behavior is the same as when ‘sentinel’ birds find a place from which to scan for predators while others forage for food.
|An alert male Cardinal|
Though I must go farther afield to photograph blue and green herons, eagles, and rails, I will always enjoy living with and capturing images of my “Usual Suspects” — the birds most commonly found at our local feeders in northern Virginia.
|Nuthatch in snow|
All photographs are owned and copyright 2017 by Brigitte Hartke
Contributor Brigitte Hartke is a writer, gardener, photographer, amateur genealogist
|Brigitte Hartke surrounded by native bluebells at Riverbend|