Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: titmice

Project FeederWatch – Month 2

Carolina Wren waits for breakfast


The above recording is a Carolina Wren followed by a response from a Black-crested Titmouse. The wren follows and then they sing together after which the titmouse gets in the last word. I recorded it on my iphone so it’s nothing fancy and doesn’t sound professional by any means. I edited it down from 55 seconds to cut the dead space between songs.

I’ve been trying to record some of the backyard bird sounds hoping this will help me learn their songs over time in much the same way that photographing them has helped me learn their names.

Project FeederWatch contines. Last month, I noted I hadn’t seen any cardinals or Mourning Doves since the count period began, but in the past month both birds have checked in. I also had a European Starling visit the back porch to investigate one of the feeders. They’re common here, but I rarely see them in the yard. Last year, I only had them show up once. Three came by for a swim in the birdbath.

American Goldfinches are the only birds from last year that haven’t come around. I’ve talked to a few people around here who say they haven’t seen many this year either.

Here’s the current tally with the highest number of individuals in parentheses.

  1. White-winged Dove (23)
  2. Mourning Dove (1)
  3. Blue Jay (3)
  4. Carolina Chickadee (2)
  5. Black-crested Titmouse (2)
  6. Carolina Wren (2)
  7. Bewick’s Wren (1)
  8. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1)
  9. Northern Mockingbird (1)
  10. European Starling (1)
  11. Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  12. Chipping Sparrow (15)
  13. Northern Cardinal (1)
  14. Lesser Goldfinch (5)
  15. House Sparrow (17)

Here’s a picture of a Black-crested Titmouse leaving the feeder. It’s not a good picture, but I like the motion.

A Black-crested Titmouse takes flight

Update: This post was included in I and the Bird #117 at the Marvelous in nature. This week’s host, Seabrooke Leckie, actually drew all of the featured birds including my wren and titmouse singing it out and linked to all the posts from her drawing. It’s awesome. Check it out.

What I Learned about My Backyard from Project FeederWatch

A Common Grackle looks around the yard

A Common Grackle looks around the yard

Project FeederWatch ended last weekend. For those just tuning in, PFW is a citizen science project run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The idea is that you commit to keeping a record of all the birds that visit your feeders, birdbaths, birdhouses, and landscape features from November to April. In addition to being a part of something that helps scientists learn about and help birds, participants have the opportunity to learn a surprising amount about what goes on right outside their doors.

This is a summary of some interesting things I learned.

Observations about Specific Birds:


A Bewick's Wren stops by for a snack

A Bewick's Wren stops by for a snack

We get both Carolina and Bewick’s Wrens at our house. They both like suet and mealworms, but the Carolina Wrens will also take seeds from the cake feeders. Carolina Wrens also seem to be more willing to poke around the ground in the flowerbed, while Bewick’s Wrens prefer scouring the trees and plants for bugs. Carolinas also seems to be much more vocal; every morning, I can expect one singing (surprisingly loud) from the fence.


Accipiter hawk relaxing on the neighbor's fence

Accipiter hawk relaxing on the neighbor's fence

On several occasions, on count days and non-count days, I saw unidentifiable accipiter hawks swooping through the yard. On one occasion, I got some pictures of one sitting by the neighbor’s feeder and on another day, I saw one sitting by my feeder. I never got a good enough look to ID any of the ones I saw on count days, but readers of this blog thought the one I photographed was a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

I assume he’s been eating sparrows since those are the only birds whose counts have been lower than I expected them to be. The wrens, titmice, chickadees, and finches all seem to show up in basically the same numbers each week so I suspect they’re avoiding the hawks.


Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

I was thrilled to see goldfinches show up in my yard at long last. I have my sister to thank. She got me some nyjer bags for Christmas, and the goldfinches arrived withing days of putting them out.

Lesser Goldfinches will only take nyjer seed from the bags, while American Goldfinches who seem to prefer the nyjer bags, will use the tube feeder when the bags are crowded.

American Goldfinch in winter non-gold plumage

American Goldfinch in winter non-gold plumage

I had hoped to see the American Goldfinches in breeding plumage, but they seem to have mostly left, although I did see one this weekend in transitional plumage. I hope he sticks around so I can see him in his full golden glory.

Blue Jays:

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Through most of the winter, the Blue jays came around only for the peanuts. As things warmed up, and nesting season began, they started taking suet again, which they didn’t touch during winter, ceding it instead to the wrens, titmice, kinglets, warblers, and mockingbirds. They also come around more and more for the regular seeds, but the peanuts are still the favorite.


(no pictures. try back next year)

During the fall and winter, the cardinals only come around in the very early hours before dawn and the dusky hour between sunset and dark. During spring and summer they come around the feeders at all times of the day.


One Mourning Dove and two White-winged Doves

One Mourning Dove and two White-winged Doves

White-winged Doves are the most prevalent and obvious birds at our platform feeder during spring and summer, but through fall and winter, there are substantially fewer and the Mourning Doves come around a bit more frequently.


A Northern Mockingbird eyes the suet feeder

A Northern Mockingbird eyes the suet feeder

The mockingbirds come regularly for suet in the winter, but lose all interest in it when it gets warmer out. There is a pair nesting in the neighbor’s cedar tree, but their only interest in my yard now is the birdbath.


Black-crested Titmouse on the pinecone feeder

Black-crested Titmouse on the pinecone feeder

The Black-crested Titmice are almost always the first ones to check out a new feeder, and often the first ones to the worms in the morning, thus earning them the nickname Pigmice. They’re still my favorites, though.

Every morning in winter, one or two would burst from the wren box and start scolding me from a nearby tree until I had the worms out. Now that it’s warmer, they’ve left the box for the wrens and are nesting elsewhere, but they’re still first in line at the worm feeder most mornings.

And, now, some lists…

The Visitors:

The numbers are the highest numbers of individuals seen at one time.

  1. White-winged Dove (25)
  2. Chipping Sparrow (24)
  3. House Sparrow (20)
  4. American Goldfinch (8)
  5. Common Grackle (8)
  6. House Finch (5)
  7. Northern Mockingbird (4)
  8. Brown-headed Cowbird (4)
  9. Black-crested Titmouse (3)
  10. Mourning Dove (3)
  11. Carolina Chickadee (3)
  12. European Starling (3)
  13. Blue Jay (3)
  14. Lesser Goldfinch (3)
  15. Bewick’s Wren (2)
  16. Carolina Wren (2)
  17. Northern Cardinal (2)
  18. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (2)
  19. Red-bellied Woodpecker (2)
  20. Black-chinned Hummingbird (2)
  21. Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  22. Ladder-backed Woodpecker (1)
  23. Accipiter sp. (1)
  24. American Robin (1)
  25. Red-winged Blackbird (1)
  26. Song Sparrow (1)

The Permanent Collection:

These are the birds that appeared in all 20 counts.

  • White-winged Dove
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Black-crested Titmouse
  • Carolina Wren
  • Bewick’s Wren
  • Chipping Sparrow

All of these are permanent residents except the Chipping Sparrows. They will depart for points north in the next week or so, and return in October. If past years are any guide, we will see flocks of 60-70 in the yard for a day or 2 and then they will be gone.

House Sparrow only missed one week (Dec 27), which was incidentally, the first time I saw an accipiter hawk. Smart sparrows.

Passing Through:

Birds that came for a distinct span of time and then left.

  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1.3.09 – 2.7.09)
  • American Robin (2.28.09 – 3.14.09)
  • Orange-crowned Warbler (1.3.09 – 3.14.09)
  • Red-winged Blackbird (3.7.09 – 3.14.09)

I’ll be curious to see if these species come around these times next year.

Sometimes Birds:

Birds that are here year-round. They don’t come by the yard very often, but were kind enough to stop by on at least one count day.

  • Accipiter sp (Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s Hawk)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • European Starling

Spring/Summer Birds:

These are the birds that hang around the yard only during spring and summer along with their arrival dates.

  • American Robin (2.21)
  • Common Grackle (3.07)
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird (3.21)

Biggest Flocks:

These are the largest groups of individuals seen at one time.

  • White-winged Dove (25 on 3.14.09)
  • Chipping Sparrow (24 on 1.17.09)
  • House Sparrow (20 on 12.06.08)
  • American Goldfinch (8 on 02.21.09)
  • Common Grackle (8 on 03.07.09 & 03.21.09)

Life Birds:

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet considers the suet feeder

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet considers the suet feeder

These are the birds I had never seen and saw for the first time as a result of paying closer attention to the feeders.

  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • Accipter sp. (probably Sharp-shinned Hawk)

Non-avian Feeder Visitors:

A possum visits the bird feeder

A possum visits the bird feeder

Fox Squirrel

Fox Squirrel

  • Fox Squirrel
  • Virginia Opossum

Project FeederWatch was a fun and eye-opening experience. I intend to continue counting birds and uploading my counts to ebird for the rest of 2009, and I will definitely be participating again next year.

Project FeederWatch Week 9

This was another good weekend of feeder watching. The titmice thought so too, especially since they finally noticed the pinecone feeder.

Black-crested Titmouse on the pinecone feeder

Black-crested Titmouse on the pinecone feeder

I’ve been trying for a couple of years to attract American Goldfinches to the yard. They’re only here in winter and I’ve seen them along the trail by the creek, but never in the yard. I’ve moved my nyjer feeder from place to place with no luck until this weekend when a lone American Goldfinch graced my yard, though he preferred the regular tube feeder over the nyjer feeder. He showed up on both count days so I’m hoping he’ll tell his friends and come back. Hopefully, I’ll get a picture.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

The Chipping Sparrows showed up in record numbers for the year. I counted 19 at one point. I know that in late March and early April they’ll flock up and I’ll see 60 or 70 at a time in the weeks before they head north, but 19 is more than I expected at this point.

A Northern Mockingbird eyes the suet feeder

A Northern Mockingbird eyes the suet feeder

The suet feeder continues to be one of the most interesting feeders in terms of what it draws. Last summer it was dominated by Blue Jays and a Golden-fronted Woodpecker, but those don’t seem interested anymore, happily surrendering it to the mocker and the smaller birds.

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet considers the suet feeder

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet considers the suet feeder

The Orange-crowned Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet also returned, which was expected since I had seen them most days since my last count. The above shot of the kinglet was taken through a dirty window, but I was surprised to have gotten anything considering how jumpy they are.

And, now, the official count for Week 9, which is probably my highest count at least in terms of number of species:

  • Northern Cardinal (1)
  • Chipping Sparrow (19)
  • Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  • Black-crested Titmouse (2)
  • Carolina Chickadee (2)
  • Bewick’s Wren (2)
  • Carolina Wren (1)
  • American Goldfinch (1)
  • White-winged Dove (7)
  • Northern Mockingbird (1)
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1)
  • House Sparrow (4)
  • Mourning Dove (3)
  • Blue Jay (2)

Also, if you’re in Austin (or just interested), check out Mikael’s list of the 20 most common year-round resident backyard birds in the north Austin area.

Project FeederWatch Week 4

A Black-crested Titmouse

A Black-crested Titmouse

Week 4 of Project FeederWatch brought a new bird into the mix: the Ladder-backed Woodpecker. This is the first one I’ve seen since July when they were fairly regular visitors to the yard.

Mr. Cardinal also returns after 2 weeks. He’s the only one I can identify as an individual, and that’s because of his injured leg. I first saw it back in June. It was twisted behind him at a painful looking angle. I didn’t expect to see him much longer after that, but he keeps coming back. It’s been 6 months now, and he’s hanging in there.

And, now for this week’s count:

  • Chipping Sparrow (3)
  • House Sparrow (20)
  • Carolina Wren (2)
  • Blue Jay (2)
  • White-winged Dove (12)
  • Black-crested Titmouse (2)
  • Carolina Chickadee (2)
  • Northern Cardinal (1)
  • Bewick’s Wren (1)
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker (1)

That’s the second week in a row that I’ve only counted 3 Chipping Sparrows. I wonder if it’s the same three.

Project FeederWatch Week 3

Week 3 of Project FeederWatch was cool and overcast with occasional showers. It was a good weekend for staying in and staring out the windows.

A Black-crested Titmouse eyes the suet feeder

A Black-crested Titmouse eyes the suet feeder

The birds and the numbers:

  • House Finch (1)
  • House Sparrow (10)
  • Blue Jay (2)
  • Bewick’s Wren (1)
  • Carolina Wren (2)
  • White-winged Dove (17)
  • Black-crested Titmouse (1)
  • Chipping Sparrow (3)
  • Carolina Chickadee (1)

I didn’t see our cardinal this weekend, but all the others have made appearances in my previous counts.

What’s really interesting to me is how the birds’ behavior has changed slightly since the summer. The Blue Jays, for instance, are no longer interested in the suet feeder. They hogged it all summer and now they’ve all but surrendered it to the wrens and chickadees.

A Blue Jay watches the feeders

A Blue Jay watches the feeders

They have not lost their taste for peanuts, though, and they swoop in, grab a nut and are gone before I know it.

Unless this guy is in the way…

I’m pretty sure there were more Chipping Sparrows, but they like to poke around behind the sage bush.

The 3 Chipping Sparrows I counted

The 3 Chipping Sparrows I counted

Bewick’s Wrens come each summer to nest in our boxes, but this time of year, I see more of their larger cousins, the Carolina Wrens.

A Carolina Wren on the worm feeder

A Carolina Wren on the worm feeder

Great Backyard Bird Count – Day 4

Yesterday, I decided to count birds at the small lake at the end of the trail that runs through our neighborhood. I ride my bike along there all the time, but I’ve never walked around and really tried to check out the birds.

When I arrived, I was greeted by a chickadee who immediately hopped into a tree that seemed filled with singing birds. I listened for a few minutes and then headed down to the water to see what birds were hanging around. In the summer, it’s mostly egrets and herons, but yesterday it was filled with birds wintering over.

I ate my sandwich at a bench on the lakefront where I was joined by a couple of coots who eyed me suspiciously. What really surprised me were the fishing buoys hanging in all the trees. Careless casters had decorated the trees as for an angler’s Christmas.

After lunch, I walked along the lake, which was filled with ring-billed gulls and more American coots. I easily forget that some gulls like lakes and so I’m always pleasantly surprised to see them floating on an inland lake. A few soared overhead, the sun shining behind their wings in a way that made them glow brilliant against the crisp blue sky. Gulls have always been favorites of mine, despite that incident back in ’90.

Other ducks bobbed along the far shore, but even with binoculars, I couldn’t make out what kind of ducks they were. Probably northern shovelers or mallards, but too far to tell for sure.

I did get a good look at a new bird for my life list, the double-crested cormorant. They bobbed along beyond the gulls, looking down their sharp-looking beaks at the world. The only picture I got was this, very blurry, of one flying by.

Double-crested Cormorant

After the lake, I walked back up to the woods and wandered among the cedar and oak. In a clearing I found a labyrinth trail and walked through it, winding toward the center and back out again. Along the way, I caught a glimpse of another blue jay.

Before returning to the car, I saw a small flock of chipping sparrows and even got a shot of this guy:

Chipping Sparrow

My favorite, though, was this shot of a black-crested titmouse, seed in mouth:

Black-crested Titmouse

I love watching these little guys hop around in my backyard. I think it’s those huge black eyes or maybe that pointy head, but somehow, the black-crested titmouse has become my favorite backyard bird.

And, speaking of backyards, here are my official numbers for Day 4 of The Great Backyard Bird Count:

  • 2 Northern shovelers
  • 4 Double-crested cormorants
  • 15 American coots
  • 19 Ring-billed gulls
  • 1 Blue jay
  • 1 Carolina Chickadee
  • 1 Black-crested titmouse
  • 1 Bewick’s wren
  • 6 Chipping Sparrows

Black-Crested Titmouse

This guy has been coming round here in the mornings to beat the wrens to the mealworms. Early bird and all that.

He’s a black-crested titmouse, similar to the tufted titmouse, but found only in Oklahoma, Texas and Mexico. Apparently they used to be considered a separate race from the regular tufted titmice, not a separate species, but now they’re a separate species. The species also apparently hybridize where their ranges overlap, such as here in central Texas.

I finally saw him while I had happened to have my camera handy, but the focus is a bit off. Part of that is the distortion of shooting through the window. Part of that is the focus being off.

I’m enjoying trying to ID and photograph the birds that come through here. It’s a fun little hobby combining photography, research and blogging. Plus I can do it from home, which is nice when you don’t really feel like doing much after work.

Visit Transitions for a nice shot of a regular tufted titmouse.

Also, I and the Bird #45 is up at Journey Through Grace. Check it out.

Update: This post has been edited. I originally ID’d this bird as a tufted “black-crested” titmouse, but my bird book is seemingly out of date since the black-crested are now a separate genetically distinct species. Thanks to Mike at 10,000 Birds who called my attention to this in the comments. More can be found about these birds at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds site or Wikipedia. When I mentioned this to the actual bird, though, he told me just to call him Roger.

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