The "Birds of Winter" are a great way to get through a long winter. Keeping various kinds of feeders filled with sunflower seeds, thistle, small mixed seeds, and of course suet cakes will attract lots of birds that keep me (and the cat) company while we wait for spring. And a great way to help birds besides feeding and watering them is to count them. The Great Backyard Bird Count is held each year in February. It is conducted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society. Feeding the birds also helps them to survive the cold winter months where they have a harder time finding food. They also need more food to maintain their high metabolism that is used to regulate their body temperature. Fresh, unfrozen water is also hard to find when you are a bird, so by using a heater in your birdbath or putting fresh water out everyday will help the birds too. Below are some birds that I see in winter. I actually see these birds all year, but the male goldfinches are very bright yellow in the summer, not olive colored like the winter Goldfinch below.
The Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla) is one of the most familiar birds found at the feeder. They are generally about 5.25" in length and are found here (Western North Carolina) year round. When they visit they almost always are accompanied by the Tufted Titmouse. They eat insects, seeds, and berries. They favor sunflower seeds, which they hold in their feet, and crack open with their beaks. They live in mixed and deciduous forests, suburbs, and parks. They will excavate in rotted wood, use a birdhouse, or a natural cavity for nesting. Chickadees use mosses and wood chips as nesting material. They lay between 6 and 8 eggs that are white with speckles. Chickadees form flocks in the winter, but pair off in the spring. The males sing, and the pair will defend their breeding territory.
The Tufted Titmouse (Parus bicolor) is a little larger at up to 5.75" in length, and definitely braver in flying close up to the door of the house to get the peanuts that I throw on the deck. They have very large and expressive (my opinion) eyes. They are also found here year round, and are a relative of the Chickadee. They eat insects, seeds, and berries. At birdfeeders they prefer sunflower seeds and suet. Titmice live in the woods and suburbs. They nest in natural cavities or birdhouses. Titmice use mosses, hair, grasses, leaves, cotton, or bark strips to make nests. They lay between 4 and 8 eggs that are white with small brown speckles. Family flocks break up in late winter or early spring into breeding pairs. They defend breeding territories of up to 5 acres. During courtship, a male will feed a female, while she quivers her wings and sings high-pitched notes. This continues through the nest-building and incubation phases, where the females do the most of the nest material collecting and nest building.
The American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) is found here year round, but tends to stay at the feeders more in the winter time. I only see them occasionally in the summer, where they will feed at the feeder for awhile, then move on to another area. They are the largest goldfinch (up to 5" in length), but are still a very small bird. This picture shows a winter time female, so she is not very yellow. The males in winter are also very olive to brownish in color and do not have their familiar "black cap". Goldfinches feed on the ground, on weed stalks and foliage, where they eat seeds, insects, and berries. I have often seen them eatting seeds of thistles at field edges. At feeders they prefer thistle seeds or hulled sunflower seeds. They can easily eat from feeders that they hang upside down on to get the seed. I had one of these feeders that kept other birds from getting this seed, since most birds can't hang and eat this way. It worked really well until a bear ripped the feeder down and destroyed it. They prefer open areas with some shrubs and trees like field edges or yards, and gardens. Goldfinches make nests from strands of weeds and vines, downy filaments from seeds like thistles which they place in shrubs and trees 7 to 20 feet off the ground. They lay 3 to 7 eggs, which are light blue. The males do a deep loop flight in their territory while breeding. Females build the nests and may start a second nest while the fledged young are fed by the male.
The Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) is found almost everyday here, feeding on the ground. They are up to 12" in length and their wings produce a light whistling noise on takeoff. Though they usually eat on the ground, they can eat at a feeder that is more of a tray feeder, where they eat seeds. They also eat weeds, grasses, grain seeds, and some insects. Doves are found in almost any open habitat and woods. They build a loose, flat nest of twigs, grass, weeds, and pine needles in a vertical fork or horizontal branch of a tree up to 30 feet off the ground. They lay 2 eggs that are white. Males will coo with their throats puffed out and do tail bobs to attract a female. The male and female share incubating duties, with the male sitting much of the day and the female during the night.
The Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is a favorite winter-time vistor to the suet feeder. Though it is found in this area year round, it isn't seen very often in the summer months.
Mainly because it eats insects that are easier to find in the warm months, and secondly because they are hard to spot with all the leaves back on the trees. It is about 9.25" in length. The name is somewhat misleading since the "red belly" is very faint, but the red head is very distinctive. They are hesitant to come up to the suet feeder when I am outside, but not so hesitant in being "loud and noisy" to let me know their displeasure. I got the point and went inside. They feed on trunks and limbs of trees, eating insects, but also will eat fruit, berries, and seeds. They prefer the suet feeder, but I have seen them eatting seeds from the other feeders. Red-bellied Woodpeckers will store food by wedging it deeply in crevices. They mostly live in woodlands, but can be found in suburbs too. They excavate for nests in living trees or trees that have just died. Red-bellied Woodpeckers will also use abandoned holes in stumps, utility poles, or fence posts. They lay 3 to 8 eggs that are white. In courtship, a male and female will mutually tap on a tree while one is inside a potential hole and the other one is outside.
The Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) is about 7 " in length and is very easy to identify. They feed from perches, dropping down to the ground to catch insects. They may come to feeders for peanut butter mixes, berries, mealworms, and raisins, but won't come for seeds. If you wish to attract Bluebirds, put up a Bluebird house in the correct spot (farmlands, yard edges, open woodlands) and mealworms for food, and with a little patience, you will get Bluebirds. The house needs to be next to an open area to attract them. In western North Carolina, they start looking for houses in which to nest in February. Be sure to clean them out at the end of the summer for next year though. They build nests of grasses, plant stems, pine needles and line them with hair, feathers, and fine grasses in birdhouses, natural tree cavities or abandoned woodpecker holes about 3 to 20 feet off the ground. They lay 3 to 6 eggs that are pale blue. Bluebirds had a severe decline in population up until the 1970s due to loss of nesting cavities to House Sparrows and European Starlings. So in 1978, the North American Bluebird Society was formed to place Bluebird nesting boxes all over the country to help Bluebird populations recover. I've got 2 Bluebird nesting houses, how about you?
I just wanted to mention some of the other "Birds of Winter" that visit here, and they are: Dark-eyed Junco, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, American Robin, Purple Finch, Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, and the Carolina Wren. There are more, but these are the most common and have helped me to make it until spring. I hope they help you too.