American White Pelican
Recently I went looking for an unusual winter visitor to central Ohio. There have been occasional irregular sightings of birds of this species in previous years, but they usually occur during migrations, not in the coldest weather.
This odd visitor had been seen hanging around the small campgrounds beach along Alum Creek Reservoir. I went there 9 days ago to take a look.
It was a cold and windy winter day. The beach was deserted save for a birder or two and an Ohio Wildlife Center volunteer, who was there trying to catch our visitor. The bird was definitely out-of-place and alone, which was unusual for this species. It was thought to be struggling and in need of aid. The bird had been seen earlier that day and had flown off.
After a while, I was alone on the beach. It looked like somebody was trying to lure the bird in with fish!
The rocks along the beach were covered with Zebra Mussels, a wildly successful invasive species that has been in the Great Lakes for years. There it spread to many bodies of water via boats. Originally from Eurasia, this species shows no sign of slowing down.
I walked along the paths near the reservoir and through the near-empty campgrounds for a while, then returned to the beach. A birder told me she had seen the bird fly by 20 minutes ago.
So I settled in my car and kept a good eye out on the reservoir.
40 minutes later, success! A large bird came flying in-
This is an American White Pelican, which in Ohio is seen often along Lake Erie, but is much less common inland. And is rarely seen inland in winter.
One of the largest North American birds, the American White Pelican is majestic in the air. The birds soar with incredible steadiness on broad, white-and-black wings. Their large heads and huge, heavy bills give them a prehistoric look. On the water they dip their pouched bills to scoop up fish, or tip-up like an oversized dabbling duck. Sometimes, groups of pelicans work together to herd fish into the shallows for easy feeding. Look for them on inland lakes in summer and near coastlines in winter.
The bird landed in the reservoir a ways off from the beach- I went creeping through the woods to get a view of it, careful not to scare it off.
What a magnificent bird!
They forage almost exclusively by day on their wintering grounds, but during breeding season, they commonly forage at night. Even though it’s hard to see, nighttime foraging tends to result in larger fish being caught than during the daytime.
It preened in the water for a bit, then swam towards the beach.
It got to the beach and continued preening. The afternoon was late, and it was going to be dark in an hour or so.
These large, gregarious birds often travel and forage in large flocks, sometimes traveling long distances in V-formations. They soar gracefully on very broad, stable wings, high into the sky in and between thermals. On the ground they are ungainly, with an awkward, rolling, but surprisingly quick walk. Their webbed feet make for water-ski landings and strong swimming. They forage by swimming on the surface, dipping their bills to scoop up fish, then raising their bills to drain water and swallow their prey.
It was great to see this bird. Since I originally saw it, it has moved over to Hoover Reservoir and is still flying around. I wonder if we will see more of them in the future.
And here we are again, the 6th annual review of ‘the peanut gallery’, that is birds and critters who are attracted to the peanuts I leave on my patio.
This past year there was a big change- I moved to a new location which has a back patio surrounded by a privacy fence. I took advantage of all of this space by putting up a feeder pole, birdbath, and even a ground feeder tray. I started putting out generic birdseed, safflower, and suet as well as peanuts. And I’ve had a lot more visitors!
There are several evergreen trees around my patio. I’ve noticed that these trees attract birds that I didn’t see at my other place, such as Red-Breasted Nuthatches and Dark-Eyed Juncoes. They also attract woodpeckers in greater numbers. Chickadees love them.
Ultimately, moving showed me how important the local area and cover is for birds. What you see can vary quite a bit.
I’ve had the occasional wildflower grow on the patio- here’s some Knotweed, also known as Lady’s Thumb. I’ve seen a couple of other flowers growing, proving that nature is very persistent.
One last picture from the old garden wall.
And now, on to what I saw at my new place!
First off, one of my favorites- Northern Cardinals. I felt bad leaving the pair that I had fed for years at my old place, but there are 2 regulars that show up at the new place- a male and a what looked like a young male or perhaps a reddish female. Like my old pair, they typically show up at the crack of dawn and near-dark (with a visit or two during the day). Notice in a couple of the above pictures the adult male is molting- that happened in August and September. Cardinals like to eat peanuts and safflower seeds.
Next up, Blue Jays. It’s hard to miss these birds because most of the time they make a LOT of noise. I’ve seen anywhere from 1 to 3 of them show up for peanuts. They often stick a few peanuts in their throat and take off, probably to stash them. They occasionally make hawk sounds, trying to scare off the other birds I imagine.
Speaking of hawks…an immature Cooper’s Hawk stops by occasionally looking for a different kind of snack- it has gotten one bird that I know of on my patio. See last month’s post for more info.
Sticking with big birds, here’s the Crow family that comes by for food. I’ll see anywhere from 1 to 4 of them- sometimes they’ll sit on the rooftop and caw until I come out with treats such as peanuts. Usually if only 1 sees me with food, it will call its other family members in for the free feed. This is the same family that I’ve always fed (I didn’t move very far distance-wise). They tracked me down pretty fast. I’m convinced they recognize me as I walk around the neighborhood or come and go in my car. These are very smart birds. They will often chase the Cooper’s Hawk away while raising heck with their cawing. In the winter, they will occasionally join in the very large Crow flocks that come together in all their hundreds in nearby areas. This is probably where they look for mates among other Crow families. Young Crows will stay with their parents for 2 years, aiding them in raising younger brothers and sisters. By the way, in one of the above photos, a young Crow has something in its beak. Like all young birds, the experiment by playing with objects to see if they are edible.
I have from 1 to 8 Mourning Doves that come to the patio for food and drink- some even roost on the patio all night. The last photo above shows 2 bedding down for the night. Doves love safflower seed but will also eat generic birdseed. Notice the photo of one drinking out of a birdbath- most birds get a beakful of water and tilt their head back to let water slide down their throat, but doves suck water up through their beak as if it was a straw. Like most other birds, when doves are in groups there is a pecking order of who is in charge. It’s fun to watch all of this getting sorted out. One of these doves apparently wants another for a mate, but the other dove keeps chasing it off when it gets too close. Ahh, bird heartbreak. That’s the 2 in the bottom photo roosting for the night by the way. As long as the one doesn’t get too close, they hang out together.
The occasional Starling will come by in cold weather- they like peanuts and suet. Which reminds me- I haven’t seen any Robins on my patio yet! Maybe this coming February, when the berries are running low. I’ll put out some raisins for them then.
Now, to a smaller but numerous bird, the House Sparrow. There’s a flock on every block, they love to nest on buildings and hang around people looking for food. A very social species, these are actually finches and they are an invasive species from Europe. The males have trim black ‘beards’. They are a rough and tumble sort of bird. In adverse weather they too like to roost on my patio. That last photo above was one of the females frolicking in a water leak in my parking lot.
Here’s a parent feeding a juvenile House Sparrow on my patio this past summer.
This female was missing her tail, probably in a close encounter with a predator. She could fly around, but her flight wasn’t very straight. She grew it back fine.
This poor male is what I call a ‘puff bird’. Unless it is very cold out, when you see puffed-up birds like this, they are probably ill. I hope he got better!
This female is partially leucistic, which means she has some white feathers that normally would not be white. This happens in many bird species. I haven’t seen her for some months now, I fear something got her- maybe she was more of a high-visibility target.
House Sparrows will eat anything. They can crunch up peanuts with their robust beaks.
Dark-Eyed Juncoes are sparrows that come down from Canada to winter in the US. There are 4 of them that visit my patio, 3 males and a female. They are ground-feeders, hopping and scratching at the ground looking for generic birdseed. They love evergreen trees. They are calm birds that prefer to stay away from their raucous cousins the House Sparrows.
Here is a Chipping Sparrow that occasionally came by in the warm weather. They are pretty little birds that shy away from rougher customers such as House Sparrows. They can become quite tame. They like generic birdseed.
There is a single Song Sparrow that comes by the patio fairly often, looking for generic birdseed. It is rather unobtrusive and keeps its own company. I hear it singing around my area in the warm weather. It blends in with the ground and the weeds very well.
A House Finch or two comes by the patio occasionally. They like safflower seed. So far I see less of them than I saw at my old place.
There are 2 Carolina Chickadees that are regulars at my hanging feeders. They like both safflower seed and peanuts. Once I saw a 3rd bird. Their ‘dee-dee-dee’ calls always are cheerful to hear. They often stash seeds in the bark of trees to eat later.
This Carolina Wren comes around when it gets very cold and snowy out. It eats everything including suet. The first time I saw this bird it thoroughly checked out the patio and sampled every type of food. It even appeared to look for places to roost or nest. These birds are very feisty and loud for their small size.
Woodpeckers can often be heard in the evergreen trees above my patio. I knew it was just a matter of time before they came down to check out the food. This female Downy Woodpecker ate suet and peanuts. She was very methodical, looking over all of the food. Her mate would come in, land, and grab a peanut and take off- he is more skittish.
This beautiful bird is a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. It is a male, identified by having a red forehead. It loves peanuts but does not linger over its food- it comes down, grabs a bite, and goes back to the trees to eat it. I have a hard time getting a good picture of him.
There are 2 White-Breasted Nuthatches that visit the hanging feeder to eat peanuts. Their nasal ‘yank, yank’ calls usually announce that they are in the area. They wedge the peanuts in tree bark to eat them.
I also have 2 Red-Breasted Nuthatches that are daily feeder visitors in the winter months. I’ve never seen these birds at my feeders before I moved here- they are big fans of evergreen trees. These birds are smaller than their White-Breasted cousins, and they have a high-pitched ‘yank yank yank’ call. They love peanuts and are quite tame. Just yesterday, I was filling up the feeders when one flew right under my outstretched arm and landed on the fence 2 feet away from me, studying me. Some people will hold still with a handful of peanuts and let birds eat out of their hand- I’m convinced these little birds would do this readily.
Now, for the critters!
This Virginia Opossum is a healthy-looking adult that occasionally comes by at night to eat whatever it can find and to hole up in my shed to sleep during the day (the last photo above is it sleeping in the corner of the shed). Opossums are North America’s only marsupial mammals. They scare some people because they look like big rats, but they are totally harmless and will never ever bite unless they are cornered or attacked. They are a scavenger species that cleans up the environment for us. Be kind to them if you see one!
Last but not least, there are at least half a dozen Eastern Gray Squirrels that hang out in the area. Their favorite food is peanuts, which several of them try to carry off 2 or 3 at a time. One sits on the fence looking out as if to spot a rival squirrel it really dislikes- or maybe it’s watching out for the hawk. A couple of them are spooked when I open the patio door, but many run right up, knowing who has the peanuts!
My new place has a great patio for birds and critters. I wonder what I’ll see this year?
This past year I moved to a new place that has a privacy fence around a back patio. I’ve set up a bird feeder and have a decent amount of birds showing up daily looking for food- more on that in next month’s post.
Two days ago, I saw a Cooper’s Hawk checking out my patio. I got some decent pictures, and figured I’d share.
Cooper’s Hawks are a common suburban raptor. I often see them flying low to the ground, trying to flush out birds from foliage. They are silent and very acrobatic. I’ve seen them stop and jump into a bush to flush out potential prey. This one is an immature bird, told by the streaked breast. Adults have finely barred reddish breasts.
This bird had scattered several sparrows when it landed on the fence, but it kept searching. Little did I know, but a House Sparrow was hidden in the foliage down below. The hawk seemed to sense this.
This magnificent bird just didn’t give up. I kept taking pictures.
It prowled around on the ground- and then suddenly, the hidden House Sparrow took off like a shot- the hawk following mere inches behind it as they flew away through a stand of evergreens. I never found out what happened.
The hawk makes a daily stop to check out who is at the feeder. Birds have become more cautious in the area. Squirrels of course yammered and carried on, letting everyone know something deadly was in the area.
September is often seen as autumn migration month, and it is, at least for neotropical insect-eating birds such as Warblers. But autumn migration continues throughout the season, and October is Sparrow migration month.
Sparrows are with us year-round, of course. But some species migrate, and October is the best month to look for them in Ohio.
Last month I was out looking for sparrows, and I spotted a few- here they are.
One of the most common sparrows in Ohio year-round. I always enjoy seeing them, or hearing them call at me when I walk by.
They are at home most anywhere outside of forests.
A common ‘country’ bird in warm weather who nest in meadows and fields.
The classic Ohio sparrow migrant, seen in good numbers. You can hear them singing their high thin whistle-song, ‘Pure Sweet Canada Canada Canada’.
This migrant often associates with White-Throats. The first image is of an immature, the second of an adult.
Seen in large numbers in wet swampy areas during the migration season.
An irregular rare Ohio migrant, seen in swampy areas. The yellowish bib and face are fairly diagnostic.
I was happy to get a good picture of this species!
American Tree Sparrow
Normally seen in November, I saw this early winter resident at the end of last month.
Wintering over in Ohio sounds sort of crazy, but compared to northern Canada it makes sense weather-wise!
Another sparrow that breeds in Canada and winters over in Ohio.
Pleasant birds that make a chipping sound, this one will be followed by many more soon.
In addition to sparrows, one can still see late Warblers in October, such as Yellow-Rumped Warblers and Palm Warblers. In addition, there are other birds commonly seen this month, such as the following-
A late migrant who sometimes winters over if the poison ivy berry crop is big.
They are one of the only Warblers who can eat something beside insects.
This species is very numerous out in the country, and in the autumn and winter gathers in large flocks.
These birds are often seen in small groups, probably families. They eat berries when the insects are gone.
These year-round birds are flocking in their dull winter feather costumes now.
They nest late in the summer because of their fondness for making nests out of Thistle.
These birds love to eat berries. You can hear their soft whistles near berry bushes and berry trees in the autumn.
These tiny restless birds migrate through Ohio. You can call them in close to you by ‘pishing’ (I’ll have to do a post on that one day).
Golden-Crowned Kinglets can also be seen, but I didn’t get a good picture of one last month.
That about covers October’s birding action. Believe it or not, autumn migration continues on into November with waterfowl- if I get enough decent pictures, I’ll do a post about that 🙂
September is autumn migration month for Wood Warblers. Those brightly-colored insect-eaters of the forests are heading back to Central and South America to escape the cold season, to return to raise new families next spring. Here are some photographs I took of these birds this past month. Most are far less colorful than they were in the spring, when they were in their showiest feathers. Many of these birds are immatures that were born here over the summer, making their first long migration south.
Compare these birds to last May’s Warbler crop. They look quite different, don’t they? Autumn is not the best season to start being a birder, things can be hard to figure out then 🙂
Black-Throated Green Warbler
Common Yellowthroat (male)
Common Yellowthroat (female)
American Redstart (female)
Black & White Warbler
Northern Parula Warbler (immature)
Northern Parula Warbler (adult)