Welcome everyone to another year, it’s time for a new edition of The Past Year On My Patio!
This post is bittersweet because this will most likely be the last post about my current patio. I’ll most likely be moving this spring. I’ll miss all my furred and feathered friends here!
Wildflower-wise, this year saw 2 species that predominated the last year:
Lady’s Thumb (also known as Smartweed and Knotweed)
These plants flourished in the late summer and autumn…a couple of Indian Hemp showed up as well. Fleabane (which predominated a couple years ago) didn’t show up. It would be interesting to know how this all works. I’ve always suspected seeds possibly showing up via bird droppings are at work here.
And now, the birds, from smallest to largest:
A pair of Carolina Wrens were around more often last year than before, nosing around all of the nooks and crannies of the patio, mostly in cold weather. These small birds are remarkably loud and strike some expressive poses. They are a delight to watch. One of them got fairly tame, sitting on the fence while I threw out some birdseed.
Actually, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird buzzed my patio a few times last summer, clearly the smallest bird seen on my patio, but I didn’t get any pictures!
A pair of Carolina Chickadees were regular visitors, grabbing so many safflower seeds and peanuts that they must have been stashing some of them in hiding places (as they’re known to do). After the breeding season there were four for a while and then three total that came for the rest of the year. Their calls and scoldings were always entertaining to hear.
Now, enter the Sparrows. Chipping Sparrows- trim, slightly smaller birds of the family- made an appearance as usual. These birds can get quite tame, and they usually defer to bigger or more aggressive birds (like House Sparrows). The top picture above is an adult, the bottom picture above is an immature bird. I had one of the latter seemingly winter over in the 2018/2019 winter season after all of its friends and family had migrated south. This happens sometimes with the odd bird and they often don’t do very well, but this guy had a food source- me.
A pair of Song Sparrows continued to nest in the area (I know right where their nest was in a bush not far away). They visited the patio off and on during the whole year. They are fairly shy birds that avoid crowds, but during nesting season they can hold their own to make sure their nestlings eat. They seemed to have two clutches of eggs last spring and summer (not an uncommon thing in the bird world), and one of the clutches resulted in…well, you’ll see a bit later in the post.
Dark-Eyed Juncos continued being a winter guest, enjoying a comparatively balmy Ohio winter (!) at least compared to the Canadian wilds where they nested in the summer. A group of seven birds visited for seeds occasionally- they are also of a retiring disposition, making a pleasant twittering rattle of a call.
Onto the Finches. House Sparrows, while called Sparrows, are actually Old World Finches- one giveaway is their thicker beak. These birds live wherever human structures are found in the United States. Gregarious birds, often scrapping among each other, they are fun to watch (though many birders dislike them for being an invasive species). A flock of two dozen or so birds visit the patio daily.
Here’s a young House Sparrow waiting for mom to feed her. June through August sees a lot of this going on.
This male has some nesting material in his beak. I’ve seen them carrying feathers around, perhaps a sign that they are looking for a mate.
Another Finch visitor is the House Finch. They are occasional visitors enjoying the safflower seed I put in the feeder. They are most commonly seen when they bring their young ones around for a bite.
White-Breasted Nuthatches are another occasional visitor (a pair of them or an individual). They aren’t quite as common as in previous years, and I really miss their cousins the Red-Breasted Nuthatches which haven’t been around since the year I moved to my current abode. Their nasal yank calls always put a smile on my face.
Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest Woodpeckers in Ohio. A pair occasionally visits, more often in cold weather. They love suet. They avoid other birds when they can and often carefully examine their surroundings before going in for a bite.
Onto the Blackbirds. Starlings are another invasive species that many people love to hate. They typically visit in cold weather, but this past summer I had a family being raised and fed as I watched.
Young Starlings are brown while their parents are black. All young birds I see have colorful yellow or red mouths designed to stimulate their parents stuffing food down their throats. Eventually parents stop feeding them, causing the young birds to start picking up objects to see if they are good things to eat (you can see young birds holding twigs and such in their beaks for this reason).
This young Starling was left behind after its nestmates left. I worried that it was not maturing and sticking with its family unit, eventually graduating to joining cool-weather flocks of Starlings. It would sometimes get in the weeds on my patio as if hiding out. Eventually, one day after meeting a few other Starlings it disappeared with them. It took the bird somewhat longer than its siblings, but it moved on to the next grand stage of its life.
Another Blackbird species, the Brown-Headed Cowbird, showed up during the breeding season as well. However, this bird was a younger bird, not an adult. Its mother laid its egg in another bird’s nest- what scientists call parasitism. Typically the foster mother raises the Cowbird as her own.
Here’s a young Cowbird being fed by its Song Sparrow foster parent. The Cowbird clearly is bigger than mom, but mom takes care of it as if it was her own, so strong is the parenting instinct. I’ve seen Song Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows raise young Cowbirds this way.
American Robins as usual showed up in the January to March timeframe to eat raisins and even peanuts, once the berries on trees and bushes got harder to find. I did a post about them back in 2012 called Robins in February.
Northern Cardinals occasionally visit my feeder- there are two pair in the area. Ohio’s state bird is a gentle species.
This female lost her tail to some predator, but it grew back and she was fine.
Here is one of the couple of young Cardinals that visited the feeder in the summer. Younger birds have dark beaks that turn yellowish and then bright red when they become adults.
This isn’t a great picture because it was taken in haste, but it shows how Cardinal mates feed each other, strengthening their bonds.
From two to four Blue Jays would visit the patio, flying in from the north where they hung out. Handsome but noisy, they would seemingly squawk up a storm until I came to feed them!
Three young birds would come visit for peanuts after the nesting season, first following their parents and then coming themselves after getting old enough.
Sadly, one of the young birds got ill- it hung out on the ground on the patio near the water bowl, not being able to fly much at all. I picked it up and put it in a pillowcase and took it to the Ohio Wildlife Center, a place relying heavily on hard-working volunteer staff to nurse injured and young parentless wildlife back to health if possible. I donate money to them everytime I bring in an unfortunate animal.
This Common Grackle (foreground) was a rare patio visitor.
Up to a dozen or so Mourning Doves hung out around the patio, enjoying the safflower seed in the feeder and sprinkled on the ground. It was neat seeing the young birds showing up to learn where a good feeding place was from their parents.
Often one bird will monopolize the feeder tray while the others eat on the ground below. I call this one Boss Bird. They have a pecking order, like many creatures do.
I’m fairly certain that the egg that turned up in a feeder tray one day was left there by a Mourning Dove- they often get totally inside the tray.
A Red-Bellied Woodpecker comes by occasionally in the cold weather. Much larger than its cousin the Downy Woodpecker, this bird arrives at the feeder with authority, scattering other birds.
The neighborhood Cooper’s Hawk would drop by every once in a while on its rounds around the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure it got a couple of birds around my patio this year. About a month ago a Mourning Dove took flight just as the Hawk was flying by at a high rate of speed; I looked up into the sky and saw a puff of feathers and nothing else.
Last but certainly not least are the American Crows. I’ve fed a particular family or two of them for quite a few years, and they know me on sight- they even know my car! They are very intelligent birds.
They typically wait for me to toss peanuts over the patio fence, but at least one of them lately perches on the fence, even coming down onto the patio. The usual routine is for one of the family to arrive and see me tossing out peanuts, leading the Crow to caw loudly until the rest of the family arrives to eat. Often one crow will stay up high in a tree or on a power line, keeping an eye out for its enemy the Cooper’s Hawk. I’ve seen the Crows harass the Hawk and the Hawk harass the Crows.
Crow family units consist of a mated pair, a couple of older children up to two years old that help raise this year’s young siblings, and a couple of the said young birds born this year. I’ve seen family units numbering from four to eight birds. This year’s youngsters have red mouths and make funny noises- sometimes it sounds like they are almost trying to talk, which can be eerie-sounding.
Here a young Crow is fed by a family member. When the older children’s time comes after a couple of years, their parents gently crowd them on a tree limb by scooting them off the limb, walking sideways. I’ve seen this several times. Eventually the older kids go out and meet a mate at the big cold-weather flocking events sometimes consisting of hundreds of Crows (I saw a winter flock consisting of a thousand or so fly over once). They will then start a family of their own when the nesting season comes.
When I move, I’ll truly miss the Crow family that I’ve learned so much from.
And now, the animals!
Skunks, Opossums and Raccoons will appear on occasion, mostly at night. Not to mention a Mouse or two.
This Raccoon managed to squeeze into the shed. I couldn’t stop laughing! These animals typically have more than one place to sleep, keeping their options open. Raccoons are curious and like to play and wash their food in water. Skunks only spray as a last resort and have unique patterns on their fur. Opossums, North America’s only marsupial, are often shy.
And now, everybody’s favorite!
The cute tricksters of the patio, Eastern Gray Squirrels. These fellas often have different personalities.
They have names like Notch, Guard Squirrel, Tassel Tail, Pushy Mom, Twofer (who always carries two shell peanuts off at a time, he can’t quite fit three in there).
Some of them have taken a shine to almonds over the standard peanut. That’s definitely a more expensive taste!
Rain or shine, they are there waiting for breakfast. Bitter cold and snowy weather can make them sleep in though.
One squirrel took to peering in the front window:
All in good fun!
Stray cats (abandoned by their owners who moved away, leaving them behind) occasionally have turned up, sleeping in my shed. Two litters of kittens were raised there and I finally took action, taking the cats to get them fixed, getting them their vaccinations etc. at a place called Shelter Outreach Services of Ohio that provides low-cost services for feral cats. I’ve placed some kittens with a no-kill cat shelter that finds them homes, which is very gratifying (75% of cats in typical shelters are euthanized). I have a couple of cats as pets now, replacing the pet rats I used to have. If you can rescue just one cat, you’ll have done a very good deed. This is really the subject of a whole other blog, so I’ll leave it at that.
Speaking of other blogs, I’ll have an announcement later this month about another blog I’m creating.
Enjoy your feathered and furry friends!