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So Much to Know about Winter Birds, and How to Learn

Carolina Chickadee (L) and Northern Mockingbird (R)

Attending Natalie Brewer’s talk for Behnkes about bird feeders convinced me that there’s way more to know about attracting and feeding birds than I ever imagined. She touched on the habits of just a few of the common winter birds in our region but a Master Naturalist like herself could have told us so much more. Here’s a sampling:

  • Woodpeckers “go bananas” for fruit and nut mixes, with raisins.
  • We should set out housing for nesting birds NOW.  Will do.
  • The purple martins will be arriving here soon, and hummingbirds surprisingly early – by mid-April.
  • Raccoons have been known to carry feeders off.   The buggers!
  • There are at least 20 great plants that birds feed on, all native.  Natalie has a whole talk about that coming up at Behnkes next month – March 17.

And here are just a few of the birds we can enjoy in our backyards in the winter:

  • Cardinals, which are flocking now.  Did you know that they communicate with each other by tweaking their crests?
  • Bluebirds, which love the berries of dogwoods and junipers.  And bluejays, which love nuts, especially acorns.  Speaking of blue, there’s actually no blue pigment in birds.  They appear to be blue because of the way the light refracts off their feathers.
  • Dark-eyed Junkos, which arrive here from Canada in September or October and stay until May.  They love thistle.
  • Mockingbirds, which know up to 200 songs and love berries.
  • White-breasts nutfinches, which can walk upside down on trees.
Downy (L) and Pileated Woodpeckers
  • Chickadees, both the Carolina and black-capped type, can be trained to eat out of your hand or at a feeder next to a garden bench.  (So will nutfinches.)  I’ve gotta do this!
  • Woodpeckers in our region this time of year include the downy, the hairy, the red-bellied and the red-headed.  My favorite is the flashy, incredibly large pileated woodpecker, and three were sighted in my neighborhood just yesterday, according to the Greenbelt email group.  The first time I ever saw one I mistook it for a chicken – that’s how big they are.

To learn more about birds, Natalie recommends the website of the justly famous Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  It offers great tips for identifying birds.  Sparrows in particular are notoriously hard to tell apart.

Becoming a Master Naturalist

To learn LOTS more about not just birds but all wildlife in our region, you could take advantage of the University of Maryland’s Master Naturalist training, like Natalie did.  Click here to learn more.

Posted by Susan Harris.  Photo credits: Downy woodpecker, others from Cornell.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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