Eastern Towhee

The Eastern towhee (Pipilo erythropthalmus) is our latest backyard visitor. This one is a female eating safflower seeds. She somewhat resembles a robin except for the white belly.

also known as Rufous-sided towhee

The male towhee is quite striking with black where the female is brown, but both have rufous sides. In older bird guides they are listed as Rufous-sided towhees, a name I still prefer.

These year-round Kentucky residents are usually found in brushy areas where they scratch for insects and seeds, and we only occasionally see them in the yard. With  snow covering the ground I expect they are looking for other sources of food.

Their distinctive summer song, “drink your teeeeeeeeee” is one of my favorite bird sounds.

Northern Flicker

It was a special treat last week to watch a northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) on the silver maple. We only see them occasionally. The black “mustache” indicates this one was a male.

He was hunting for insects among the many cracks and crevices of the bark. It’s hard to imagine there was much to find, but I understand there are lots of winter insects hidden in tree bark, under leaves, and in dead plant stalks. I’m amazed to think that eggs, small caterpillars, chrysalises, and adult insects can survive the cold.

I enjoyed a recent article on winter insects by Dr. Douglas Tallamy published in the Wild Ones Journal. It reminds me of the importance of insects and how I can contribute to their chances for surviving the winter months. The growth from last year’s garden looks scraggly now, and that’s OK with me. I appreciate it as a nursery for next summer’s butterflies and other insects.

Red chokeberry

Our winter weather continues – cloudy, cold, and more snow predicted. However a winter day was brightened recently when I found these red chokeberries (Aronia arbutifolia) coated with ice.

red chokeberries and ice

Winter is not my favorite season, but I appreciate its unique beauty. It’s tempting to stay inside, but getting out in the backyard gives me a different experience.

It’s always invigorating to get out in the fresh air, and I never know what I’ll find. And when I’ve had enough, it’s not far to the back door.

Watching birds at close range

We have five different bird feeders but my favorite is the shelf feeder directly outside our dining room window. We enjoy watching the birds while we eat. Safflower seeds attract birds and discourage squirrels; peanuts attract blue jays.

Most of our year-round residents visit the shelf, including cardinals, doves, house finches, wrens, and titmice. It’s a special treat to see them up close.

White-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) are a favorite that we see only in winter.

Zonotrichia albicollis

Tiny Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) are with us year-round, and I never tire of seeing them with their dapper black caps and bibs.

(Parus carolinensis)

I recently learned that chickadees only nest in tree cavities or nest boxes, and I plan to put up a chickadee bird house by early spring. It would be exciting to have a pair of them nesting in the back yard.