Where have all the birds gone?

Look at this picture. Look at it closely. Count the nuImagember of birds in it. How many did you find?

If you counted zero, nada, zilch, you are not alone. Since before Thanksgiving, I have seen very few birds at our feeders.

In an email to Hugh Kingery, of the Audubon Society of Greater Denver, said that several people all along the Front Range have commented on the lack of birds at their feeders. He feels that there are fewer coniferous (spruce, pine and fir) tree cones for the seed eaters to feed on, but others say that their berry bushes are full of berries, with no birds eating them.

So far, nobody has any speculation on where the birds went, either.

Hungry Hummer Can’t Wait

By Wednesday night, we’d had four inches of rain on Green Mountain, and the birds were cold, wet and hungry. The hummingbirds seemed especially desperate, as I suspect that all that rain has diluted the nectar in the flowers.

The hummers were haunting our feeders, which I noticed, actually had more liquid in them than when I set them out two days ago. The rain had driven into the tiny holes, and watered down the sugar water. I decided to replace the diluted sugar water in the feeders.

While I made up some new water and refilled the feeders, hummers kept stopping by the feeding stations. They were not happy to find the feeders missing. I worked as fast as I could, listening to their frustrated chipping. It took me only a few minutes to get the feeders back on the back porch, but that was longer than the little birds wanted to wait.

We keep our third feeder across the yard in a flower garden. As I crossed the yard, holding the flat bowl of the feeder in both hands, a little female hummingbird hovered above my hand, impatient to get to the sugar water. I could feel the gust of air that they produced as she hovered. I set the bowl on top of its post, but before I could work it firmly in place, the female was dipping her beak into the hole between my hands.

I froze, unable to move for fear of scaring the starving bird off. She drank and drank, her hair-like tongue flicking out, for all the world as if she were licking her bill.

After a bit, she felt secure enough to sit on the edge they put on the bowl as a perch. Every so often, she’d flutter her wings, keeping them warm in case she had to dart off. When she did, the buzzing vibrated through the plastic to my hands — I could feel the hummingbird hum.

Finally, she was full — for the moment. Hummingbirds need lots of energy to survive cold nights. I had no doubt that she’d be back. And she was welcome to it.Image

Ponderosa pine cones

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Green ponderosa pine cone.

    I am always amazed at how much there is to see when hiking the same trail over and over again. I was up at my Project Budburst site yesterday, checking on the progress of my plants. The ponderosa pine that I watch is in the process of opening its cones. I’d seen small cones developing on the tree, and I’d of course seen mature cones at the base of the trees. But I had never noticed this just-about-to-open stage of growth before.
    The large woody ponderosa pine cones often remind people of a pineapple, although the two plants are about as distantly related as it is possible to get and still photosynthesize. Even at this early stage, you can see the small bristle on the end of the big scales.

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Open ponderosa pine cone.

    Ponderosas produce relatively few cones every year. Because they produce only a few cones and therefore only a few seeds, ponderosas are determined to keep animals from getting the seeds. To protect their seeds, each pine cone scale has a small bristle at the end of it.
    Just a few days older, this cone has opened, and is drying out. Soon, it will fall to the ground. Eventually, the seeds will work their way out of the cone, hopefully to be one of the lucky few to slide into a protected crack in the rocks before they are gobbled up by a squirrel or jay.

Gorgeous Great-Tailed Grackles

We had a small flock of great-tailed grackles make a stop in the back yard this fall. I don’t usually think of grackles as beautiful. Loud, yes. Messy, sure. But these birds were gorgeous. Two-tone iridescent blue on their heads, bronze on their backs and purple on their wings.Image
They must have all been males, because, as is typical for birds, the females are a drab striped brown.

Great-tailed grackles are new to Colorado, expanding up from Mexico.