A big mug of hot chocolate, check. A plate of cookies, check. A comfortable chair by the window, check. Binoculars, check. Camera, check. Am I waiting for Santa? Not exactly. He takes second place to the arrival of my favorite winter birds.
The list is classic — cardinals, blue jays, juncos, sparrows, nuthatches, chickadees, cedar waxwings, woodpeckers, tufted titmice, finches, and, new to my list this year, golden-crowned kinglets.
It’s holiday time when these fluffy feather balls come from far and wide to feast on seeds, nuts, suet, berries and anything else they can find in my yard.
Most of them come to feeders topped to the max with black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts and suet. Did you know that black oil sunflower seeds attract the widest variety of birds? That’s because their hulls are easy to crack and the seeds provide some of the best high octane fuel birds can eat.
To say my bird food budget soars in winter would be an understatement and they’re worth every penny. What I spend in food for them I get back ten times in the joy they bring on a cold winter’s day.
A prime example of this is the cardinal. Who doesn’t love these icons of winter time? Drop a cardinal into a snow-laden pine tree and voila, you have an instant Christmas moment.
If I was a betting lady, it would be a sure win that the cardinal is on more holiday greeting cards than any other bird. These brilliant beacons of red always lift up our spirits on the gloomiest winter days.
And then there’s the juncos and chickadees. With their spindly little legs, they look like flying bowling balls on mini stilts. About the size of sparrows, they pack a lot of joie de vivre in those little bodies.
Juncos are the true snow birds of our region. You know winter is coming when you see these little guys with their soft pink colored beaks and dark gray and white tuxedos. Their flashy outer white tail feathers only add to their suave looks.
Chickadees are cheeky favorites. Most of the time I hear them before I see them. Their constant chatter, perky little faces and insatiable curiosity make them another great candidate for greeting cards.
The peanut obsessed blue jays often get a bad rap, some deserved and some not. If any bird is going to break my food budget, it’s the blue jay.
Peanuts are like gold to these guys. They can never get enough of them. They will fight anyone and everyone to get to them.
They are calculating though in their quest for the perfect peanut. They want the biggest bang for the buck. That means choosing the heaviest peanuts possible and tossing aside the lightweights for their less picky cousins.
Their handsome features make up for their obnoxious, pushy ways. When they get together with the cardinals, it’s a perfect symmetry of ice and fire in the winter trees.
True winter gold for me are the cedar waxwings and the golden-crowned kinglets. Getting a glimpse of these two species never gets old.
Cedar waxwings are the runway models of the bird world. Only the elegant look of silk, satin or chiffon will do for them.
Tiny jewels of red dots on the wings and equally brilliant yellow splashes on the tails adorn their understated soft brown, gray and yellow bodies. Those flashes of red and yellow in the winter sky are a marvel to see as they move in flocks to plunder fruit on trees and bushes.
They’re not the only birds with dazzling flashes of yellow. Much to my excitement, I recently discovered golden-crowned kinglets on our property. Up until a few weeks ago, I had never even seen one. A hike at Gunpowder Falls State Park changed all that. What I thought was a warbler I spotted on the trail turned out to be a golden-crowned kinglet.
What makes these little guys so special? It’s that aptly named golden crown. A black and white striped face frames a patch on top of its head that puffs up like a mini mohawk on fire when it is on alert.
As writer Nick Saunders wrote in a recent issue of Living Bird magazine (a great publication from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology), “On a freezing day, seeing that orange-yellow glow almost makes you feel warm!” It’s a perfect description for a bird that can endure temperatures up to 40 degrees below zero!
While I sit in my cozy chair on a snowy winter day, I will never cease to be in awe of the tenacity and endurance of our feathered friends in winter. What perfect gifts of nature they are this holiday season. Merry Christmas everyone!