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Snowbirds

Their winter nutrition is worth your money

Set up a feeder, and you’ll have the energetic company of snowbirds that, like you, aren’t driven south by January’s black-and-white chilly minimalism.
    Holly-berry red male and Dior-cloaked russet females add color and conflict, as each pecks off others of its own sex. The cold first weekend of January, scattered black oil sunflower seed brought a battery of six Cardinals into view.
    Yellow-throated sparrows came out in abundance, too. This time of year their plumage suits another ball team of my extreme youth: the St. Louis Browns. Would that I’d also get the Browns’ current incarnation, as Baltimore’s Orioles. No such luck. What the sparrows lack in color they make up in energy, both in their little foraging dance and in their flurry against any other sparrow that dared to peck beside them.
    Though neither of those species likes to hang on a feeder, others do.
    Each fill-up makes me a betting woman, booking either the chickadee or tufted titmouse as first arrival. These saucy little birds could dot your eye if you don’t get out of their way quick enough. Sooner or later, a few gold and house finches show up, neither wearing much of their distinctive yellow or red-tint colors this time of year.
    Now and again I’ll also get some acrobats: the strutting wrens, climbing brown creepers and downward-walking white-breasted nuthatches.
    Other woodpeckers come, too. Ms Hairy Woodpecker — her sex is my assumption as she has no red patch — scouts the nearby tree, a blue atlas cedar, for insects and sap before making a hop to the feeder. A bigger treat still is the red-bellied woodpecker whose name seems to me so unsuitable that I call him the red-necked woodpecker. Outsized for the cylindrical feeder, the big bird makes a comically ungainly attachment.
    As winter continues, other birds will visit, in more species, colors and antics.
    Birds, of course, aren’t my only feeder company.
    Omnipresent are Mr. and Mrs. Squirrel and often their cousins. Their voracious appetites and indomitable cleverness control my choice of feeder. They’ve destroyed three niger seed feeders of two sorts, plastic and mesh, and no suet feeder is safe among them. My squirrels are gray. I have to travel to Deale to see a black squirrel, the subject of this week’s Sporting Life.
    Their winter nutrition is worth my money. I help them survive; they give me a great show. As a bonus, early summer sunflowers will sprout from seed they missed.

P.S. The Bay Gardener remind us to provide water for the birds and dehydration is a great factor in overwinter deaths.