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Landscaping for Winter Birds (page 2 of 3)

by Amy Bartlett Wright


The following descriptions of North American birds include their favorite food sources. For more about birds and plants specific to your area, consult a regional bird book and nearby garden center or wildlife agency. Measurements listed are from beak to tail.

Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum). This 6-1/2- to 8-inch bird, found across North America, has a waxy sheen and a pointed crest of head feathers. It eats a wide variety of berries and is a joy to watch feeding or tending young.

Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). The northern cardinal is one of the most popular North American birds. Its overall bright red color and crested head feathers, which raise when the bird is alert or excited, readily identify the male. Female cardinals also have crests, but their coloring is more subdued. This mainly eastern bird measures 7-1/2 inches. Food sources include insects, seeds (especially sunflower), and fruit.

Finch. Their bills are generally short and wide, just right for cracking seeds. This large group includes crossbills, finches, and grosbeaks. The 5-inch goldfinch is widespread; the 5-1/2-inch purple finch is common throughout eastern, central, and Pacific states. Goldfinches enjoy eating the seeds of many meadow flowers including daisy, dandelion, and thistle.

Blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata). This aggressive feeder, found east of the Rocky Mountains, often wins when competing for food with other birds. The bird measures 11 inches. Jays in the West include the Steller's jay (C. stelleri), which is common in coastal forests and mountains into the Rockies. Jays love to eat sunflower seeds at a feeder or from the plant. Their familiar screech can be heard throughout the year.

Warbler. There are more than 50 species of warblers, most of which are colored with some yellow. They are generally smaller than sparrows and have thin pointed bills. Berries are their main winter food source.

Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). Also called the northern mockingbird, this 9- to 11-inch bird ranges primarily in the midcontinent. It composes its song in mimicry of other birds. It is strongly territorial throughout the summer months and eats insects, seeds, and fruits.

Chickadee (Parus). This bird sings its name, "Chickadee-dee-dee," as it flits about tree branches. Chickadees nest in excavated softwood, often using birch trees. The black-capped chickadee (P. atricapillus), measures 4-1/2 inches. Six species of chickadee are found in various regions of North America; besides the black-capped, they are boreal, Carolina, chestnut-backed, Mexican, and mountain. These birds feed on insects, seeds, and fruit.

Tufted titmouse (Parus bicolor). Like the cardinal, it sports a pointed head crest. This cute bird is a pleasure to see at a feeder, at a berried plant, or hanging upside down to feed on insects found under leaves. The male and female sport similar colors and measure 6 inches. The tufted titmouse is found in the eastern half of North America.

Woodpecker. These birds peck wood in search of wood-boring insects; they also enjoy ripe berries. In an interesting adaptation for clinging to branches, the birds' stiff tail feathers act as additional support when they stand vertically on branches, two toes forward, two back. Downy woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) enjoy bright red viburnum berries. They measure 6 to 7 inches and are found throughout North America.

Eastern or rufous-sided towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus). This 7- to 8-inch bird, which resembles the more familiar robin, is found throughout the eastern United States; the western rufous-sided towhee has white spots on its back and shoulders. The brown towhee (P. fuscus), common in the West, is found on hillsides, in scrubby or wooded areas, and in coastal gardens. In winter these birds enjoy acorns and berries.

Bluebird (Sialia). Western (S. mexicana) and eastern bluebirds (S. sialis) make their nests in the soft wood of decaying trees. Both are 7 inches long. The western bluebird is found west of the Rockies. The eastern bluebird is becoming reestablished after a period of decline. Bluebirds will settle in nest boxes provided by gardeners and also enjoy a local birdbath. To survive the winter, they depend on food sources such as berries, spiders, and insects.

Swallow. These acrobatic flyers benefit us by eating flying insects considered pests by some. Their narrow, pointed wings allow them to swoop and dive. Before fall migration, swallows gorge themselves on insects and bayberries. Tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are 5- to 6-inches long. They are found throughout North America and re the only swallow to overwinter in the southern states. Other swallows include barn swallows, cliff swallows, and purple martins.

Sparrow. Many species of sparrows are found in North America, and most enjoy a habitat of brush, thickets, and open woodlands. The white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) is found primarily east of the Rockies. This bird measures 6 to 7 inches. Food sources include berries, seeds, spiders, and insects.

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