A Favorite Wintering Yard Bird
Ro Wauer, November 16, 2003, The Victoria Advocate, © 2003
Everyone probably has a favorite wintertime yardbird, one that spends its winter months in your yard. These can be winter-only species, such as the eastern phoebe, ruby-crowned kinglet, or yellow-rumped warbler, or full-time residents, such as the Carolina chickadee, Carolina wren, or northern cardinal.
Those who pay attention to their wintertime yardbirds may already have a favorite, but I honestly don't. If forced to make a decision, I would have a difficult time of it. But I'll try, nonetheless. Maybe I will first select a top five or six species. That might include the buff-bellied hummingbird, yellow-bellied sapsucker, eastern phoebe, Carolina chickadee, Carolina wren, orange-crowned and yellow-rumped warblers, and Lincoln's and white-throated sparrows. Opps, that's nine species instead of five to six. Oh well, but how to pick just one?
Buff-bellied hummingbirds could well be a favorite. A year-round colorful resident that readily comes to feeders for great views, and a personality that is one of a kind. And it is a tropical species at the northern edge of its range, kind of special in anyone's perspective. But the yellow-bellied sapsucker is also special. It is a keystone species that keeps sap wells open all winter that attract and help feed other birds and insects. Pretty special indeed. Besides, these woodpeckers may have come a long way from their northern breeding grounds to overwinter in my yard.
The eastern phoebe has not traveled so far, since some nest in the northern half of Texas. This flycatcher does just fine even during cold weather when insects are few and far between; it is an extremely adaptable species. It gets high marks for its persistence, in addition to its usual abundance in winter. And who can slight the Carolina wren? For no other reason that it has entertained me all the rest of the year. No other songbird builds its nests in my flowerpots.
Warblers are always special, especially those that winter north of the Mexican border; most of their relatives seek more tropical habitats with easier pickings. Orange-crowns are tough little birds; fellow birder Mark Elwonger and I once watched one individual kill another one trying to take over a feeder during a freezing rain in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Besides, orange-crowned warblers breed in some of my favorite habitats, spring sites in the highlands of the Rocky Mountains. Yellow-rumps also are breeding birds of the northern highlands and all of northern North America, and they are one of the few warblers wintering in numbers in the United States. This little yellow-rumped bird even sings partial songs in my yard on sunny winter mornings.
Then there are the two sparrows mentioned above, Lincoln's and white-throated. Lincoln's sparrows are skulkers that are never very obvious, but they stay close to sheltered areas along the edge of my yard. They only occasionally come to my seed feeders; really gutsy for such a small bird. They also possess a subtle beauty in the own right, buff breast and a contrasting facial pattern. White-throated sparrows are also colorful, with the adult's snow-white throat and black-and-white crown with a golden spot in front of each eye. In addition, anyone who has spent time if the northern forests, cannot help but have a special appreciation for its' marvelous song - "pure sweet Canada Canada" or "sow wheat peverly, peverly, peverly, peverly" - that can often be heard in sunny winter days.
Which one is my most favorite? What a decision! But I forgot two other favorites, American kestrel and American robin. - Maybe I had better leave such a major decision up in the air. After all, cedar waxwings, Carolina chickadees, chipping sparrows, and American goldfinches are pretty special wintering yardbirds, too.