I was all set to write a post on tele-skiing, but our global warming-influenced weather patterns have so disgusted me that I’m afraid I’m still too annoyed to take up that topic without ruining my own morning. Suffice it to say that if our disappointingly warm winters keep up I informed Stan that we are going to have to move north or west. Winter should be about snow that arrives in December and piles up without much break until March, not snow, then freezing rain, then sixty-degree weather, then snow–you get the idea. How is a girl who loves winter sports to survive?

So instead, I decided to write about winter’s hardiest little denizens, the birds who don’t fly south. Stan and I are devoted backyard birders. Maybe when we have a little more free time on our hands, we’ll expand this interest into a real hobby, but for now we content ourselves with local avian activity. Not that there’s any shortage!

Our little backyard paradise in Eden is surrounded primarily by land that’s used for agricultural purposes. The land not used for farming is forested. The combination of these two environments means there’s ample habitat for a wide variety of North American birds. Our property includes a couple acres of a seasonally wet area that is partially overgrown with scrub brush and some trees. It attracts a lot of birds that like to live at the edges of the large fields that surround us and it really comes alive during the spring and summer months!


An eastern bluebird checking out the lay of the land on our bluebird box last summer.

Our winter birds are everything you would expect to find in this part of the state. They include, American goldfinches, chickadees, cardinals, slate-colored juncos, tufted titmice, house finches, white-breasted nuthatches, chipping sparrows, American crows, starlings, blue jays, hairy and downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, and occasionally piliated woodpeckers, though they are a less frequent sighting because our house is in the open. Recently we’ve been getting common redpolls by the dozens too.


Common redpolls take over the niger seed bag on our pole feeder just the last week.

I love the winter birds because they are such survivors I get to waste hours watching their behavior on the feeders–we take them down in the summer to keep the squirrels and other opportunistic mammals at bay–but the summer birds are so much more dramatic! My favorites include the eastern bluebirds that nest in our bluebird boxes, the baltimore orioles that raise their family in the back yard, the indigo bunting that stopped by for one brief, exhilerating showing, the yellow-bellied sapsuckers that drum away with their uneven rhythm on the trees in the back, the little house wrens and black and white warblers that flit about in the brush, the beautiful common flickers that poke about in the grass, and the kingbirds that land on the electrical wires at the end of the day. We are also visited by sharp shinned or cooper’s hawks, though I have yet to discern which. (Egads, that’s quite a favorites list. I think in the future, I’d be better off listing what I don’t like!)

Baltimore Oriole

A showy male baltimore oriole feasting on grape jelly at our oriole feeder last summer.

If you know birds, you realize that there’s nothing spectacular or unusual listed above. But I’ve decided that I’m more than content with our backyard birds. Like our lives, they are ordinary and familiar, and that’s what makes them special. They cling to tube feeders that are whipped around in 50+ mph gales, they face sleet, ice and snow in order to make it to the next breeding season, and when spring finally does arrive, they shed their drab winter colors for the brilliant plummage that signals their desire to parent the next generation. They represent the ordinary indomitability of biological life and as such are divine.

If you think you’d like to learn a little more about birds, check out the website hosted by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. If you had all the free time in the world, you could not possibly take in all this site has to offer. Their wildlife preserve and visitor’s building literally a few miles from my Dad’s old place in Cayuga Heights. We would go skating on the pond in Sapsucker Woods when the winter weather was cold and snow-free.