Greenpoint: Enjoying winter birds — and the promise of spring

A Bald Eagle soars above Route 146 in Clifton Park in October
PHOTOGRAPHER:

A Bald Eagle soars above Route 146 in Clifton Park in October

“Look up,” I told my husband as he was grumbling out the door, head down, shoulders hunched.

He did, and his whole demeanor changed. It was an eagle flying overhead, wings flat and wide, soaring on an air current. He actually smiled, despite the wind and single-digit temperatures.

Bald eagles have nested in our neighborhood for 30 years or more. We’ve seen their children grow up, and their children’s children, and they’ve seen ours do the same. They fly overhead regularly. I’ve chased them when they’ve tried stealing young chickens and watched them pluck fish out of the lake while the kids were wading.

But there’s always something that borders on thrilling when we see them. We know how lucky we are.

Most of the birds we see every day are more mundane. Crows and ravens make regular flyovers, cawing or croaking as they do. Right now, our birdfeeder is mostly populated by chickadees, tufted titmice and nuthatches, with the occasional hairy and downy woodpecker. They are noisy and friendly, and make good company in the doorway.

When my neighbor and I walk the three-mile loop we call “around the block,” we look for birds that aren’t at our feeders. There are the herons in the swamp, and other people’s birdfeeders seem to attract mourning doves and cardinals and blue jays. We talk about the owls we see or hear at night, and imitate their hoots by way of identification.

My husband has taken to watching birds on the internet, via cameras streaming birdfeeders around the world. The one he watches from Ontario has most of the same birds we do, with the addition of what we think is an eastern meadowlark. For the one from South Africa, we have to make up names for the birds we see: long tail, redhead, yellow neck, big boy. The one from Panama just makes my Floridian husband want to move to anywhere where it isn’t winter.

I like the birdfeeder cams to see how they are stocked. In addition to trays and tube hangers full of seeds, we see hanging apples in the north, bananas and papayas in the southern hemisphere, orange halves stuck on nails.

It made me think about providing fruit for the birds as well as seed. I laced a string through an apple and hung it on the tree where we hang suet cages. I made my own suet-like feed out of what I had on hand, melting duck fat and mixing in sunflower seeds, cracked corn that we have for the chickens and some cranberries. It was a hit.

I’ve seen flocks of cedar waxwings swoop in and eat all the tiny crabapples off a tree in winter. In the past, when we’ve strung popcorn and cranberries for Christmas tree garlands, we’ve hung them out for the birds once the tree is down.

Monday is the final day of this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count, where regular folks take 15 minutes to count all the species of birds they see, then upload the results to www.birdcount.org. The data helps scientists get a snapshot of where birds are, before the spring migration, and judge changing populations and habitats.

Even if you’re not acting as citizen scientist, stopping for 15 minutes to visit with the birds offers a shot of pleasure during the dark days of winter, a promise that spring is on its way.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Feb. 28. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

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