Friday, February 4, 2011

The Little House Cafe

The temperature here in North Central Texas is currently colder than the northern half of Montana. The last time we rose above freezing was about 3 a.m. Tuesday morning. We had an ice pellet storm on Tuesday, which has congealed into a solid sheet of ice coating the streets and driveways. Most of the schools in the area have been shut down since then: the streets are simply too slick for safety. To add insult to injury, 5 inches of snow were dumped on us overnight.

The intense and continuous cold has led to an avian crisis: the birds need food. Lots of it. With temperatures dropping near single digits, the tiny birds that normally frequent our feeders can lose a significant part of their body weight in one night trying to keep warm.  Fortunately for my bird buddies, the school where I teach has been closed for 4 days, allowing me to maintain a pretty continuous buffet. Awesome Husband estimates that over 300 birds have dined at the Little House Cafe, where we've gone through about 30 pounds of black sunflower seed in 3 days, and too many cups of cornmeal/peanut butter suet to keep track of.

Over 100 in this picture alone, including a growing flock of red-winged blackbirds

Our usual friends were there. Tufted titmice, chickadees, mourning doves, and cardinals know where to turn for a meal any day.

"Please: fewer pictures, more seed."

Their enthusiasm brought in some birds that are less familiar. The red-bellied woodpecker hangs around the trees all the time, but it's only since the weather chilled down that he came to the buffet line. He was initially attracted to the whole peanuts we were putting out for the blue jays, but he soon learned to like my homemade suet. His first approaches were timid and quick, only peeking over the edge of the railing while he perched vertically. Now, he hops around like he owns the place, and visits every day.

Shot with one hand holding a heavy camera, through a window & screen, in low light. Better than expected.

I'd been wondering where the Harris's sparrows were. They always arrive later than the other birds, like a mid-winter present. I saw the first few on Tuesday, sporting their characteristic black beret and bib. So far, nine of them have showed up.

Harris's sparrow, with a brown-headed cowbird looking on

Fox sparrows were unexpected guests. I've seen a few of them in the woods, but never in a close-up. They're bigger than I'd expected, just about the size of a cardinal, with gorgeous brown and grey feathers on their backs. Their bellies are streaked, with a smeary black spot on the chest. They have a distinct little double-scratch they do when they're searching for food: they jump forward, then scoot back a couple of times. It's not so effective when they're on a layer of ice, but it's awfully cute.

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I AM stunning."

These chipping sparrows are enjoying the shelter from the biting north wind, nestled inside an overturned flowerpot.

"If she really loved us, she'd plug the hole that lets in the wind."

After a party, there's bound to be a little debris. Each evening, the deck is littered with the detritus of the day, evidence of a lot of hearty meals.


  1. So you are the one taking care of our red-wing blackbirds during the winter. I note each spring when they return to us here on the Ohio.
    Don't the birds make a mess. I sweep every day and next year my yard will be littered with tiny sunflower seedlings.

  2. @Beyond My Garden: You can expect some fat blackbirds when they return.

  3. >> like the jump forward, then scoot back a couple of times.

    Are you sure it isn't "just a jump to the left, and a step to the ri-i-i-i-ight"?

  4. @Mike: You've got goats on the brain, dear.

  5. I can sympathize with your cold temps, although we've avoided sn*w for the most part so far & today's going up to 60F (FINALLY!)
    Love all of your birds. I have a lot of the same in my yard, but appreciated those that I DON'T have.
    As for debris afterwards--that's how we're filling the low spot in the backyard. I'm not entirely kidding, either. You should SEE the sunflower seed husks out there!

  6. @Anne: I was pleased with the titmouse picture. It was taken from a distance of about 4 inches, so it SHOULD be hard to mess up.

    @Lana: I never thought of using it as a landscaping material. Hmmmmm...

  7. All those red-wing blackbirds just look funny to me on snow. Great photos. This week we've had 50 + temps in Minnesota. But as I'm writing this, we are headed back into the single digits. :( Stay warm!

  8. @zoologirl: ...and we're in for a spell in the 70s.

  9. Great post Joy and beautiful shots of the birds. I really like that Harris's Sparrow, it would be a lifer for me!

  10. Great visitors at the feeder - I'm with Larry, the Harris's would be a lifer for me as well. I've just got bushtits, starlings, black-capped chickadees, song sparrows and the occasional ruby-crowned kinglet at our suet feeder.

  11. Nice balmy weather where I live! And we saw a whole host of woodpeckers recently, so my favourite is that woody who came visiting!

  12. Hi Joy, I put out extra food too when that cold weather was here. I also made sure that at least one of my fountains flowed fast enough to keep flowing. I think we may be headed in to Spring now, but seems like every year I think that, we get that last freeze in mid-March. Guess we'll see...