By Jim Gilbert
Now is the perfect time to begin feeding birds as they set up their winter feeding territories. Brown creepers and red-breasted nuthatches have arrived; so have the dark-eyed juncos, also called snowbirds and are known as the harbingers of winter.
The juncos are the most numerous of the birds at our feeding station, and relish cracked corn we scatter on the ground below the feeders for them and the mourning doves and northern cardinals. Birds that feast on sunflower and other seeds up in the feeders include black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches and American goldfinches.
Many birds, including four woodpecker species, come to suet feeders.
Birds are animals with feathers. They see in color. In addition they are warm blooded with high constant body temperatures, have skin covered with feathers, and their forelimbs are modified as wings. However, not all birds fly; think of penguins and the ostrich.
At this time about 9,700 species of birds live on our planet Earth. About 650 species are found in North America. Usually 312 species of birds are regularly seen in Minnesota each year, close to 100 species could be seen here in winter, and about 20 species come to feeding stations.
A few rafts of American coots can still be seen on local lakes and a few flocks of American robins and eastern bluebirds are still migrating through. Huge flocks of blackbirds (mostly red-winged blackbirds and common grackles) fly in narrow bands like fast-moving streams to and from roosting and feeding areas.
The assemblies of red-wings and grackles create the largest and most commonly observed groups of land birds in North America. Slowly, as the autumn season progresses, the huge flights drift south.
Also, flocks of those gregarious and sleek crested birds called cedar waxwings are commonly seen devouring crabapples and mountain ash fruit. V formations of tundra swans, with their muffled musical whistles, have been seen overhead since Nov. 1.
What’s happening outdoors now?
November brings long, chilly nights with star-filled skies and hooting owls. Some days are clear, with ocean-blue skies, while others are spread with clouds that produce some of the best sunrises and sunsets of the year. Farmers labor to finish up the combining of corn and other field work.
Common milkweed is as distinctive now as when it was blooming in July; the large warty seedpods have split open and are shedding dark-brown seed on silver-white parachutes across windswept meadows. Short-tailed weasels have turned white except for the tips of their tails, which remain black. Weasels in white are called ermines.
On Nov. 14 a year ago
Drought conditions continued across the entire state. We had a mostly sunny day with a low temperature of 34 degrees and a high of 51. A fishing boat appeared on Lake Waconia. A few common dandelions bloomed on short stems. Lingering flocks of American robins fed on crabapple fruit. Gossamers, single strands of spider silk, stretched from tree and shrub branches, glistened in low angle sunlight.