Thursday, December 10, 2009

Early Bird Special

On most mornings, I’m the first person in our household to awaken. I head to the kitchen to make my first cup of tea and check the bird feeders to discover the day’s “early bird special” – that is, to see which birds made it to the feeders first. It’s fairly predictable.

In the summer, when I’m often up by 4:30 or 5:00 a.m., the first bird I see is often a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a tiny dark blur in the dim pre-dawn light. The little hummers must eat almost constantly when they are awake. During the night, they enter a semi-torpid state, almost like a mini-hibernation, so as to conserve fuel during the cool night hours. The hummers are often the last at the feeders in the evening, too, getting their bedtime snacks.

In the colder months, the first birds to arrive at the feeders are usually the Northern Cardinals and the White-throated Sparrows. I can hear the Cardinals’ “chip!” notes and the White-throats’ “tseep!” notes, and when I peer out into the darkness around 5:30 a.m., there they are. These two species come and go all day long, and are usually the last ones at the feeders in the late afternoon, too, sometimes staying on into twilight.

The Cardinals are year-round residents; we have at least two pairs that nest in or around our yard.

The White-throated Sparrows are winter residents, having migrated from their breeding grounds in the far north. They are very pretty birds and excellent songsters.

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