Though the Demonstration Garden doesn’t consistently put out food in our bird feeder since DCMG volunteers are not present at the Garden every day, within a very short time after the Garden’s feeder was filled, Starla, our talented Garden Buzz photographer, captured these pictures of Red-winged Blackbirds, Sparrows, and Brown-headed Cowbirds, feasting on the seeds.
Red-winged Blackbirds are some of the most abundant birds in North America. The Red-winged’s count was estimated at 190 million in the mid-1970s. The male Red-winged Blackbird proudly displays his distinctive red shoulder patches, or “epaulets” when flying or displaying. When resting, the black male shows a yellow wing bar. The female Red-winged Blackbird is much drabber and has a streaked feather pattern. Blackbirds are omnivorous and will eat both seeds and insects. Though they tend to build their nests in fresh and saltwater marshes, in winter they can be found in fields and pastures.
Brown-headed Cowbirds are a species of blackbirds often found among flocks of Blackbirds and Starlings feeding on the ground. They can be recognized by their shorter tail and thicker neck than most blackbirds. They also have a rich brown head that sometimes looks black in poor lighting. Females do not build nests but instead lay their eggs, sometimes as many as three dozen a year, in the nests of other birds, These foster parents will raise the cowbird chicks as their own. However this is often at the expense of some of the parent’s natural chicks.
Sparrows, of course, are the most familiar of all wild birds. They have adapted easily to the urban environment and are found throughout all of North America. They too are omnivorous and will eat both insects and seeds. At backyard feeders, they especially like to eat millet, corn and sunflower seeds, all of which are often found in seed mixtures.
If you are interested in learning more about birds and identifying the birds you might find at your feeder, there are many sites on the internet (the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is one) www.allaboutbirds.org that can be used as field guides for identification and behavior. Some sites, such as the Cornell website, even have audio recordings of bird calls so you can identify a bird just by its sound. In winter, though birds have throughout the ages managed to survive without supplemental feed from humans, as Starla said about the number of birds that quickly came to the Garden’s feeder: “They were super appreciative of the feast.”
Pictures by Starla