My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Which way did they go?

It was a few weeks ago that Bob Zeller of Texas Tweeties blog posted a photo of a robin, and in the comments, the discussion turned to the fact that some robins seem to be wintering farther north than they used to. It was an interesting discussion, one commenter said that they put raisins out for the robins, which the robins wolfed down in short order. I opined that I thought that one of the reasons that some species of birds spent winters farther north in recent years was due to the large number of ornamental trees that bear fruit have that been planted giving birds access to more food.

I can’t prove that of course, but my observations seem to show this to be at least part of the reason, along with more people feeding birds in their backyards. Seed eating birds such as finches and goldfinches no longer have to travel south of the snow cover to find seeds to eat, they only have to locate a convenient bird feeder.

The subject came up in the same time frame as I posted “Class, please raise your hand” which featured photos of robins gorging themselves on mountain ash berries. The flock of robins that was hanging around here feeding on the different types of berries isn’t around any longer, I wonder which way they went. The snow cover we had disappeared about the same time as the robins, so I wonder if they headed back to the north again, or south. I can’t say, but on Friday, I witnessed American goldfinches feeding on crab apples here, and I’ll get to those photos shortly.

Before I get to the photos, there are a couple other things I would like to say about birds and their feeding habits. One is that most small songbirds are far more omnivorous than we generally think. We tend to pigeonhole some songbirds as seed eaters, others as insect eaters. But, as I noted in my post about the nuthatches, although they are considered to be insect eating birds, they will feed on seeds when the seeds are available. Conversely, I have seen many cardinals and sparrows, which are generally classified as seed eating birds, chasing and eating moths and other insects.

This is especially true when adult birds are feeding their young, the young birds need a wide variety of nutrients to grow, but I think it happens more than we acknowledge. The best example I can give of this is hummingbirds. We all know that hummingbirds feed on the nectar of flowers, right? But, did you know that insects make up a large part of a hummingbird’s diet? The hummingbirds need the high sugar content of nectar to fuel their high metabolism, but nectar alone doesn’t provide the other nutrients that hummingbirds need to survive. I have sat in my apartment and watched hummingbirds zipping around the in woods, where there are no flowers, eating the small insects that do live there.

The other thing that I should mention is that my brother suggested that I do a post about finding the food sources of critters, and how to use that to get good photos. That’s a good idea, but I would end up doing post after post on that subject, at least one post for every species of critter that there is, and even that probably wouldn’t be complete. My brother just purchased a Pentax DSLR, and I’m going to share one of his photos, because I think it is fantastic!

Cedar waxwings feeding on grapes

Now, on to the fun. I was thinking about the robins, wondering which way they went when they left this area, when I came to a fir tree full of chickadees. I don’t know how many were in the fir tree, but I was going nuts trying to get pictures of them. They would not sit still at all.

Where did the chickadee go?

As fast as I could point and shoot, the chickadees would be gone. Not only was I wondering which way the robins went, I was wondering which way the chickadees went!

Chickadee blasting off

It was one of those days, as far as chickadees, good thing I was able to get this series of photos of goldfinches feeding on crab apples.

American goldfinch eating a crab apple

American goldfinch eating a crab apple

Which brings me full circle in this post. One, these crab apples are of the ornamental variety. Crab apples are native to this area, I believe, but the ornamental cultivars produce far more flowers, and therefore, far more fruit than do the native bushes. Also, goldfinches are known primarily as seed eating birds, and maybe these were eating the seeds within the crab apples, but they were definitely eating the fruit as well.

American goldfinch eating a crab apple

American goldfinch eating a crab apple

American goldfinch eating a crab apple

American goldfinch eating a crab apple

The mountain ash that the robins were feeding on a few weeks ago are not native to this area, but the birds in this area have learned to make use of the berries of the mountain ash as a food source.

American robin eating mountain ash berries

So, is there a point to all of my ramblings? Several.

One, birds feed on a variety of food sources, they aren’t as limited as we tend to think.

Two, we continue to make widespread changes in habitat, and it isn’t always a bad thing. We may not think of it as changing a habitat, but hanging up a bird feeder or planting ornamental trees and bushes that provide a food source for critters is changing the habitat.

Three, birds don’t migrate south in the winter, or north in the spring, because they feel that they need the exercise that flying hundreds or thousands of miles provides, they migrate due to food supplies, and when we change the habitat, we change the migration patterns of birds.

Four, if you find a food source that critters are feeding on, stake it out and get some stunning photos, like my brother did..

Cedar waxwing eating grapes

And finally, when photographing birds…

American goldfinch in flight

…you’ll often be asking yourself, which way did they go?


10 responses

  1. Great post and photos. And thanks for the shout-out. 🙂

    January 28, 2012 at 1:07 pm

  2. I sometimes wonder what the birds are finding to eat in the winter (aside from what people provide for them). This is really interesting. Thanks!

    January 28, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    • Thank you, I’ll be trying to get photos for some related posts.

      January 28, 2012 at 3:22 pm

  3. The robin sticking his tongue out makes me laugh every time I see him.

    January 28, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    • Those are some of the funniest shots I have ever taken, thanks!

      January 28, 2012 at 11:31 pm

  4. Love the cedar waxwings. Remind me of batman 🙂

    January 28, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    • You’ll have to thank my brother for those.

      January 28, 2012 at 11:31 pm

  5. Good photography runs in the family 🙂

    January 30, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    • Thank you, my brother thanks you as well!

      January 31, 2012 at 2:55 am

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