The first bird I saw this year was a cardinal. A male cardinal. A gorgeous flaming bright red male cardinal.
An auspicious start to the year, don’t you think?
Along with the cardinal on New Year’s Day, I also saw house sparrows, a red-bellied woodpecker (heard before seen, as they often are—so vocal and beautiful!), many crows (heading to roost), and a white-throated sparrow (I am so pleased to have overwintering white-throated sparrows!).
After that strong start, a few days later I saw my first dark-eyed junco of the year—cute round little puffballs. The same day, I saw a downy woodpecker at the suet out back. Score one for the suet! Mostly the squirrels get it (they are very persistent, gnawing through that cage) before the birds get a fair chance.
On January 5, my best backyard sighting of the year: I was puttering about the kitchen when I saw something much larger than usual zoom through the backyard. I grab my binocs and Sibley’s (conveniently right by the window) and the bird lands in my neighbor’s tree. I have a perfect view. A Cooper’s hawk! It swooped down into my neighbor’s yard, most likely plucking up a songbird (my neighbor also puts out bird food and water all winter, so we’re a nice little winter oasis on the block).
The next day, I welcomed my first black-capped chickadee of the year to the yard. I actually went out and got a new feeder this year specifically to attract chickadees, and it works! This morning they were busy at the feeder. They’re so fast they’re hard to count. There were at least three, but I think maybe five. Delightful little birds—the smiles of winter. I would feed birds just for the chickadees alone.
Then in dribs and drabs I added sporadic birds. A blue jay (so common last winter but a rare sight in the back yard this winter), rock pigeons, a white-breasted nuthatch (another favorite winter bird that hasn’t been as common as usual this year), Canada geese (which I usually hear before I see, and then glimpse flying overhead as I’m writing at my table), and finally at the end of January, goldfinches.
In early February I went birding with a friend. Not much—it was a cold day—but a bit. We started at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (they have birdfeeders set up near the visitor center, and you can watch from the warm inside). When we first got there, a wild turkey was wandering around under the feeders, a bit of a distraction from the scads of chickadees, juncos, blue jays, woodpeckers, and nuthatches.
After that we went to nearby Fort Snelling State Park, where we happened upon half a dozen trumpeter swans! The visit to the park paid for itself in happiness (actually, the MN annual state park sticker of $35 is a really good deal; now we can bird at Fort Snelling, which is practically in our back yard, all summer, or go to any state park at all—67 to choose from). I have a feeling this could be a very happy birding year.
And last but certainly not least, my most recent bird of the year: bald eagle. These beauties are here year round, and I saw this one as we were crossing the Mississippi River.
There are plenty of common winter birds I haven’t seen yet: hairy woodpecker, house finch, purple finch, mallard, and starling, to name a few. Before long, birds will start coming back. It seems ducks appear as soon as there’s open water.
A couple of weeks ago I heard the cardinals’ spring song. Oh how welcome that is!
Can the red-winged blackbird be far behind?