A bevy of backyard birds

Bill and I were standing in the living room at the back window gazing outside as our son walked by.

“What on Earth are you two doing?” he asked.

“Watching birds,” we said, in unison. Bill and I then turned and grinned at each other.

I added, “It’s what old people do.”

We then laughed. Our son just shook his head like we’d lost our minds and walked on into the kitchen where he promptly ignored us.

How he thinks we’ll lose our minds simultaneously is beyond me.

Male Cardinals don't mind each other in winter when they need to be at the feeder. However, when temperatures and sunlight both increase in spring, watch out! They are fiercely territorial.
Male Cardinals don’t mind each other in winter when they need to be at the feeder. However, when temperatures and sunlight both increase in spring, watch out! They are fiercely territorial. See the female Cardinal on the right of the feeder? She blends in. Nature’s protective camouflage for nesting birds.

The truth is Bill and I have always been into birds. You can’t live out where we do and not be into them. Well, I guess you can, but what’s the point? Birds are plentiful here, and none are more plentiful than my sassy cadre of Cardinals.

A bevy of birds jockeying for position at the feeder.
A bevy of birds jockeying for position at the feeder including a House Sparrow, the backend of a Tufted Titmouse and a male Cardinal. I love how pissed off birds look when you see them close up. Being a bird is serious business.

In winter, Cardinals, male and female, and mostly in pairs, belly up to the bird feeder all day long as long as those feeders are full of seed. We use a mix of Wagner’s 76027 Black Oil Sunflower seed and regular, high-quality birdseed. We also fill a finch feeder with Audubon Park 12236 Nyjer/Thistle Seed so that smaller birds like House Finches and American Goldfinches (only in winter) have a chance. Like Carol at May Dreams Gardens, we have our problems with Enga the Squirrel too, but nothing dissuades us from filling our bird feeders. We chase the squirrels. We also sometimes coat the copper poles with WD-40 to discourage them. It must be reapplied, and birdseed sometimes sticks to it which is gross in pictures. No, I’ve never poisoned a bird or squirrel by using it either.

[Click on photos in gallery to make them larger.]

If you do hang a feeder, you must keep it full. The birds depend upon you through winter once a feeder is available. We hang two regular feeders on long copper poles on the back deck which is surrounded by trees so that the birds can perch and fly for cover especially when the red-shouldered hawks come to eat. You know what hawks eat right? Smaller birds and rodents.

Nature is often cruel and takes no prisoners.

Feeding birds isn’t cheap, but we buy our seed in bulk locally and store it outdoors in three Behrens 6110 10-Gallon Locking Lid trash cans on the deck. The squirrels can’t break into these cans so they work well for our needs. Bill likes to layer the food in the feeders with a stripe of black oil sunflower seed between the regular food. Watching the birds makes our winter days shorter. They have such funny behavior.

Before the birds’ mating season begins and once temperatures rise, we’ll take in the feeders until late fall. That way, the birds will find their partners and carry on for the next year. I don’t spray pesticides, and I use many native plants so our birds have plenty of bugs and caterpillars to feed their young. Bugs are essential to a bird’s life cycle. If you don’t believe me, believe Doug Tallamy who has been writing and speaking on this subject for years. His two books, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded and The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, the second written with Rick Darke, are essential reading if you love wildlife. They certainly changed the way I garden.

The other afternoon, Bill said, “That’s weird. There are no birds out there.”

“There must be a hawk nearby. The birds quickly figure out when a hawk is near, and they go hide in the trees. Sometimes, the hawk is lucky. Most of the time they are.”

This time Bill looked at me as if I had two heads. “How do you know this stuff?”

“I just do.”

It’s best to keep some mystery alive even if you’ve been married as long as we have. Just ask Mrs. Cardinal.


  1. Hi: I so enjoyed this post. Our quilt guild has designed and is sewing a quilt we call Savannah Afternoon. It’s made up of Southern Belles and Birds. I just finished preparing blocks for the Cardinal and the Tufted Titmouse. We have neither here in Washington State but I’m so glad they are plentiful where you live. I’m especially fond of the very quietly ornate Titmouse. What a lovely little bird. So excited to see photos of it! Thanks so much. Come by and see us at Prairie Cottage Corner when you have a chance! Kathie D.

  2. Dee Nash says:

    Hi Lisa! Yeah, the squirrels are a pain in the posterior, but we have so many that I chase them away regularly. I figure it’s all good. Ouch on the nuthatches. Such meenies.

  3. When there are no flowers we have the birds, thank goodness. I love Tallamy’s books and was privileged to hear him talk last year. Do you and your husband participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, Dee? It’s great fun and provides a useful service. I wrote about it in a blog posting today. Happy bird watching! P. x

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Pam! I’m not much of a counter. I never could figure out how I would know one Cardinal from another. There are so many here. Maybe I’ll give it a try though. Headed over to your blog to see.~~Dee

  4. Oh yes, bird-watching is a joy–especially this time of year. Same thing happens here with the hawks and owls. What amazes me most, during the winter, are the little chickadees and juncos who continue their aerial acrobatics, even on days no warmer than -10F. We don’t have those days often, thankfully, but the juncos and chickadees always show up to make even the coldest winter days cheerier. Your vignette of the two of you and your son at the beginning is priceless. 😉

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Those little Juncos and chickadees are pretty amazing. I watched them out my window last week when it was so cold here too. Thank you for your kind words. That all really happened. Haha. He thinks we’re nuts most of the time.

  5. Rose says:

    My husband is not a gardener, but watching the birds is one thing we both enjoy. Last year I even found my youngest daughter watching them with my husband one afternoon–they were counting all the cardinals flying around the feeders. And my grandsons enjoy seeing them, too, when they come over. So it’s not just old people who enjoy the birds:) Like you, I only fill the feeders during the winter; with the garden and surrounding fields, there is a bounty of food available for them the rest of the year. Thanks for reminding me I need to get out and make sure all the feeders are full before the ice hits us this weekend!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Nope, it’s not all old people. I was totally messing with him. It’s funny to watch your children grow up and like some of the same things you do. It gives me hope for the future Rose.

  6. I love feeding the birds, too. Many of the ones that visit my feeders are garden residents but there are flocks of Chickadees, titmice and others that stop by and/or spend time in our trees. It’s great fun to watch their different bird personalities~I find the house finches to be the bossiest of them all.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Gail! Maybe the house finches have to be so bossy because they are so small. I don’t know. Kinda like being the youngest in a family of thousands.~~Dee

  7. I love your wooden feeder. My squirrels chewed right through mine and they’re so hard to replace.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Squirrels are just horrid little creatures. I think Bill bought our newest feeder at Lowe’s.

  8. Layanee says:

    I can remember my MIL watching the birds and I thought, at the time, that it was such a waste of time. Not so anymore. I have come of birdwatching age. Such fun!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Good clean fun. Haha!

  9. Watching the birds at the feeder helps me keep my sanity. We have a lot of the same birds, but I haven’t seen any cardinals.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Me too Kathy. This winter has been long this year too. And, the temperatures have been all over the place. Thanks for coming by!

  10. It has become our favorite pastime. I have always enjoyed birds. We have larger windows in our new house so we can see them easily. So much fun!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Phillip, so glad you have larger windows from which to see the birds. Have a great week!

  11. LaDonna says:

    That’s what gardeners do in the winter isn’t it? We have watched birds for 30 plus years! I watched from my kitchen window this morning as goldfinches enjoyed the coneflower seeds, while a cardinal tried to eat the berries from a weeping youpon holly until the mockingbird came and scared him away. I’m not familiar with red shoulder hawks, but we have one variety hanging around.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hawks are naughty beasties, but I love them so.

  12. This is the best time of year to watch the feeders. The White-breasted nuthatches here are mean to one another. I saw one pull feathers out of the other at the suet feeder. Poor little things need all of their feather this time of year. We have so many squirrels that I have given up worrying about them. They can be destructive tho. UGh…

  13. indygardener says:

    I love feeding the birds, too. This is the first winter I’ve really kept at it and watched more closely. It’s amazing who shows up at the feeders. Great post and thanks for the link.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Carol, probably because you’re now retired and are at home when they’re around. It’s hard to see them in the dark. Haha.

Comments are closed.