Southern Ontario’s Winter Bounty

I had hoped to get out to photograph some of the different ducks overwintering on Lake Ontario at some point over the last couple of weeks, but a number of pressing work commitments have kept me pretty much chained to my desk. I’ve no regrets, since the back yard feeder has been a real hub of activity.

The January weather turned out to be quite a mixed bag, as a mild patch melted the snow and gave us about two weeks of quite pleasant weather. But the reprieve was short-lived, as another big dump of the white stuff at the end of the month thrust us squarely back into the depths of winter. Watching the birds adapt to these variable conditions has been quite interesting.

The downy woodpeckers have winter completely figured out, enjoying peanuts on milder days and the suet block when it gets really cold. Of course, the woodpecker picnic cylinder is always a big hit in any weather.

I have to say, I really enjoy the downies. Their antics are quite hilarious. We have several visiting our feeders, males and females. They’ve just begun playing peek-a-boo with one another, so they seem to think spring can’t be too far off. We also have at least two hairy woodpeckers now visiting. They look just like downies but are at least twice as big, and with much more substantial beaks. I’ve taken to calling the male “Prince Hairy” … his female friend of course is now “Meghan.” I’ll have to get pictures of them. For now, the downy gang keep me amused by hanging out in the tree just outside my office window, peeping away merrily for hours on end.

The chickadees are also enjoying the feeder. They’re very quick visitors, they dart in, grab a seed, then fly away with it to enjoy it in a tree where there’s less traffic. It’s really cute how they hold the little seed in their feet while they peck away at it. Sometimes I wonder if they burn more energy darting to and fro than they get from the food, but they seem to be doing well so it must all work out.

Of course our goldfinches and juncos are also enjoying the full feeders. The house finches, too.

Winter also brings other visitors to the area. This massive red-tailed hawk was sitting in a tree one morning. It was a very long way off, yet still looked enormous as it scoured the neighborhood for squirrels.

Our resident Coopers hawks and sharp-shinned hawks have also been quite active lately. There are at least three different individuals that we see around the feeder … two different sharpies, and a Coopers hawk that looks similar but is quite a bit larger in size. Where the Sharp-shinned hawks aren’t much bigger than a mourning dove, and normally chase after the sparrows, chickadees and finches, the Cooper’s hawk is more the size of a crow, and often eats the mourning doves. It’s more than robust enough to easily fly away carrying one in its talons. But it isn’t above eating mid-sized birds like starlings too, as I found out one mild morning toward the end of the month.

It’s unfortunate for the starling, but the hawk has to eat too and nature isn’t always kind. Even so, I’m always thrilled to see the hawks, they really are quite remarkable birds.

And just like that, another blast of winter arrived and buried everything under yet another load of snow.

Happily, my work load seems to be lightening up as we enter February, so I still hope to get down to Lake Ontario to take photos of the visiting waterfowl. Hopefully I’ll have some to share by this time next month. Till then, happy birding.

About Craig Ritchie

Craig Ritchie was born in Toronto and has always held a deep fascination with nature and wildlife. After an initial attempt at putting a bird feeder in the yard led to confrontations with gangs of house sparrows and mischievous raccoons, he set out to learn more about birds and birding, sharing those discoveries on his blog. Craig currently divides his time between southern Ontario and Prince Edward Island.
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