Tag Archives: Ozark birds

Cowbird Entrepreneurs

Brown headed cowbirds are not a favorite of birders. I see their points. However, the cowbird entrepreneurs living here have my thanks.

Unlike most birds, cow birds do not build nests. They sneak into other birds’ nests and lay their eggs leaving those birds to raise baby cowbirds that often get rid of the competition.

At the bird feeder cowbirds move in as a flock running out most other birds. They inhale the sunflower seeds and leave the other more desirable birds to go hungry.

The first objection to cowbirds has become a big problem due to people. We cut down and split up forests so susceptible birds are left within reach for the grassland loving cowbirds.

cowbird entrepreneurs gather in trees
The brown headed cowbirds gather in the trees as the herd of goats approaches. Goats tend to race out to an area jostling each other. The birds are waiting for the herd to settle down and graze.

The second hasn’t proved out on our feeder. Our first feeder mob is morning doves. They literally cover the entire feeder floor leaving no room for other birds. Even cowbirds and blue jays give way. The cowbirds move in next, eat their fill and leave. There is still plenty of sunflower seeds, scratch feed and suet for the other birds.

All day I see cowbirds around the barn lot. They clean up dropped feed, ticks and other unwanted insects. I wish they ate flies.

Over spring lone star ticks are a big problem on the goats. By early summer the biggest nuisances, according to the goats, are the horseflies and deerflies.

This brings in the cowbird entrepreneurs.

In Africa rhinos, antelopes and elephants have tick birds sitting on them eating ticks and other bothersome insects. There are no tick birds in the Ozarks.

cowbird entrepreneurs sit on the goats
The brown headed cowbirds fly down from the trees and land on the goats. The goats ignore their passengers. The birds hop up and down the backbone checking for insects and ticks on the goat or flying up out of the grass.

This year especially I have noticed the cowbirds sitting on the goats. Mostly they seem to dive off after insects the goats scare up in the grass.

However, the cowbirds also hop up and down on the backs of the goats. A big, juicy horsefly must be a tasty cowbird treat.

The goats don’t seem to mind their riders. Any help eliminating horseflies is welcome.

Thanks, cowbird entrepreneurs.

Find more about our bird feeding experiences in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Summer Bird Watching

There are lots of kinds of birds around here. All winter into early spring I go looking for them. Summer bird watching is not the same.

From late fall all the way into early spring the trees are bare. Birds hop along and sit on the branches. With a little patience a birdwatcher can spot and watch them.

The problem with this is migration. Many kinds of birds fly south for the winter. That leaves the winter birds: cardinals; red bellied, pileated and Downy woodpeckers; various hawks and owls; and morning doves. Some winter visitors arrive: the juncos, fox sparrows, chickadees and nuthatches.

morning doves
Before the black walnut leafs out, the lines of morning doves waiting for seeds to appear on the bird feeder are easy to see.

Starting in February the migrants return. Turkey vultures soar across the sky. Blue jays hog the bird feeder. Several finches show up.

So many kinds of birds move back bird watching becomes interesting. Bird songs come from every direction.

Then the trees leaf out.

Bird songs still sound from all around. Birds flit from tree to tree. They disappear into the leaves.

Summer bird watching is frustrating.

A bird calls from a tree. I stand scanning every branch or where I assume a branch is. And the bird remains invisible or flicks a tail into view only to vanish again.

Seeing a bird in summer takes luck. Getting a picture of a bird in summer is even harder.

summer bird watching of a kingbird
Kingbirds eat flying insects. They perch watching for one going by and swoop down to catch it. The white bar at the end of the tail makes identification easy.

There are a few exceptions. Flycatchers and king birds sit on the pasture fence wires diving off after insects flying by. Barn swallows swoop over the pastures.

The best place to do summer bird watching is the bird feeder. First come the morning doves. Blue jays, titmice, cardinals and goldfinches follow. Brown headed cowbirds take the place over for a time.

Woodpeckers work on the suet cake. Red bellied ones swoop in and plop onto the cake cage. Downey woodpeckers land on the posts and climb up until they see the cake is available.

If it weren’t for the bird feeder, summer bird watching would not happen.

More about feeding wild birds is in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Downey Woodpecker Hole

With acres of woods on our property, we burn wood for winter heat. Mostly we cut newly dead or blown over trees. One of them had a woodpecker hole in it.

There are several kinds of woodpeckers living around the property. We regularly see Downey and Red Bellied woodpeckers at the suet cake on the bird feeder. An occasional Hairy woodpecker drops by.

woodpecker hole entrance
Spotting a small hole like this is really hard when it is thirty feet up in a tree. The hole is neatly chiseled out and big enough for a Downey woodpecker to disappear into quickly. The woodpecker hole piece has a new bottom and is again up in a tree in case anyone wants to move in.

Pileated woodpeckers stay back on the hills. We mostly hear them calling, but see them flying across the pastures now and then.

Red Headed woodpeckers nested here several years ago. At least one is still in the area. They seem to like going up and down the creek banks.

Woodpeckers drill holes into trees and build their nests down in the holes. I spotted one pileated woodpecker hole many years ago when one of them swooped over and disappeared into it.

woodpecker hole tunnel
Light shines into the entrance hole. Any woodpecker sitting in the bottom of the hole would be in the dark. The walls of the tunnel are rough to the touch, but smoothly chiseled out. Creating the hole was a lot of work for a small bird like a Downey woodpecker.

This year we’ve been clearing out dead trees along the creek. They fall over, break up and tear out the banks and bridge when high water carries them down to the river.

This old sycamore was still standing and solid. The wood burns hot and fast making it good for starting a fire early in the morning to take the chill out of the house.

When cutting it up, we found a round hole about an inch and a half across up near the top. At that point the trunk was only about six inches in diameter.

bottom of woodpecker hole
The base of the woodpecker hole may be wider than the tunnel down to it, but it isn’t very big. A Downey woodpecker would have room in this 4 inches wide spot.

The hole led into an eighteen inch vertical tunnel down into the trunk. It was a bit less than three inches across and widened a little at the base. The size indicates this woodpecker hole was for a Downey woodpecker. None of the others would have room to turn around.

A lot of work went into chipping out this hole. It hadn’t been used for a nest which we are glad of. Perhaps it wasn’t up to standards and was abandoned in favor of some other hole in another tree.

Finding a woodpecker hole is a reminder that not all dead trees should be cut down. Some of them may have residents inside.

Read about other Ozark birds in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Country Fall Sounds

Killing frost came by followed by a couple of light ones. Summer is over. Fall sounds surround those outside in the Ozarks.

Over the summer wind blowing through the leaves has a rustling sound. In the fall the leaves are dry and brittle so they clack and bang. Some of them drift off to the ground.

Cicada buzzing dominates the summer days sounding like a thousand tiny chainsaws at work. That is gone replaced by the chirping of katydids, chips of crickets and sawing of grasshoppers.

crickets iconic fall sounds
Only male crickets chirp. The difference? Males have two spines off the abdomen like this one. Females have a third longer one in the middle used to lay eggs down in the dirt. And the number of chirps a minute do reflect the air temperature.

Great Vees of geese fly high overhead on their ways south. The honking precedes and follows them helping anyone watching locate the flocks.

Warblers twitter in the trees. They spend the days raiding the giant ragweed stems of seeds. Evenings find the birds gathering in great noisy flocks getting ready to move further south overnight.

Crows have some kind of debate going on. One caws to gather a group together. They caw loudly as they leave the gathering. Then another one calls a meeting.

Woodpeckers are busy staking out their territories. Pileated woodpeckers have the loudest calls and sound off as they fly in their swooping patterns from tree to tree. Once the birds land, the drumming begins as the they drill out nesting holes.

Fall sounds add many new nuances to the country music buffet as many summer sounds retire for the year. Some sounds ignore the seasons.

morning doves
Morning doves are ground birds like chickens and have flat feet for walking. When spooked, doves take off with a whirring sound. These are waiting for the food to arrive at the bird feeder. Sunflower seeds are fine. Milo is good to. Millet is the best. This seems to be the opinion of the doves.

Morning doves whirr up from the ground when anyone approaches. The only difference is in number as the young birds have made the population swell. Some will migrate. Others will remain camped on the bird feeder.

Sadly the sounds of ATV’s, motorized mules and vehicles remain too. The fall sounds stop or get drowned out as these roar by. Hunting seasons are starting up so more are driving by.

Distant sounds of chainsaws drift in. Cold weather reminds so many of a need for firewood. Cutting earlier is better as the wood has time to dry.

Long stretches between man made sounds still occur. Then the fall sounds fill the air reminding all that winter will be here soon.

Contemplate seasons in the Ozarks through photographs and haikus in “My Ozark Home.