First Observations of 2019

This is the first year in which I recorded the first observations of the year. The following are a few of our observations:

  1. Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) – I heard but didn’t see the first red-winged blackbird in our yard on Sunday, March 31. This was 10 days after others had seen them in the Twin Cities area. I didn’t see or hear a red-winged blackbird again for at least a month. A pair, however, has set up home near us and are regular visitors to our tray feeder.
  2. I saw the first bumblebees on Monday, May 13.
  3. Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) – I saw a female ruby-throated hummingbird flying around our backyard on Wednesday, May 15. A day later I observed a male in our yard. They now visit our feeders numerous times per day.
  4. Kat saw the first monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on Thursday, May 16.

Nest Boxes

Three years ago, I bought a nest box and placed it on a tree near our garage. It was a nest box intended for woodpeckers and my hope was that a woodpecker would use it. Despite having plenty of woodpeckers frequenting our yard every day, they didn’t use the nest box. Instead a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) took up residence in the nest box and raised a clutch of chicks.

Inspired by that family of nuthatches, I bought another nest box and placed it on a tree outside of our dining room. I was hopeful we would watch nuthatches raise a family while we enjoyed our dinner. A pair took up residence in the nest box and laid a clutch of four eggs. Unfortunately, a house sparrow (Passer domesticus) killed all the eggs, threw them from the nest box and claiming the box for itself.

When I discovered this, I was livid. Researching house sparrows, I learned they are an invasive species introduced from England and are known for taking over nest boxes and displacing native birds, in particular, blue birds.

I also learned I simply needed to narrow the opening to the nest box. House sparrows don’t tolerate openings that are 1 ΒΌ-inch in diameter whereas native song birds such as White-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees have no issue with an opening that small. To displace the unwelcome occupant, I opened the access panel to the nest box, dumped the contents and tilted it at an angle so that the house sparrow could not build a nest in it. It returned daily with nesting materials but all fell out to the ground. I then purchased the appropriate constrictors and attached them to the two nest boxes I had, preventing the house sparrow from entering.

This year, much to our delight, the nuthatches came back to raise a clutch of four chicks in one of the nest boxes. It was a joy to see the chicks following the adults around from tree to tree, learning how to forage for food.

A picture of a nest box containing a nest.
A nest box containing a nest in it.

I have a yearly schedule for the nest boxes. I empty the boxes in the fall on the first of October and fill them with wood shavings every spring on March 1st. Emptying and refilling them annually reduces the parasite load, thus, reducing risk for the birds.

We now have three nest boxes, this year one was occupied a Black-capped Chickadee family and another was used by a nuthatch family. The third was too close to another box, so, it remained unoccupied. I moved it further away this fall, I hope it will to be occupied next summer. If all three boxes are occupied next year, I’ll buy another nest box and place it in the other corner of our yard. With luck, in a year or two, we’ll have four families of song birds living in our yard.

Images from the Game Camera, Part 1

I bought a game camera with the hope of recording the coming and going of a nesting pair of White-breasted nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) that were nesting in one of our nest boxes. For various reasons, that didn’t work out to my satisfaction. Looking for a use for the game camera, I placed it in various locations in our yard to discover what it might record. Below are a few images captured by it.

As expected in east central Minnesota, there are plenty of Eastern Gray Squirrels to be photographed.

A picture of an Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
An Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) looking for lunch on our patio.

Another frequent visitor to our yard is the American robin, often with an eye towards the ground, looking for worms to eat. While gardening, I place any grubs I find on a stump for birds to eat. Robins are usually the first to snatch them up.

A picture of an American robin (Turdus migratorius)
An American robin (Turdus migratorius) foraging in our yard.

The Chipping Sparrow is a regular summer-time resident. I frequently see them hopping through the grass, looking for seeds and insects. They appear to be fairly bold birds, approaching within a few feet of Lizzie. Lizzie, for the most part, ignores them preferring to hunt for rodents.

A picture of a chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina)
A chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina) foraging for insects and seeds.


This weekend was a good weekend for observing raptors. On Friday, I noticed a large hawk high up in the branches of an oak tree. Using binoculars, I confirmed it was a rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus). Supposedly the rough-legged hawk winters here in Minnesota but I have only seen it in the spring as they pass through on their way to northern Canada.

The camera on my phone couldn’t do justice to this bird, so I downloaded the image below from Wikipedia.

A picture of a rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus)
A rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus).

I’ve occasionally observed sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter striatus) in our neighborhood and yard, but, last year, a pair of sharp-shinned hawks moved into the neighborhood and they returned again this year. While they are interesting birds to watch, I’m concerned they will scare off the chickadees, nuthatches, and other small birds that have made our yard their home.

Again, I couldn’t get a good photograph of the sharp-shinned hawks with my phone, so I downloaded the photograph below from AnimalSpot.

A picture of a sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus)
A sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus)

Later on Saturday, we were relaxing on the patio when a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) flew over head. When we moved into our current place, we rarely saw bald eagles flying over head. We now regularly see bald eagles flying above us.

The following photograph is from because I haven’t got a picture of a bald eagle flying over us.

A picture of a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in flight.
A Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in flight.

Visitors to Our Bird Feeders

There are two bird feeders hanging under the eaves outside of our living room, one for seed and the other for suet. I placed the feeders there so that we could enjoy the coming and going of birds as fed. I recently installed a game camera to photograph the birds that frequent those feeders. While I was happy for the photographs of the birds, I was disappointed with the quality of said photographs.

Black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) are year-round visitors to our feeders and a favorite bird of mine. They usually dart in, grab a seed, and dart off as quickly as they came in.

A picture of a Black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) on a bird feeder
A black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus).

American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) are beautiful summer visitors. Unlike chickadees and nuthatches, goldfinches tend to hang out on the feeder for as long as it takes to eat their fill.

A picture of an American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) on a bird feeder.
An American goldfinch (Spinus tristis).
A picture of an American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) on a bird feeder.
An American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) .
A picture of an American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) on a bird feeder.
An American goldfinch (Spinus tristis).

White-breasted nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis), like the black-capped chickadees, are year-round visitors. Also like chickadees, nuthatches dart in for a seed and then quickly fly off. Nuthatches are the upside-down bird. They can frequently be seen walking upside down along tree trunks.

A picture of a white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) on a bird feeder.
A white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis).
A picture of a white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) on a bird feeder.
A white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) on a suet bird feeder.

Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos)

Every Spring, a pair of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) visit our yard. They hang out in our yard for several weeks before moving on to where ever they go. They can usually be found at the bottom of the hill in our backyard, where usually there is flowing water. Occasionally, however, they come up the hill, closer to our house.

I took this photo in 2012 when a drake and a hen mallard ambled along the sidewalk between our house and garage.

A picture of two mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) walking down our side walk
A drake and hen mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) walking on the sidewalk between our house and garage.

Two years later, I took this photo of a drake mallard hanging out on the roof of our garage.

A picture of a drake mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) on the roof of our garage.
A drake mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) on the roof of our garage.

Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

Every few years, usually in the spring, a wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) will wander through the yard. Occasionally, they make their way over to our back patio where they help themselves to water from the bird bath or black oil sunflower seeds scattered on the pavement below the bird feeder.

Back in May, 2009, this turkey wandered through and helped itself to a drink.

Picture of a wild turkey drinking from the bird bath

Picture of a wild turkey walking through the yard