Winter Birds

I notice every year around here that I see more birds during the winter. Maybe because it does not often freeze where I live, so it must be a good place to migrate to, from colder places.

From my office window, I spot the birds I cultivate by putting out food: the jays, the juncos, the hummingbirds. And each winter, like clockwork, the Hooded Mergansers return to my pond. I love them and wish they would stay all the time. Instead, they show up for a few hours, then leave again. But they do come back every winter, and during the winter I spot them nearly every day.

I bought a large-capacity feeder, so they don’t run out of sugar water when I’m not home.
This little one seems to approve.
The Steller’s Jays are so strikingly beautiful…
…that you might miss the also-beautiful Dark-Eyed Junco.

About an hour ago I threw on some boots when Pedro spotted white specks down in the pond. I knew exactly what they were! It’s the first time I’ve seen them this season. I grabbed my camera and stealthily moved toward the pond, keeping two big trees between me and the pond. In the past I have learned that when they see me moving toward the pond, they fly away. Sadly, I have had no luck getting any closer than the big trees. So with camera on max zoom, I did my best.

I counted eight of them. Two males and six females.

As soon as I arrived, the males moved to the left and went behind some tree branches. I waited for them to move back out, then noticed their movements. They seemed to be doing some kind of courtship dance. After watching for 5 minutes or so, I learned the movements of their dance, which was accompanied by a loud croaking sound like a bullfrog. I have never watched this before. It was so fun to see!

The two males were watched by a single female at first. They would come close together and face each other, holding still. Then they would bob their heads up into the air and swim rapidly toward each other, then pass each other, then swing around to face each other and do it again, heads bobbing the whole time. Sometimes they would tip their heads backward onto their backs, and make the long croaking sound. My Nikon has poor quality video or I would have videoed it.

First the one on the right bobs its head up.
Then the one on the left bobs his head up. The female is off to the left, watching them.

Eventually, the males moved out from behind the tree, so they could get closer to the other females. If they were giving a performance, they naturally wanted a larger audience.

The females have a similar shape, but a copper-brown head instead of white and black. Males and females can lay their head feathers flat and have a normal-shaped duck head, or they can raise the feathers to display this wonderful crest.
This is when the males swam over toward the other females, and got this one’s attention. She is tucking her beak into her feathers, but she is definitely watching.
Now with two females watching, they prepare to dance again. Click through the following series of photos, which is a bunch of shots in a row of them doing their dance again.

I carefully backed out of the ferns and blackberries at the base of the tree. They immediately noticed me and stopped. I moved very slowly and managed to get back to the house without scaring them off. The photos were so cool I sat right down and made a blog post for you!

9 thoughts on “Winter Birds

    1. Yes, it worked out. I had pulled the photos up on my laptop right away so I could look at them with Pedro, who didn’t walk out there with me and could not see more than some white specs at a distance. Then, since I had them on my computer already, I knew it would be a quick post – just photos mostly – so I did it before I got busy doing something else.

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