Watching all the birds go by

I am an amateur birder. At our house, we feed through the fall and winter and watch birds all year. We see pine siskins, American and lesser goldfinches, house finches, mourning doves, jays, juncos and rufus-sided towhees, to name a few. There have been occasional downy woodpeckers, many flickers, and of course, quail to entertain us. The hooting of the neighborhood owls is a marvelous nighttime symphony. The spring air show of mating red-tail hawks is spectacular to see. Bald eagles and great blue herons are a treat to watch fly overhead. There are ducks and geese galore. Even tundra swans visited Washoe Lake for a few weeks.

In spring, the birds put on their outspoken mating plumage. The goldfinches sport vivid yellow breasts and backs amid their black and white markings. The red on the rosy finch stands out. The blues are bright on the scrub jays and on the pair of Western bluebirds in our yard. The male is hard to miss, with his bright blue coloring and reddish stomach.

I spotted a newcomer to our avian family this past week, a yellow-rumped warbler. At first, I thought it was another goldfinch, but the yellow spot on its head and rump gave it away. Its coloring is yellow, black, and white. When I spot new birds, I note the date and location in my bird books. One of the rarest birds I ever spotted was a painted bunting. I was able to take a picture of it, knowing it was very rare here. It was far out of its range. It looked like a parakeet with bright orange, yellow, blue, and turquoise coloring.

We have had flocks of Western tanagers, another spectacular multicolored bird. Evening grosbeaks and black-headed grosbeaks often visit for a short time in the spring. Green-sided towhees are another less common visitor.

We provide Niger thistle, black sunflower seeds, and some wild birdseed through fall and winter to keep the birds here. A nearby creek supplies water and there are multitudes of shrubs and trees for shelter.

If you want to notice new birds near your home, become familiar with the cries of the regular visitors in the yard. When you hear a new song or squawk, grab the binoculars and look for the source of the sound. Some of my favorite discoveries were made that way. Find a good bird book or online site, and discover ornithology!

For more gardening information, contact me, 887-2252 or, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at "Ask a Master Gardener" by e-mailing

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City / Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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