Cold Comforts

As Texas headed toward its deep freeze, with temperatures falling and ice beginning to build, most regular visitors to my bird feeders seemed as bemused as this white-winged dove.

Hidden away from the cold myself, I can’t say where the birds took shelter, but a few ‘regulars’ emerged from time to time to visit the feeders and forage on the ground beneath them.

  Northern Mockingbird

There was something for everyone. While the mockingbirds, robins, and wrens seemed to prefer dried mealworms, the doves and sparrows feasted on white millet.

Field Sparrow (?)

Shelled peanuts helped to sustain the squirrels (with occasional shelled pecans as a special treat). I was surprised that no bluejays came to snatch away peanuts, but I’m sure the squirrels were pleased to eat in peace.

Water was sought as often as food, and breaking ice in the water bowls was a bit of a chore. When the bowls began to freeze solid, I finally instituted a two-bowl system: bringing in the frozen water dish and substituting another while it thawed.

All of these photos were taken from my desk, which allowed for some different perspectives. The ‘Robin Red-Breast’ at the water  bowl is easy to identify, but I’m not sure I would have recognized the bird below as a robin without a second or third glance. 

Now that the snow is gone and the temperatures have warmed as much as fifty degrees, the birds seem to be as happy as we are. The sound of robins singing and conversing at dawn and dusk as they discuss their coming departure to the north warms my midwestern heart as surely as the sun is warming our bodies.


Comments always are welcome.

93 thoughts on “Cold Comforts

  1. Very nice images, especially shooting through glass with a huge variance of temps between inside and out. The dove seems to be expressing the universal sentiment, “What the —-?”, regarding the extreme cold.
    The only critter that I observed at our feeders during that cold was a skunk, and in that case I was extremely happy to have glass between us.

    1. I’m not sure what possessed me to think that window washing needed to be included in my winter storm prep, but I was happy to have done a bit of it when I realized we were facing more of an event than we’d anticipated. It made photographing the birds easier, that’s for sure.

      I know my possum was around, because he has a telltale way of eating leftover peanuts, and I’ve found the evidence as recently as yesterday morning. As for your skunk? I’m sure it would have enjoyed the warmth of your house, but “human inside, skunk outside” still is best.

  2. A great bird album! That first one, with a very intent, inquisitive stare, makes me laugh for some reason. Believe it or not, I saw a robin hopping along the river here, I have no idea how it’s surviving, I think the early bird isn’t getting a worm, just frostbite!

    1. The white-winged doves seem more curious than mourning doves, and less skittish. Mourning doves will sit in the nearby trees and watch for feeders to be filled, but they scatter at the least inside movement. The white-winged just sit and stare — like the one in the first photo.

      We always laughed at the early robins in Iowa. It’s not easy being an earthworm-eater when the worms and the ground still are frozen. I have heard tales around here of people going to Academy, Bass Pro Shop, Cabela’s, and other outdoor emporiums to buy earthworms for the robins. To be honest, I didn’t realize that was possible, but sure enough: the going price for 250 live, organic, sustainably raised earthworms is around $35.00. I’m sure if you went non-organic you could reduce the price substantially. I’ll note earthworms on my list for next time, along with YakTrax. Who’d want dried mealworms if you could get a fat, juicy earthworm?

      1. I used to see vending machines sometimes, that had cups of earthworms, for fishing, always wondered how long they stayed alive in there. Sometimes in front of a WalMart I think. There’s a big dairy farm in my dad’s hometown, which helped with a start-up called Worm Power – -they use the cow manure for “vermiculture” and have millions of worms. They sell jugs of liquid worm castings to gardeners. I guess the worms are kind of employees, so they wouldn’t want them being fed to fish or birds.

  3. Those are really great shots. I also had to constantly add warm water and break ice on the water bowl. The hummingbird feeders also froze quickly. I think we are done with freezes for this year and hopefully the summer will be quiet.

    1. I certainly hope we’re done with it. I spotted two dandelions blooming in Texas City this morning, so the recovery’s begun. One thing I need to do is eat up the hurricane soups and such that are lingering in the pantry from last season. They were handy during this odd winter storm, but in a couple of months it will be time to start restocking for our more tropical weather. I can’t believe we’re only three months out from that again.

  4. Images worthy of Audubon. Love the close up details and textures. Can’t pick a favorite, although the last is wonderland, the expression of the first one so funny.
    Maybe the robins knew something early…like “Hey, stick around these parts – there’s gonna be a bunch of dead foliage and that means lots of bugs! Buffet time!
    We’ve seen robins and cardinals, but the Blue Jays must have gone to Cancun?

    1. I’m hearing the bluejays now, but they’re not coming to the feeders. It may be that other tidbits are available for them. I noticed a lot of palm fruits on the ground this morning. Maybe they’re like persimmons, and soften after they’re frozen. I’m not sure they’d appeal to bluejays, but easy pickin’s are easy pickin’s. I hear a cardinal singing now and then, and there’s a mockingbird that sang all weekend, but now that it’s turned cloudy and rainy, it’s quiet again. It may be nap time for the birds, too.

  5. Very nice bird photos, especially the dove’s expression. I would never have guessed robin for that last one, either. We had very busy feeders during the snow. Even though MiniMo was inside we made sure to keep some dry cat food on the deck for the birds and squirrels that have become fond of it. Our “Peanut Delight” suet is always popular with the birds, but it disappeared extra quickly in the cold.

    1. There’s just a bit of red showing on the last robin, but it’s shadowed, and barely visible. Even knowing that a robin’s back is gray, it was strange to see it from that perspective.

      I’m thinking it might be worth trying one of those suet blocks or something else made for woodpeckers. I’m hearing a lot of hammering suddenly; it may be that they have an insect shortage just now. They seem to favor the palm trees, which surprises me, but there could be goodies hidden in that bark. I’ve seen three of them on the trees: one pair, and a single. There might be more than I realized.

      1. The Peanut Delight suet is a favorite with our woodpeckers. We saw relatively few of them before we started using it but we see woodpeckers dining on the suet block regularly now.

    1. I had hoped to get a nice photo of one of the wrens, but they’ve been mostly absent. When they do show up, they stay hidden in the shrubbery, or flit around on the ground. I have to move a couple of feet to see the water dish, but otherwise it only takes a glance to see who’s showed up — or who’s causing the ruckus. Did you know that mockingbirds will make a sound remarkably like a hiss to warn off intruders? When the mockingbirds and bluejays get into it, I’m always surprised there aren’t feathers flying.

    1. I suppose some do, but many of our birds live in your area, too: cardinals, chickadees, bluejays, and so on. More southern birds, like the mockingbird, seem able to cope, and migrants like the robins and yellow-rumped warblers, can survive. One of our local experts said in the newspaper yesterday, “Subfreezing weather doesn’t kill birds. What kills them is inadequate food and fresh water.” There were a lot of people doing their best to provide both during the recent unpleasantness.

  6. Beautiful, beautiful bird (and squirrel) photos. That dove and the camouflaged robin appear to be mugging for you. But as I look over your photos again, all those beautiful animals are seasoned actors and know how to present their best sides for the camera. I have always marveled at how birds can entirely ignore the cold and go about their business even in ice and snow.

    1. Thanks, Loretta. Being able to do a bit of photography while stuck inside was a nice diversion, and I was surprised by how well the photos turned out. I was especially happy to be able to blur the backgrounds. Looking out the same windows now, I see railings, a gazebo, more buildings, sidewalks… all the clutter of a tightly designed apartment complex. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with any of that, but it surely would have distracted from the pretty birds!

  7. Kudos to you, Linda, for being so conscientious and taking care of the wildlife. I am sure that were they able to voice their appreciation they would do so; in the meantime please accept my appreciation on their behalf. And thanks for a wonderful set of images.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos, David. And how could I not care for these birds? In the year since I put the feeders up, they’ve become accustomed to them. I knew they would come to them for food in the cold, so I stocked up before the weather got bad, and I’m glad I did. It wasn’t a time to be stingy.

  8. The birds disappeared here during the Deep Freeze. We knew the worst was over when they reappeared, full of energy and song. Their appetites never waned because they went through a bag of food, and half a box of Bob’s Red Mill muesli (that has sunflower seeds and raisins) in three days. I found a frozen green anole yesterday. It was in a clay saucer, curved around the flower pot.

    Your photographs are amazing. I have yet to see a single robin in almost twenty years. Unless I miss them. The yellow rump warblers still fascinate and compensate for that lack of robins though. Each recent year has brought new feathered friends. I wonder what determines which birds visit and stay, while others just stop by for refreshment and sustenance on their way to their designated lodgings.

    Be well.

    1. I wish you’d been with me this afternoon. I passed an empty field that was filled with hundreds of robins. In just a day, they’ve disappeared from my yard and my feeder, and I suspect that they’re truly flocking up, getting ready to begin moving north. It was such a treat to have them here — especially the one I’ve shown here, who came morning and evening, every day, for nearly a month. When he didn’t come today, I missed him.

      Your mention of the disappearing birds reminds me of their behavior prior to hurricanes. When the egrets, herons, and ibis are gone, it’s past time to hit the road, or batten the hatches. I’m delighted that you have yellow rumped warblers — the ‘butter butts.’ I finally got a photo of one at the Brazoria refuge about two weeks before the cold showed up; they’re such cute little birds.

      1. Oh, wow! I can’t even imagine such a thing. Robins are almost like unicorns for me. LOL. I’ve read about them since childhood and dream of actually seeing them. I memory of a song about little robin red breast just popped into my head. Googling led me to Robin Redbreast, a Tv Play about “pagan rural customs.” Now I have to find a way to watch it. LOL. I’ve gone down another rabbit hole! Butter butts took me down one earlier. Live and learn!

  9. Enjoyed your feathered visitors and, of course, the squirrel. Here in the north we use heat coils in our bird baths to keep them from freezing. Not much good when you’re without power but they do have solar powered coils too and solar powered water falls for bird baths.

    1. Somehow I’ve missed knowing about solar powered heaters for bird baths — reasonably enough, I suppose, since we’re more likely down here to be dumping ice cubes into the water in summer. I did read a bit about them, and while I probably won’t invest in one, I did learn some tricks that don’t cost a thing.

      I was especially interested in a hint one woman offered. She said to line the bird bath with a heavy duty black plastic trash bag; she claimed that the black bag absorbs sunlight and keeps the water unfrozen longer. Then, when it finally does freeze, you can lift the chunk of ice out with the bag, and refill the water bowl. There’s no reason not to try it — especially if we get one more cold snap.

  10. You got some great shots, Linda, even through a window! We’ve had a bit of a warmup here, too, and the birds are definitely talking about it. I’ve seen robins, jays, finches, and more — I do hope this was winter’s last gasp (though experience cautions me we’ll probably have some more frigid days before Spring settles in!)

    1. We certainly will have more cool weather, since lows in the 40s and 50s aren’t uncommon here well into March. But there seems to be a consensus that even another hard freeze isn’t likely; even opportunities for a light freeze probably have ended. North of I-10, it’s a little early to plant, but in my neighborhood, it’s time to finish cutting down the frozen, mushy plants and get ready for some new ones.

    1. I had to learn Mallard when I began hanging out around the water, but I grew up hearing Robin spoken from my earliest years, and developed an ear for it. I used to listen to robins in the trees when I was around three or four, made to go to bed while it still was light. I never hear robins without remembering this poem, or remember the poem without hearing robins:

      In winter I get up at night
      And dress by yellow candle-light.
      In summer, quite the other way,
      I have to go to bed by day.

      I have to go to bed and see
      The birds still hopping on the tree,
      Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
      Still going past me in the street.

      And does it not seem hard to you,
      When all the sky is clear and blue,
      And I should like so much to play,
      To have to go to bed by day?

        1. I’m sure I’ve used it before. I should have added a link to the Child’s Garden of Verses, but I forgot. There are several poems in that collection that I still remember in full; they were some of the earliest that my mother had me memorize.

        1. I’ve seen that photo before, although I can’t say where. I didn’t know about Stevenson’s musical talents; that was quite a revelation. What really has me puzzled is the name of the instrument. I wonder how a musical instrument and a bean both carry the same name? I’ve cooked with flageolet beans, a staple of French cooking, but it still seems mysterious. Of course, knowing how beans affect some people’s digestive systems, it might be that a certain sound produced after eating the beans led to the name. More research is required!

            1. That’s interesting. I found several references to the flavor of the original bean and the cultivars as being ‘delicate.’ Perhaps there’s a reference to the delicate sound of the musical instrument underlying the naming of the veggie.

            2. It’s been surmised that a regional French word for the bean (compare Italian fagiolo) got confused with flageolet. Confusion of similar-sounding words is common, as when many English speakers now say hone in rather than the original home in.

  11. Great photos Linda. I particularly liked the dove and the back shot of the robin. Looks like you have the same deal with the wildlife we do. We feed them and they return the favor by entertaining us.
    Lots of signs of spring here. Love is in the air. Boy squirrels (ground and tree) seem to be chasing girl squirrels everywhere. “Catch me if you can!” Flowers are about to burst forth, and even the birds are becoming twitterpated.
    Peggy and I are off to Pt. Reyes tomorrow for my annual birthday escape. Don’t remember whether you made it up there when you were in the Bay Area but it is one of my favorite places to go. –Curt

    1. Just today, I noticed a pair of mallards doing the Spring Thing at the yacht club, and the male mockingbirds and cardinals are starting to sing. They didn’t expect a ten-day extension of winter; they were beginning to tune up in early February, and there’s a lot to make up for!

      I heard a story today that’s right up there with your bear tales: except that, in this case, it involved a bear and a bare body part. I don’t think there are bears around Pt. Reyes, but you and Peggy be careful! I know you’ll have a good time. I did make it there, several times. It’s one of my favorite spots on the coast.

      1. A new meaning for ‘bear’ butt for sure, Linda. There was a suggestion that the bear may have found in a cozy den. Wouldn’t be my first choice. An occasional bear may wander through the park, but they aren’t common. Cougars are something else. There were warning signs up about not to run. That might lead to a butt bite!
        I’ll bet the birds put their courting on hold! –Curt

        1. The birds did put it on hold, but no one’s letting spring get away from them at this point. I saw the funniest thing recently. A pair of crows were ambling down the side of the road, for all the world like a couple out for a stroll: except that one of the birds had a beakful of grass. I think they were looking for an acceptable spot to set up housekeeping.

    1. The ones who had real challenges were those involved in agriculture or ranch management. Chicks, newborn calves and lambs, Axis deer, and even steers succumbed. Especially on the large spreads we have here, it had to be terribly difficult. There have been fish kills, too, for a variety of reasons. Everyone’s glad that the warming has come, and repairs can begin. The repairs won’t always be simple, but the ones doing them are beautiful.

    1. That’s true for me, but not so much for others. The losses to agriculture and the fisheries, and the widespread difficulty of even getting parts for homeowner repairs are a challenge. Down on Galveston Island, they’re having plumbing ‘swap meets,’ where people can bring supplies like fittings and pipe they don’t need, and exchange them for whatever they’re lacking.

      In the marina where I’ve been working this week, they’ve only been able to bring water to one side of each pier; again, it’s lack of supplies that’s the issue. People can be creative, though. The son of a friend called his brother out of state and gave him the plumbing shopping list. A few days later, voila! The box arrived, and all was well.

    1. What I love about this set of photos is that they’re all of perfectly ‘ordinary’ birds. Like dandelions, they’re often ignored or scorned, but they’re as important as any rare bird — and it’s nice to have them providing the soundtrack of our days.

    1. I truly was surprised by how well they turned out, given that I was shooting through the windows. It didn’t occur to me for some time that my living room was functioning as a bird blind — amusing, when I think about it. I suspect that the birds were a little slower than usual, too. These aren’t all from the same day, but it was a long stretch of cold weather, and they often clustered near the feeders, where they had a little protection, and where I’d scattered seed on the wind-blocked portion of the patio.

  12. Excellent bird images and the light was brilliant. Looks like your desk is in an even better position than my own for bird photography.

    1. The desk is a good spot only in the morning. After noon, the feeders are shadowed, and it’s hard to get any details. Going outside and shooting toward the feeders from the yard doesn’t really work; there’s too much clutter. That’s all right — a few good hours are better than none!

  13. I’m always impressed by your photos. it’s funny though, here, while I usually have a lot of white wing doves I saw only one and only occasionally during the week of freeze. and only one robin but multitudes of other small birds.

    1. When I looked at the range maps for the white-wings, it took me a while to notice that Galveston has a very small population of year-round birds. Even so, I don’t see that many. I think I have a resident pair, but they visit the feeds only occasionally. I thought our robins were gone, but I saw more of them today. I did find a way to listen to them when they’re gone, though.

      I stopped by your blog to see if you’d reported in yet post-vaccine. I got my second shot yesterday, and it really knocked me for a loop. I had the whole range of side effects: shaking chills, fever, headache, muscle ache, and fatigue. It was relatively short-lived, though. By this morning, the chills and fever were gone, although I still was fatigued. It was interesting to have symptoms that so closely resembled what I’d read about. I hope you’re doing well.

    1. Isn’t it nice to see them again? I’d forgotten how pleasant it is to hear them singing and chirping through the day. They’re still ‘tuning up’ here, but there’s one cardinal and one mockingbird who seem to have decided it’s time to begin showing off for potential mates.

  14. What strikes me about birds is their alertness. They are always so bright-eyed. I have yet to see a bird that looks sleepy or dozing off.
    Wonderful photos and taken from your desk!

    Glad to hear the big freeze is over in Texas.

    1. Obviously, some of that alertness is related to the need to watch for predators, but I think some of it is simple curiosity and interest. There are times when I’m certain they’re as interested in us as we are in them — and not just because we hand out the food! I do see sleeping birds from time to time, and that’s a special treat. Our mallards seem especially lazy, and especially so in summer. They’re siesta-prone — a sign of intelligence.

  15. Great set of shots, Linda. Love the dove’s expression. They aren’t my favorite birds, but you caught their beauty in this one’s sweet face. I have lots of activity last week, less so this week, but my regulars are still around. And, I definitely have a Screech Owl couple–mama is in the box everyday, dad is around (he chooses different perches each day–keeps me guessing!).

    1. I like the doves, but I will admit I’m pleased that the hordes of pigeons that lived around my former apartment haven’t shown up here. I love that you have your Screech Owl. Do you think she’s laid eggs yet, or are they still setting up housekeeping? As unlikely as it is, I’d swear I heard a young mockingbird a couple of days ago, calling back and forth with a parent. If that’s so, and it survived the recent freeze, that mama bird deserves a medal.

      1. Mama seems best to me, but I haven’t seen an egg. Our camera isn’t the best, can’t see at night now and it slipped its moorings a bit, so I only see 2/3 of the box bottom. It’s too late to adjust, so we’ll have to make do. It’s been about 4 years since we’ve had a successful, nesting pair. Fingers are crossed!

        1. I should never comment on my phone, always a mistake! Mama isn’t best (she might be, but I don’t know that :) ); she’s acting nesty, moving around, not calm like she’s been in these previous two weeks. Dad sometimes is in our Mountain Laurel during the day, but most days, he’s somewhere else. I try to sit outside at sundown to watch them emerge. They’re a discreet, quiet little pair. Funny how each couple has their own little ways.

          1. That’s funny. Your first comment made perfect sense! I wonder if Mama was frozen rather than calm these past two weeks! On the other hand, it has been a full week and more since the thaw began, and I’ve seen a little action on the mating front myself. I saw some doves chasing around today, and now I have two mockingbirds at my feeders instead of one. Hooray for spring!

        2. It would be wonderful if you got some babies. I presume that one they hatch and are growing, your camera will catch enough of the interior to see them. If nothing else, they’ll eventually get big enough and curious enough to begin peeking out.

          1. If you look at my menu bar, I have a whole section on the owl families in the past. They’re so fun to observe, though the other birds don’t like them. :)

  16. I’m always amazed at how well the birds do with the cold, although I realize that the birds I have here in winter are well suited for it. You were very thoughtful to keep water for them. I think few people think of that, but cold weather is also a dry spell for the wildlife. Several years ago I got tired of constantly adding warm water to the water tub and put in an electric warmer. It is surprising how much water the critters use.

    1. I always smile on cold, windy days when I find egrets, herons, and ibis all huddled together in windbreaks. They can make it through, but they clearly don’t like it — and any interspecies squabbles are set aside in order to share that special space!

      While my two bowl system worked, a friend mentioned her variation that seemed to work better for her. She uses heavy pottery bowls, and warms them a bit, too. She thinks it extends the time before the water freezes again by at least an hour. Of course, this was an extreme situation. In the past, ice skims on top of the water have been more usual, and those are easily broken or thawed. I think exploring a solar option would be worthwhile.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed seeing my birdies, Eliza. I just took the old photographer’s advice — “Watch the birdie” — to a whole new level. And we are getting things back into some semblance of order, although plumbing supplies still are hard to find, and too many people still are without water. In many cases, people prepared as they always had for two or three days of freezing weather — except we got multiple days of sub-freezing weather, and no heat to make it even worse. Oops!

  17. Amazing photographs Linda! Perfect clicks, I must say.
    Am sure those winged friends are enjoying the warmth and care of the person at her desk…and soon when Spring comes would express their gratitude with their songs. Stay well and safe! Sending warm regards to you and yours.

    1. What the birds think of me, I can’t say, but I can guarantee you they’ve been enjoying the wonderfully warm weather that followed our freeze. They’re just beginning to sing, and I’ve even heard a few coos from the mourning doves. Soon, it will be nest-building and mating time, and all of this winter weather will be only a memory — thank goodness!

    1. Your comment warmed my heart last night. It was a joy to see you appear; I was up when you posted, trying to decide whether Advil or Tylenol was the better choice for the post-vaccine side effects I was experiencing. The good news is that I’ve had both shots now, and I’m feeling much better — I’m ready to enjoy our more comfortable weather.

    1. Well, I must confess that, for some of the photos, I was a few feet away from the desk, but it was the same window. I certainly was glad that I decided to wash those windows before the cold weather showed up! I like all of the photos, but I think the dove deserved that pride of place.

  18. Great pictures, Linda.
    Here, the birds seemed to be around the bird feeders as always, maybe even more than that. Squirrels and deer, too.

    1. It makes sense that everyone would be feeding a little more than usual. They all expended a lot of energy trying to stay warm, so packing on a few extra pounds (or ounces, in the case of the birds!) probably is warranted. I wonder if your tree damage has revealed more insects than usual for the birds. It wouldn’t surprise me.

    1. Even before I clicked the link, I suspected where you were headed. I think her live performance of “Rhiannon” is my favorite, but this runs a close second. The bird’s apparent intensity comes close to equally Stevie’s — but not quite.

  19. Those birds must have been very happy to receive your attention to their needs under conditions they could hardly be used to. I am sure they were very happy once sensible temperatures returned…as were you.

    1. I’m just glad I stocked up on bird food before the great event. I was amazed by the numbers of birds coming to feed in the late afternoon, but one of the things I learned is that, in cold weather, they store food in their crop and digest it through the night to keep warm. They never were shorted, that’s for sure — and neither were the squirrels or the possum who roamed through from time to time.

        1. You know, that reminds me that just yesterday I saw one of those depression-era “cat symbols” on the side of a barn — the one that meant to hobos that a good woman lived at the place. I need to go back and see if there’s a house there, too.

          1. One of the places I used to buy plants from had a symbol like that on a tree in front of the farmhouse. The owner died and I haven’t been there in a while. I’ll have to go look too.

    1. That’s true, although I’m actually seeing more songbirds than before the freeze. The grackles are arriving, as are the redwing blackbirds, and it’s wonderful to hear them. At the refuge today, there were very few herons, egrets, and spoonbills around, but they may have moved to areas where food is more abundant. The ibis are everywhere, feeding in the fields and mudflats; I suspect it’s because the crawfish are starting to come to the surface, and they adore crawfish.

      The fish have suffered as much as the birds, and some imported game species, like Nilgai antelope, apparently didn’t do well at all. It will take some time to assess the situation. On the other hand, there’s this: the return of rescued turtles to the Gulf.

      1. I, too, have been enjoying the vocalizations of the blackbirds. No grackles in Colorado yet, but I suspect them in the next several weeks. Spring is my favorite time of year!
        And that is good news about the turtles. Fingers crossed.

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