From my windowsill

December 18, 2013 • 5:28 am

My own bird photography can’t match that of several readers who contribute pictures, but I’ll proffer the picture of a bird who comes to eat seeds on my lab windowsill.  He gets along well with the sparrows; there’s no antagonism when they feed together.  I snapped this northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) two days ago when it was snowing. They’re truly beautiful birds.

Click to enlarge.


I have discovered that squirrels, if given food, will be active even on the coldest days in Chicago (I thought that though they don’t hibernate, they sleep most of the winter).  They are clearly burying most of the nuts I’m giving them rather than nomming them, and I’m doling out extra rations as I’ll be leaving soon for 19 days.  I know they’re burying them because one ran off with two peanuts the other day and returned five minutes later, his snout covered with snow.

But when they do nom and it’s cold, they use their tails as extra insulation, pressing them tightly against their backs, like this one eating a hazelnut. (Yes, I spoil them.)


24 thoughts on “From my windowsill

  1. Would that be the Pop’s favourite bird?!

    I wonder if urban living is causing a change in squirrel behaviour? Perhaps country squirrels are less active in winter?

  2. I noticed that my squirrels – the ones that inhabit my backyard – are considerably skinnier this year than last. The beginning of winter in Chicago last year was very mild – warm and not much snow (only 3.5 inches through the end of January 2013 – average is 20.4 – we made up for it in Feb and March). Were the squirrels less diligent this year because their “clocks” were misadjusted by last winter? I noticed that two of them were foraging hard during the last snow.

  3. My mother is a wildlife “rehabber” and she raises squirrels who are injured or lost their mothers. They are great creatures.

    I love your blog!

  4. My squirrels haven’t been around. I think they are getting more noms in the woods behind my property. Yes, squirrels are very active in winter and they need extra food on cold days.

    The occasional male cardinals I see here are very shy (I guess I would be too if I were bright red & low on the food chain). When they get food at the feeder, they observe it for some time from a tree. Then they swoop to get food with their crest all down so they seem smaller. Sometimes they get too freaked out & leave without taking a seed.

    1. According to biologist Bernd Heinrich, “In general, most ground squirrels hibernate all or most of the winter, whereas tree squirrels, which can still find food on trees, don’t.” (Winter World, p.97)
      Red squirrels don’t appear to hibernate at all. Yours must be of the tree squirrel variety. Are you from Ontario? Here in British Columbia we almost never see squirrels in winter. I do miss their noisy presence.

      1. Yes, I’m in Ontario and we have the red and grey squirrels but it’s the grey that I usually see. In cities, I find they are much more active in the winter (probably because of easier access to food).

  5. It will be interesting to see how soon they return to your windowsill after your holiday. You should keep track (and ideally set up a webcam so you see how long they return for, forlornly waiting for food from a Jerry-less window…)

  6. I love the cardinals as well. We have them in our backyard, last Sunday plenty of them as our neighbour had put out his bird feeders. Which reminds me, we still have to put out ours.

  7. Thanks so much for the pic of the cardinal. I grew up outside of Chicago and the sight of cardinals (and blue jays) in the new snow remains one of the beautiful memories of my youth.

  8. Cardinals really help brighten up dreary midwestern winters! I love them. When I was a kid growing up in MN, I never saw any. I saw my first one late in my college time. Now, 30 years later, they are almost ubiquitous. Yay! Bluebirds too. I speculate that their former absence was due to the effects of the “Silent Spring” in the 50s/60s. Or maybe global warming has brought them north?

    1. Some species have expanded their winter ranges in response to the increase in bird feeding. (Humans maintaining bird feeders.)

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