Readers’ wildlife photos

Today we have a second installment (first one here) of reader Doug Hayes’s photos of the birds that frequent his backyard feeder. The title is “The breakfast crew.” Doug’s IDs and captions are indented:

More scenes from the bird feeders in our backyard here in Richmond, Virginia.

A male House finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) feeds a caterpillar to a fledgling.  The juvenile is flapping its wings to signal that it wants to be fed.

Male Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) hopping to a better perching spot as other birds mob the feeders.

A bald male Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) showing its black skin beneath the feathers. There is some disagreement as to what is going on here. Most experts say that it is just an end of breeding season molting, which starts at the head. This bald head look has been seen in both males and females. Other experts say that in a routine molt, the bird should not lose all the feathers from one spot at once and that it must be a sign of mites or parasites. This guy seems to be in good health otherwise and has been keeping to the trees and bushes, which is normal behavior for birds when they start to lose their feathers.

A female American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) visits the feeder.  I have been seeing goldfinches at the far side of the yard for a few weeks. They have finally started to visit the feeders, getting close enough for me to photograph them.

A female Downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) clings to the underside of the suet feeder. They do this when there are other birds feeding on the top and sides of the feeder, or when it gets down to the last of the suet.

A male Downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens). This may be the female’s mate as he usually shows up when she is around.

A White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) and a Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) share a meal.

A female Common or European starling (Sturnus vulgaris). All the European Starlings in North America are descended from 100 birds set loose in New York’s Central Park in the early 1890s. The birds were intentionally released by a group who wanted America to have all the birds that Shakespeare ever mentioned. Today, more than 200 million European Starlings range from Alaska to Mexico, and many people consider them pests.

One of two Eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus) that regularly visit the feeders, scavenging seeds dropped by the birds. This one is not being a jerk, it is washing its face after rooting around in the damp mulch looking for seeds.

An Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) going for a meal with acrobatic style. He (or she) is soaked from an early morning rain.

Camera info:  Sony A7R IV digital camera in silent shutter mode, Sony FE 200-600 zoom lens, Sony 1.4X teleconverter, tripod.  All the photos were shot from the bathroom window and the bird feeders are located about 25 feet away.

Here’s a link to a video I shot of a squirrel that I have nicknamed, Phat Fred raiding the bird feeders. Fred is bigger than the other squirrels that visit the yard and eats accordingly. The pole supporting the feeders is new and the paint is quite slick. Most of the other squirrels don’t have the grip strength to climb the pole, but Fred can do it. – Shot with the Sony A7R IV in HD video mode, Sony FE 200-600 zoom lens. Camera was hand held as I didn’t have time to set up the tripod and risk missing the action.



  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted July 4, 2020 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    “Phat Fred”

    I see what you did there!

    The cardinal pic is amazing timing!

  2. Posted July 4, 2020 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Terrific pictures, Doug! Along with the interesting commentary.

  3. rickflick
    Posted July 4, 2020 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Delightful collection of familiar critters. The video is a gas! Squirrels are true entertainers.

  4. C.
    Posted July 4, 2020 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I saw a bare-headed male cardinal last Wednesday feeding one of his sub-adult chicks. They seem quite common, though I’ve not seen it on other species but maybe they’re just the most noticeable. I’d always assumed the feather loss was due to the stress of parenthood!

  5. Debra Coplan
    Posted July 4, 2020 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Wonderful! Fred is a pretty good gymnast.

  6. Ruthann Richards
    Posted July 4, 2020 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    About the downy woodpeckers: males have a red patch on the back of the head, not the top. What you have–and you are very lucky–is a juvenile! I’ve had downy families visiting my feeders for years (in PA); only in the time period between about May and early July will you be able to distinguish the “kids.” Initially they are always around a parent and learn to use the feeders from the parents. If you observe closely, the red feathers will gradually disappear from the top of the head,
    and the black ones will fill in. If it is a male, red feathers will start to appear on the back of the head. By the end of July there will not be any red on the top of the head. I’ve never found an identification book that shows the juveniles or mentions this characteristic, but I’ve also observed it in hairy woodpeckers.

    • Posted July 4, 2020 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the clarification! I was wondering about the red patch covering the top of the bird’s head when none of the identification guides showed it. That means that the female might be its mother since they are always around about the same time.

  7. Posted July 4, 2020 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Phat Fred is amazing. Such detail! I’m especially impressed by what he does with his hind feet, hooking on by just a claw or two on each foot. I wonder how much he weighs. A lot of brain for such a small critter, even though he’s one of the largest of his kind.

  8. Claudia Baker
    Posted July 4, 2020 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I can only dream of taking pictures as good as these of birds in my back yard! Very enjoyable.

  9. hectorburleeives
    Posted July 4, 2020 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    We have pretty much the same backyard visitors down here south of you, but your photos make it look like I’m standing next to these creatures. I’m wondering: at your feeder are the cardinals always the last ones you see before nightfall and are your starlings the most animated bathers in your birdbath? Wonderful photos.

  10. Posted July 4, 2020 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    That starling is a juvenile. Adult male and female starlings look alike, shiny black.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 4, 2020 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

      I love their sparkles! Very unique.

    • Posted July 5, 2020 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      Yes, the cardinals seem to be the last to turn in most evenings. Their nesting area is in the trees on the left and to the rear of my yard. The starlings have only recently been turning up in large numbers. I have seen quite a few juveniles, sometimes with a parent, stopping by.

    • Posted July 5, 2020 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      Yes, it is. Lately several juveniles have been showing up with one of the parents. They are still at the begging for food stage even thought they can fly well enough to keep up with the adult. They are also just as big as the adult! I will post some of these next time.

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