The Best Color in the Winter Garden

During the past few months, the number one job for the garden staff has been to keep the birdfeeders filled.  Unlike weeding, clipping the hedge or other yard chores, feeding the birds is a task everyone is happy to undertake. At a time of year where the predominant color is a dull, spent gray, the visual interest was being supplied by the feisty blue jays (above), the bright red cardinals, and the multitude of smaller finches and other birds.

Sadly, I lack a camera or an eye good enough to capture real close ups, but my eldest daughter is turning into a keen photographer, and took some really good shots this winter. She gets credit for most of the pictures in this post.

Some evenings this winter a flock of 20+ robins would collect in the huge grandma cherry out back, taking it in turns to feed on some of the seven birdfeeders throughout the yard. Once the weather warmed and I raked the layer of old leaves off the garden beds (otherwise many of those crocus would have bloomed unseen), the robins would comb every inch of the newly exposed ground picking off small bugs, worms, and other tasty tidbits. Having grown up with the tiny robins you find in Ireland and England, the big bruisers that pass as robins in North America are doubly impressive.

Lately, I’ve sometimes counted 35 birds of various types (pigeons, robins, jays, finches, as well as a few whose names I don’t have a good guess for) patrolling the yard at the same time, which can be quite a sight.

This is the rock star of our backyard bird habitat, a juvenile yellow-bellied sapsucker (we think so, anyway). There appears to be one pair of adult sapsuckers resident in the neighborhood, and at least one of them likes to check out grandma cherry’s old limbs for snacks from time to time. Late in the fall, this guy appeared, much smaller than the others and proceeded to fight for his turn at the birdfeeders with the other species. He’s got a bit bigger through the winter, and has made our yard part of his daily round. Just before lunch (mine) he appears and takes sole possession of the birdfeeder for five minutes or so. Sometimes he does the woodpecker thing, walking in circles around a thick tree trunk before testing the bark in a few places, but usually he just picks out some treats from the suet and heads on his way.

Now that spring is here and the plants are returning, the birds’ vibrant colors will have some challengers for sheer WOW factor, but they’ll also begin to repay the winter’s seed and suet by gobbling their weight in bugs that otherwise would feast on our vegetable garden. With a little luck, somebody will take up residence in our birdhouse this year, and our backyard habitat will be more colorful, busy and educational than ever.

Note: all bird IDs are very tentative, as I’m not a birder.



  1. Jen Rennicks’s avatar

    I like that you draw attention to the fact that we provide the birds with seed and suet all winter and these hardy year-rounders (and some summer friends) provide us with bug patrol all summer long. Backyard birding is truly a joy for all and something that takes little more than your eyes and a small measure of interest – fancy guide books and binoculars are not needed!

  2. Patricia’s avatar

    “Yellow-bellied sapsucker.” I love that 🙂
    I wish we had cardinals here in germany – but there are lots of birds here, too, that I marvel at, even if they are less colorful.

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