The Urban Winter Wild

Winter is considered a time of quiet and hibernation, and often we wait until spring to think about viewing birds and other creatures. But the cold of winter increases the energetic need of wild animals, sending them out to seek food at all hours of the day.  It’s one of the best times to watch for urban-wild encounters.  Just a few of the visitors to our little yard at the Tangled Nest these days:
We’ve had lots of Varied Thrushes this year.  Today a Sharp-shinned Hawk rushed through and caught one in the bushes by the back fence, then stood under the cherry and began to “exfoliate” the thrush before flying away with it in her talons!  I wish my photographer husband was here to capture that!  I found myself wondering why the hawk couldn’t have settled for one of the gajillions of starlings in the neighborhood, instead of “my” beautiful thrush.
I do not maintain an arsenal of birdfeeders (I’m too lazy to keep them as clean as they should be…), but I do love the few little window feeders in my study that bring birds within a few inches of my face as I sit at my desk and write.  In the autumn and winter, flocks of bushtits crowd onto the suet feeder, creating giant “bushtit balls,” up to 50 at one time. “Cuteness Overload,” as my teen daughter says.

We call this male Anna’s hummingbird “Old Man.”  He sits on a branch by the feeder on our porch, eats, then sits some more, as if on a park bench, watching the world go by.
The other day I stepped out to gather the mail, and was hit with a barrage of crow scolding.  There was a squirrel sitting on a branch near the crows, but surely that couldn’t have been the problem?  No, in fact the squirrel itself was scolding something.  Even a little Anna’s hummingbird was upset.  I felt very unobservant when I finally looked down to notice, almost right at my feet, the young raccoon that was exploring my front yard.  When I said “hello,” he looked up at me, came closer, and looked up some more.  The spell was broken when my cat Delilah got out, and I ran to get her (I had no worries that this little raccoon would hurt my cat, but Delilah is not supposed to go out!).  It is a common myth that raccoons seen during the day are rabid; here in the Pacific Northwest there is no rabies (except very rarely in bats–never in squirrels, raccoons, etc.), and there are all kinds of reasons raccoons might be out in daylight.  In summer and autumn, adult female raccoons will be out all day seeking food for their young of the year, either alone, or with the baby raccoons.  And adolescent raccoons, who are inexperienced and so have a harder time feeding themselves, are often out alone in daylight, but especially in winter when meals are more difficult to come by.  Distracted by Delilah’s escape, I didn’t manage to get this fuzzy iphone photo until the raccon was loping away, and under the fence into the backyard where my chickens were running loose!–locking them up was my next stop, but by that time he had completely disappeared, as raccoons do…

Who is visiting your urban-wild home these winter days?


  1. Erica

    I’ve been really enjoying the hummingbirds that are feeding from the three Mahonia ‘Charity’ that I planted a few years ago – what a great investment that was. I assume they are Anna’s hummingbirds, what else could they be? but they have bright red throats and are just so spectacular.

  2. Mike Zeiner

    Canada geese and mallards abound in Riverside (in Wichita of the southern plains) These waterfowl don’t leave and in fact are considered a nuisance by some human residents. I don’t understand why the human residents can complain about the mess made by the geese when their own messes, driving internal combustion vehicles for example, are much more troublesome.

    1. lyanda

      Erica–yes, Anna’s is the winter hummingbird around here. And thanks for reminding me–I meant to include one in the post and added him in. And your comment is also a great reminder–wildlife-friendly plantings are always the best way to feed the birds. Thanks.

      Trileigh–Lovely! I saw your beautiful photo on WSB. I’ve had Townsend’s at the window now and then the past couple of weeks, too. But not at the hummingbird feeder. They stand under the suet feeder, and pick at what the bushtits and flickers have dropped.

      Mike–yes, I always think it’s funny when geese are touted as a hazard. You make a good point.

      Tom–I know, it’s impressive. There is a little space between the shed and the fence, it just squeezed through there and left a bit of fur! (One of the funniest raccoon myths is that they “have no shoulders, and so can squeeze through anything.” I can see where it comes from!)

  3. David Griffin

    Here on the hill in western New York State where we should have lots of snow but have none, the cause of cause of “cuteness overload” is black capped chickadees. I guess since we are without snow other birds that might visit us are having an easy time finding food in the fields and woods. That’s OK, we never tire of the chickadees but I sure do wish it would snow.

  4. Keith

    Every other week or so, I look up at the slight tap tap of a downy wood pecker outside our home in Denver. Plenty of crows (my 21 month old can identify) and flickers around. Also, a nuthatch–heard but never seen.

  5. Not much snow here in Cle Elum either. Crows in the ponderosa pines, ravens over the house, Steller’s jays kicking up a ruckus wherever and whenever they want. Assorted moths in the house–they must have come in last fall when I left the doors open…

  6. I haven’t noticed any visitors in particular to my apartment building. I guess I’ll have to keep a sharper eye. I am pleased to note that I received Crow Planet for Christmas, so I can relax and stop borrowing it from the library each year. It feels nice to have my own copy. Thanks so much for your books and your observations!

  7. Pingback: GPS: ParentMap Blog » Blog Archive » Winter Wild, in Your Backyard: Tips for Spotting Urban Wildlife in Seattle

  8. Thanks for the reminder to keep looking for wildlife during winter! Good examples of what can find if one looks. I’m not much yet for identifying birds, but do enjoy seeing them on the branches outside my window; as well as watching squirrels on the leafless trees in the park.

  9. I’m in northeast Maryland & this is our first wintry week-end. My birdfeeders have been busy! Throughout the fall, I’ve had house finches, many sparrows (not sure which species yet), juncos, a tufted titmouse, and a black-capped chickadee. But this week-end, the new visitors include a blue jay, many red-winged blackbirds, European starlings, a mourning dove, brown-headed cowbird, and some common grackle. I’m new at bird-watching, and it’s been so much fun this week-end!

  10. Sharon

    Here’s a crow story for you. My neighbor and I watched a crow repeatedly fly to a housetop and roll a rock down the roof where it made a wonderful noise as it bounced off the gutter and landed on a driveway below. Two other crows sat on the ground and observed. Such wonderful creatures!

  11. jayne dixon

    Please I have been observing a baby crow sat on the chimney opposite to my house I spotted it yesterday at 2pm and it is now 1.18 in the morning and it has not moved at all it is still there is this a test and normal it does not make a noise it is silent has it been abandoned please tell me why thank you

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