Winter Residents at Chaetura Canyon

Chaetura Canyon is best known for the Chimney Swifts that chitter and twinkle above the canyon and over the residence during the summer.  But the cooler months are just as interesting when our wintering avian guests dominate the habitat and the feeders.

Regulars include the elegant Cedar Waxwings, raucous American Robins and dainty Chipping Sparrows.  Some years, the feeders are overrun by bands of feisty Pine Siskins, and this winter is one.  They are small and gregarious, but not particularly cordial with one another – jockeying for position for thistle, cracked sunflower seed, and bits of peanuts.

This year we have also had an uncommonly large number of Hermit Thrushes rummaging in the understory and running on the trails in front of us.  Their vocalizations are one of the first sounds we hear when we step outside.

For several falls and winters we have been hosts to two or more Red-breasted Nuthatches.  They are frequent visitors to the seed feeders just outside the large window where we eat breakfast and lunch, and we can often hear their comical beeping duets when out on the property.

In addition to a large variety of seeds provided by Gary and Laura of the Wild Bird Center of Lakeway, we also provide live mealworms for our avian neighbors.  These are supplied in small, suspended glass dishes that are frequented by normally seed-eating species such as Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees and Titmice, as well as insectivores like Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers, all three resident species of wrens (Carolina, Bewick’s and Canyon), and – lately – the Nuthatches.  The Cardinals will camp out on the bowl and stuff themselves, downing one after another of the apparently tasty treats, while most of the other birds grab and go – any mealworm will do.  But the Carolina Wrens are much more discriminating.  They will sit on the edge of the bowl and stare down as if they were looking at a box of chocolates – trying to decide which piece to try next.

The feeding behavior of the Nuthatches is curious.  They come and go very quickly, grabbing bits of seed and peanut butter mix – much of which they stash under the bark of the ubiquitous Junipers. The Carolina Wrens and Titmice have learned to follow after and retrieve the morsels cached by the hard-working Nuthatches.

So, while we wait out the winter in anticipation of the return of the Chimney Swifts in late March, we delight in the seasonal diversity of our Central Texas birds.

Paul and Georgean Kyle
Sanctuary Stewards


Featured image: Hermit Thrush and Red-breasted Nuthatch at a water feature at the Canyon.