February is National Bird Feeding month! Bird feeding and watching are great ways to tap into the natural world around you. For the month of February, Touchmark’s blog will be dedicated to exploring the representative birds in each state or province where there is a Touchmark community. If you don’t see your community represented in this post, check back in a couple of weeks to learn about a bird near you!
The American robin, the state bird of Wisconsin, is a familiar songbird for many. Typically a sign of spring, robins are often seen hopping or “bobbin’” (as the 1926 song “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along” by Al Jolson goes) in yards and parks, hunting for worms. Though some American robins migrate south for the winter and return to your yard afterward, some elect to winter in place, which is why you may spot them both in the winter as well as the warmer months. Robins can have up to three broods of eggs per season. The distinctive robin’s egg blue color comes from biliverdin, a pigment deposited on the shell while it is being laid. The exact reason robins lay eggs this color is unknown, though some studies suggest that the brighter the blue, the healthier the female, and the more likely the mate is to take care of the offspring that hatch from these highly-pigmented eggs.
The willow goldfinch, also known as the American goldfinch, is Washington’s state bird. An energetic songbird that tends to grace feeders in large flocks during the winter, the willow goldfinch is a favorite among many recreational birders for its bright and cheery presence. The yellow plumage that makes goldfinches so recognizable helps male goldfinches attract mates. During the winter months, their coats have more brown and grey in them, but as the spring nesting season rolls around, you’ll notice their colors becoming more vibrant. Willow goldfinches are sometimes mistaken for pine siskins, which are also in the finch family. The ability to tell the two apart takes some practice (and a pair of binoculars!), but it helps to know that they are a bit smaller than goldfinches and have streakier or patchier coloring.
The western meadowlark is the state bird of North Dakota, Oregon, and Montana, among others. A member of the ictarid family, a name that comes from the ancient Greek term for “jaundiced,” these birds have a yellow belly and a distinctive call (orioles are also in this family). Though sometimes spotted at feeders, meadowlarks rely primarily on a feeding behavior called “gaping,” where the birds create holes in soil or bark to gain access to insects and roots that most birds cannot obtain. In addition to feeding on the ground, and unlike the willow goldfinch and American robin, the western meadowlark nests on the ground. It builds a dome-shaped nest out of woven grass stems, sometimes in depressions made by cow or horse hooves.
Help keep the birds in your area well-fed this winter by providing them with birdseed. Winter can be a challenging time for our feathered friends, as they have to work hard to stay warm, and there aren’t as many food sources available. Refresh your feeder frequently so that food does not get moldy, which can cause sickness, and consider providing birds with a water source, which is also harder to find during the winter. In return for your thoughtfulness, the birds will give you hours of enjoyment and a peek into the natural world.