Northern Cardinals: Habits, Habitat, History

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Encounters with the natural world accelerated at local bird feeders during the first week of January as blizzards slammed much of the eastern U.S. and temperatures plunged into single digits in Oakland County. Many of those encounters were with the “redbird,” more properly known as the Northern Cardinal, a permanent year round resident of Oakland County. With their striking red plumage surrounded by a sea of swirling snow, they are in a class of their own for stunning beauty, a fact that has not gone unnoticed. As a matter of fact, cardinals are noticed more easily here in winter than in summer, and in seven states this easy to recognize bird is honored year round. Continue reading

To Migrate or Not? That is the Question.

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

The classic image of bird migration at the approach of winter is the sight of Canada Geese flying high above our lakes, parks, towns and cities in V-shaped flocks. As winter fades, local television newscasters sometimes bubble with excitement at an alleged sign of spring’s return, robins on a snow speckled lawn. They salute the American Robin as the first returning bird of spring when robins are reported stalking about sunny suburban lawns searching for worms between patches of melting snow. These romanticized images of bird behavior and migration are less than accurate. Continue reading

Snowy Owls: Visitors from the Arctic Wilderness

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Snowy Owls are charismatic, majestic and mysterious. They are the heaviest of all North American owls with some weighing almost six pounds. Their yellow eyes, massive talons, feathered feet, eye-catching white plumage and diurnal hunting behavior appeal to almost everyone, even people who normally would rather shop in a crowded mall than walk in the silence of a woodland. Naturalists and birders are smitten by their unpredictable movement patterns, and the spirit of the remote arctic wilderness these amazing raptors represent. However, unless you plan on visiting the high Arctic tundra of North America or Eurasia, the chances of seeing Snowy Owls in the wild is usually nearly zero. But maybe not this December.

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Turkey Tales and Tidbits from the Wilder Side

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

No one seems to think about turkeys very much until the turkey’s internal temperature soars to 180 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s surrounded by sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, cooked greens and a pumpkin pie. Invite me to your Thanksgiving table and I won’t ask about the wishbone; I will try to engage the gathering in a lively conversation of snoods, wattles, caruncles, dewlaps, spurs and beards. Continue reading

The Wonderful World of Winter Woodpeckers

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

The feeder frenzy of November is about to begin. Shortly after the crimson and gold colors of autumn disappear, and the first snowflakes swirl about beneath a panoramic sky of gray, an ever-changing menagerie of Eastern Bluebirds, Blue Jays, House Finches, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice, Cardinals and Black-capped Chickadees will appear at feeders, almost as if by magic. Hang some suet and add extra sunflower seeds to the mix and the woodpeckers of winter may quickly join the feast. The one-ounce Downy Woodpecker, North America’s smallest woodpecker, and our red-crested forest giant, the Pileated Woodpecker, the largest woodpecker of North America, are among the mix of local species that frequent the feeders on the wilder side of Oakland County. Continue reading