With Christmas in the air, let’s celebrate Englands wild turkey! This handsome game bird has defied all odds by thriving in places previously thought unsuitable for such a large and wary bird. Today, it frequents gardens, yards, suburbs, and rural areas.
LOOK for a tall, slender bird (36 inches for toms, 26 inches for hens) that appears black to brown-grey. A closer look reveals iridescent green, purple, blue, russet, and bronze feathers. Toms’ bare heads are usually pink; hens’ are blue-grey.
LISTEN for the soft putts and clucks of content turkeys. Turkeys yelp and cutt (cackle) to get each other’s attention. Toms gobble heartily in spring to summon potential mates.
OBSERVE turkeys’ pecking order as birds jockey for position and dominance while feeding.
THRILL to the display put on by a strutting gobbler as he fans his tail and puffs his chest. Strutting activity peaks in spring, but toms will display any time of year.
ATTRACT wild turkeys with ear or shell corn on the ground. In winter, build an elevated feeder to keep the corn accessible.
Unmistakable in their colouring, cedar waxwings have silky brown feathers above and olive-yellow below, with a black mask, yellow tail tips and crest, and red, waxy-looking wing tips. Bohemian waxwings have grayer bellies, white wing patches, and rust colour on the tail.
- According to Tom Carpenter, author of NHGC’s The Gardener’s Bird Book, cedar waxwings were almost exterminated in the late 1800s because their cured, feathered skins were popular ornaments on Victorian ladies’ hatbands.
- Waxwings like to travel in flocks of a dozen to a hundred. They will line up on limbs or power lines and pass fruit down the ranks till one eats it.
- Waxwings nest later than most songbirds. This is probably connected to the availability of ripening fruits.
- Although they eat insects, waxwings love fruits and berries, especially red ones. Cherry trees, currants, chokecherries, and other fruiting plants may bring a flock of waxwings to your yard. Raisins, currants, or chopped apples or figs may attract them to feeders. But be aware of gustatory overload: Waxwings are known to gobble so much fruit that they can’t fly!
Don’t expect to see many robins eating at your bird feeder in spring (although they do like suet). They prefer a diet of worms, grasshoppers, termites, and grubs, and will be looking for them in lawns and leaf litter. In autumn and winter they like fruit and berries.
In early spring, robins usually build their nests in evergreen trees. Later, they nest in deciduous trees. The females build the nests from mud and grass.
The American robin was (mis)named by early English settlers, probably because it has the orange-breast of the robin of England. Although both are members of the thrush family (you can see the resemblance in the speckled-breasted youngsters), they’re not closely related.
In the wild, robins can live well into their teens-if they can avoid cats, their main predator.
The flutelike song of bright-orange orioles can bring smiles to any gardener. If you live in the eastern part of the continent, you’ll see Baltimore orioles; in the western part, look for Bullock’s orioles.
- Orioles make fascinating sock like nests woven from plant fibres, cloth, string, and hair, and lined with grasses. Attract orioles to nest by putting out short (less than 6-inch) pieces of yarn, hair, horsehair, or string.
- Orioles like to nest in shade trees near open areas. Good habitat plants include blueberries, wild cherries, mulberries, serviceberries, plums, hawthorns, and elderberries.
- Caterpillars make up one-third of an oriole’s diet. Other foods include aphids, ants, borers, moths, beetles, and scale insects. They also eat berries, wild fruits, and garden peas. Attract orioles with oranges or apples cut in half, or nectar feeders with perches.