Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Birds of Christmas

Posted by Kathie Brown
Female Northern Cardinal 1-18-11 Andover, MA
When winter comes so many of us feel compassion and feed the birds. If you live in the north as I do the driving snow brings many familiar birds to the feeders which we often associate with Christmas. Of course, the Northern Cardinal is the epitome of a Christmas Bird with the male’s bright red coat or the female’s soft brown and red coloration.

Tufted Titmouse 2-27-11 Andover, MA
Tufted Titmice are frequently seen at the feeder…

White-breasted Nuthatch Andover, MA 1-21-11
As well as white-breasted nuthatches who look perfectly well dressed for any Christmas party in their elegant gray, black and white formal wear. Nuthatches are also known as “Nut-hacks” or even “Nutcrackers” which I think ties in nicely with a certain Christmas Ballet known as the “Nutcracker Suite.” More than once this tiny bird has observed the “Dance of the Snowflakes” from its woodland home.

Carolina Wren 2-27-11 Andover, MA
Here in Massachusetts the Christmas weather will drive the Carolina Wrens to my suet. But I know that there are other Christmas birds besides these. When I lived in Arizona for 3 ½ years I saw many different birds at Christmastime.

Pyrrhuloxia 2-4-2007 Corona de Tucson, AZ
In my home at the base of the Santa Rita Mountains Christmas was the time of year I most often saw Pyrrhuloxias, or Mexican Cardinals. Similar to our Northern Cardinals, these red and gray birds always amazed me with their bright yellow parrot-like beaks.

Phainopepla Tucson, AZ 3-6-2007
While the Pyrrhuloxias were at my feeders, out in the desert the mistletoe would be fruiting and, feeding on the berries would be the pitch black Phainopepla. The Phainopepla is known as a silky flycatcher but it also eats mistletoe berries. After eating the berries the Phainopepla deposits the seeds in its droppings onto the branches of palo verde and mesquite trees. The sticky goo that is its excrement clings to the branches until the seeds sprout and the roots drive deep into the bark and beyond where the plant takes root and lives as a parasite off the sap of the tree. I suppose you could think of that as the fruit that keeps on giving!

Gambel's Quail 7-13-2010 Corona de Tucson, AZ
Now, for Christmas haberdashery, you cannot beat the male Gambel’s Quail. While the British may have been sporting some exotic hats this past year, I still like the topknot of the Gambel’s Quail the best! While we all know the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas with its “partridge in a pear tree,” in Arizona we would have to change the words to a “partridge in a mesquite tree or a saguaro” instead.

Male Costa's Hummingbird 8-9-09 Corona de Tucson, AZ

Christmas is also the time when Costa’s Hummingbirds are breeding and nesting in the desert southwest. These tiny little birds are fighting to survive on the slopes of the Santa Rita Mountains. So often they would come to my feeders just before dark to fill up on nectar to survive the night. With their rich and royal purple gorgets, they out-sparkle any earthly king in my book!
Male Costa's at feeder 1-15-2007
Hermit Thrush 10-14-2008 Madera Canyon
Farther south in the Santa Rita Mountains lies a forest fold called Madera Canyon. This is a birder’s paradise and it is here in the winter that one can find the soft brown Hermit Thrush.

Acorn Woodpeckers 1-19-2009 Madera Canyon, AZ
While the Hermit Thrush is more often seen close to the ground, if you look up you will find the brightly colored Acorn Woodpeckers with their clown-colored faces clinging to the trees. These wise birds live in colonies and harvest acorns which they stuff into holes drilled into Alligator Cedars. These storage trees are known as “granaries” and the whole colony feeds off them in the winter. The comical Acorn Woodpeckers will provide you with some of the best winter entertainment around. Who needs a Broadway Show, when you’ve got these birds to observe!

Sandhill Cranes 11-29-11 Rowley, MA
Christmas is also the time when the Sandhill cranes return to the south. I saw a pair recently in Rowley, Massachusetts. I am sure they were just stopping by for a visit on their way south. 

Whitewater Draw 2-22-07
Perhaps they will end up in Florida, but I remember seeing flocks numbering into the thousands at Whitewater Draw in Arizona. The sound of their wild “garoo-ing” is all the Christmas Caroling I need. But if you find yourself still longing for some snow to get you in the Christmas mood, well, I offer you a Different Kind of Snow…

Snow Goose with Wigeon and Coot at Dave White Golf Course in Casa Grande, AZ 2-3-2007
Snowy Egret on Plum Island 10-1-11
Snowy Owl at Salisbury Beach Reservation 12-2-11 in Massachusetts
But if you happen to live where you get the traditional kind of snow, just remember to feed...

Blue Jay 1-18-11 Andover, MA
The Birds of Christmas

Lo, the birds of Christmas
Are searching for some seeds
On winter’s frosty morning, so…
Remember nature’s needs
And toss a little fodder
To our feathered friends
In thankfulness for songs they sing
When this long winter ends.

~Kathie Adams Brown 12-9-2004

Great Egret 1-21-11 Hammonassett Beach SP, CT
Because I do not think it is a coincidence that angels have wings!

Northern Cardinal 1-18-11 Andover, MA

Merry Christmas from Kathie’s Birds to You! 

May you have a year filled with Birding Bliss!


  1. Kathie, what an incredibly beautiful Christmas post! Brilliant photos, marvelous detail and inspired writing! You remind me: 7 AM. It's starts getting light outside and I better hurry out to feed the birds who as soon as I do will announce to the world that breakfast has arrived! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and photos.

  2. Gorgeous photos! I love the Christmas theme tie-ins and poetic prose. Awesome Kathie. Great job!

  3. That was lovely Kathie.
    The different seasons bring different relationships to the birds, and you've described it beautifully while complimenting your description with some stunning photography. The photo of the Phainopepla is especially brilliant.

  4. Exquisite photos, and I especially enjoyed that you included all my favorite Arizona birds. Beautiful writing too. Merry Christmas to You!

  5. wow, you took us on quite a tour there! great shots, all of them!

  6. Perfect captures to sing in the holidays.

  7. ...loved it, Kathie! I'm always a sucker for a cardinal in the snow! :-)

  8. Dan, thanks, I had fun putting it together.

    Hilke, thank you. I have been down in CT at my Mom's house helping her while she goes through chemo and takes care of 3 great-grand children due to a family crisis. While there I have been feeding her birds but before I left I filled all of my feeders here in MA. tonight when I returned home I found the squirrels went on a rampage while I was gone with 1 feeder on the ground, the squirrel baffle ripped off the feeder pole and the attendant feeders now empty! No fear. I repaired, refilled and started counting birds once again!

    Lawrence and maria, thank you so much. I do so enjoy the birds and it was fun to pull from some of my photo archives. I am sure many people have never even heard of the Phainopepla. I truly enjoyed them when I lived in AZ. Besides, their name is so much fun to say and spell!

    Carole, thank you! I am glad that you enjoyed the AZ birds! Merry Christmas to you also!

    TexWisGirl, hope I didn't make your head spin!

    Jean, all I can say is, "Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat..." :-)

    Kelly, so am I! But it is even more amazing when you can capture the Pyrrhuloxia in the snow!

  9. Robert, how did I miss you! I have to say it is always so nice to read your kind and encouraging words. Thank you for asking me to be part of the BIF team! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  10. Kathie, what a wonderful post! Merry Christmas to you and all your bird friends.

  11. Kathie, awesome post and wonderful collection of birds.

  12. I really enjoyed your post and great bird photos too. The snow looks beautiful and cold too! Spare a thought for those of us who are "down-under" and sweltering in summer rain and high temperatures!

  13. Kathryn, why you little scally-wag! Thanks! Merry Christmas to you too!

    Eileen, thanks. I had fun with it once I got the idea.

    Mick, isn't it funny to have someone who is in the opposite season from you! When the snow finally starts to fall around here, i will be wanting YOUR weather! LOL! Let's see, the grass is always greener...the snow is always softer...the heat is always drier...someplace else!