Living on the edge of the woods here in east Texas, I have a hard time deciding which season of the year is my favorite. We do experience four seasons, although winter is mild and fairly brief. Much has transpired in our backyard these past couple months, partly because of the onset of autumn, but also due to a severe drought in September and October. We keep birdbaths of several different sizes filled and cleaned daily, and have marvelled at the vast array of wildlife that frequent our backyard watering holes. Thankfully, the rains returned in late October, burn bans have been lifted, and still the glorious rains come!
The does and fawn have visited daily for months. We have watched the fawn grow, lose her spots, and gain independence. Almost on cue, by October 30, the deer disappeared, hiding out and moving cautiously beyond the woods edge. We are in the thick of deer hunting season, and don't they know it! I do see them sometimes now in early morning. They enjoy the apples and carrots that we leave for them on the ground a short distance into the woods, where they are still visible to the naked eye. Sadly, we are not invited to their night time feeding parties here on our property. Several mornings, I have observed their party leftovers, though - a gorging of potato vine near our mailbox, with just a few severely pruned vine branches left, and rose bush branches nibbled half way to the stem. I can almost hear them chuckling and snickering as they gallop triumphantly back into their hiding places as dawn approaches. We chuckle to ourselves upon the discovery and admit that survivorship should have its rewards.
So, the sun continues its southerly course in the autumn sky, and our shorter days and chillier mornings and evenings change the behaviors of our backyard visitors. Easiest to observe, are the habit changes of the many birds. The juveniles are grown now. We said goodbye to our hummingbird population in October, as they headed south for their winter vacation in the more tropical latitudes. We saw a nice sized number of cardinal and mockingbird fledglings this past summer, and they continue to thrive. Thanks to their numbers, and their seeming satisfaction with our backyard habitat, we have seen some remarkable behaviors. The ever-blooming red azalea bushes just outside our kitchen windows are ablaze in scarlet color ever since the life giving rains began in October. What I originally thought was preening and bathing going on within the azalea leaves, turned out to be something I was not prepared to observe. The cardinals, both male and female, were eating the red azalea blooms. At first, I thought maybe they were just drinking from the flower centers, or perhaps enjoying the nectar, but as I watched from the window, I saw them eating entire blossoms - every last bit!
Sometimes, they would eat the blossoms that had fallen to the ground; sometimes they would eat them right off the bush! As I learned from an ornithologist at Texas A&M University, as well as from published articles on bird behavior, this is a well known behavior of northern cardinals. I wondered if the red azalea blossoms were chosen because they help to give that beautiful red pigment to their feathers. It turns out that northern cardinals do seem to favor red blossoms for that very reason. These flowers offer nutritious food sources for the birds as well
Other birds who eat flowers include northern mockingbirds, American goldfinches, blue jays, house and purple finches. I may try planting some other flowering shrubs of differently colored blooms to see who might eat them!
As we prepare for our Thanksgiving feast this week, I am thankful for the many creatures who frequent our backyard, and for giving us the chance to observe their fascinating behaviors. Many more amusing stories are waiting to be told about living on the edge...so please check in again.