Winter closes the old year and greets the new year

Barbara Hootman Columnist

Winter closes the old year and opens the new one. The wind of the old year crosses over to become the wind of the new one. It is all the same winter wind. There is no end and no beginning, but there is continuity in nature. Year builds upon year. A year’s end is only a brief pause, a time to take a deep breath and then move forward. There is no stopping and no turning back.

There have only been a few days in December that the goose pool on the mountain top has had a thin coat of ice. Ice is so common that it appears simple to man. Isn’t it just frozen water? It shows up every winter, and in varying amounts we shovel it, slide or skate on it, and manage to endure it without breaking anything in the human body.

Gray squirrels are chasing each other around tree trunks, signaling that it is breeding time. Blue Jays and Wrens chatter through the last of the short days of the old year. The wind sings of time itself. Its song is not just for the old year, but for all the years that have come and gone.

Recently, a Pileated Woodpecker and a Blue Jay had a stand off at the feeder. Although the Jay can be an aggressive bird, it watched as the Woodpecker flared its tail and stabbed with its chisel-strong beak at him. Put on notice, the Jay blinked first and flew away. Although the Jay fled the feeder, it had the last comment filled with retreating screams. Suet and peanuts were the attractions that caused the stand off.

You never know what bird will show up in your yard or at your feeder.

In late October, local resident and avid birder James Poling spotted a Sage Thrasher at Warren Wilson College. Poling and Steve Yurkovich of Asheville were birding together when the bird came into sight. The bird is originally from the western sagebrush plains, and has been seen in North Carolina only three times.

Poling speculates that the bird moved east on the strong winds of Hurricane Patricia that blew up from Mexico through Texas and on up the east coast. Instinct would carry the Thrush south for the winter. You can reach Poling at

Cardinals frequently forage with Juncos, White-throated sparrows and other sparrow species this time of the year (all are ground feeders). When agitated or alarmed, the cardinal’s crest goes up. It is barely visible when the bird is at rest and in a good mood. Throughout winter, Cardinals can be found in fairly large groups of a dozen to several dozen birds looking for food. They always add a splash of color to any area with their red feathers.

There are many feeder faceoffs every day. There are always bully birds and those that just assume when they arrive at a feeder, everyone else should leave. There is standard feeder etiquette, but some don’t play by the rules. Birds come and go and interact with each other many times during the day. There are struggles of dominance playing out at the feeder daily, and often it involves squirels. I’ve never seen a squirrel defeated.

When you see one bird suddenly change its feeding posture, more than likely a faceoff is in progress. “Displacement” is the term used when a bird leaves a feeder because a bossier bird has arrived. Males usually dominate females, and older birds dominate younger ones. Social hierarchy extends beyond members of the same species

Threat displays are effective. When a Chickadee uses the “bill-up” display, it means he’s here to stay. The Nuthatch spreading its wings and swaying from side-to-side is anothr threat display. All are dominating moves.

Some birds make a conscious effort to be subordinate and make appeasement moves. They will intentionally lean or look away from a newly arrived bird. When the bossier bird leaves, the subordinate bird will resume its normal posture.

Research shows dominant birds forage in safer spots and at safer hours of the day when there are fewer predators around. Dominance also plays a role in keeping birds in good condition throughout the winter. Food is the fuel of their lives.

Male nuthatches usually push females away from a feeding site. Male and female nuthatches usually leave a feeder in opposite directions. The male will follow the female and steal her cache of seeds, if at all possible.

Keep out plenty of water for drinking and bathing.

May you always hear the whisper of wings. Happy New Year.