December 17-23, 2023

Happy Howling Holidays

howling coyote
Wishing you a howling good holiday season. Photo by David Lukas

After yet another week of gray, gloomy skies we finally got one glorious day of sunshine to usher in our holiday weekend.

Week in Review

trumpeter swan
One of the trumpeter swans lingering in the Methow Valley right now. Photo by David Lukas

Not a lot happened this week—and everyone is busy this weekend with holiday festivities—so let's keep this newsletter short and sweet...and get back to celebrating.

bald eagle perched
Bald eagle relaxing in the sun. Photo by David Lukas

One advantage of a sunny day like today is that everyone seemed to be outside enjoying themselves. I saw a couple coyotes trotting around, bald eagles sunning themselves on perches, and otters playing on the ice.

River otters enjoying a bit of sunshine. Photo by David Lukas

Many birds have been hanging out at our feeder, including several colorful flickers, and it reminds me of the fantastic flicker picture posted on the Facebook group this week. This photo really captures how much orange a flicker has on its feathers. These colors are normally hidden, so this isn't something you see very often.

northern flicker
The moment a northern flicker landed on a game camera. Photo by Buddy Thomas

Observation of the Week: House Finch

house finch
Male house finch. Photo by David Lukas

One of our most abundant winter birds is the common house finch. In fact, they can be so common that they we might take them for granted, which is a shame because house finches add a welcome splash of red to any drab winter day.

While male house finches are various shades of red, orange, or yellow, females are brown, heavily streaked, and easily overlooked.

female house finch
Both male and female house finches can be recognized by their stout, rounded bills. Photo by David Lukas

The males' colorful patches are surprisingly variable, and scientists have long wondered why these patches are so many different colors and sizes. It turns out that females pay attention to the hue, saturation, and size of these red patches because it's a strong indicator of a male's health.

male house finch
These red patches prominently announce a male's health. Photo by David Lukas

Males who are healthy, and eating a diet rich in carotenoids, will have brighter red patches, while males with poor nutrition or a carotenoid-deficient diet will have yellow or orange patches.

male house finches
Examples of different colors on male house finches. Photo by David Lukas

These colors matter because healthier males turn out to be much better fathers and take on a more active role in raising young. This allows females to produce additional broods of babies (up to 20 babies in a single summer if her male is helping raise the young), so picking a male who looks like a bright red Christmas ornament makes all the difference!

Wishing everyone a fantastic holiday full of gratitude, joy, and kindness. And if you feel inclined to express your gratitude for this newsletter, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription. Thank you everyone!