So far this winter, it has been less than stellar for seeing new and exciting birds at our feeders. It seems to be a repeat of January 2014 when friends in this part of Minnesota reported similar lackluster observations. That year, there had been some very cold temperatures, but this year, we haven’t had the cold so much as a lot of snow. We have over three feet on our fields and in the forest. While most birds that stay in this region over winter are not ground feeders, there are challenges for some. That is where we come in as people who find bird feeding, not only entertaining, but useful to many species that are struggling.
Here we have had plentiful blue jays and chickadees; while just north of us a friend reports almost no blue jays. Another friend to the east of us has had good numbers of woodpeckers and cardinals. We have had three cardinals at the feeders and they are literally the bright spot in the day, but we have not seen a single purple finch, pine siskin, or common redpoll. One can’t help wondering “Where are these birds?”
It could be that winter is just not very harsh up in Canada this year, because when it is an exceptionally cold winter, we would expect to see an ‘irruption’ of species from that region. A friend who participated in the annual Christmas Bird Count said it was the worst she’d ever been on in terms of the number of species they saw. Most years they expect to see pine grosbeaks or common redpolls at the least. We know birds move around depending on season and food supply and maybe it was a bumper crop year for the seeds the finches and redpolls depend upon. We just hope it is an anomaly and not the new norm.
We are once again participating in FeederWatch and every couple weeks we count and report the birds that come to our feeders over a 2 day period. This is a Citizen Science project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which adds data to the overall understanding of our bird populations. Most recently my husband counted 23 blue jays at one time at or near the feeders. Being larger birds and Corvids, they tend to dominate the scene, making smaller birds wait to get to the sunflower bird seed.
We have three suet feeders up and these are usually occupied by woodpeckers. At one time we can see three species – hairy, downy, and red-bellied – lined up for their turn at the energy packed suet blocks. We have not seen the pileated woodpecker since the New Year began and that has us puzzled. The black-capped chickadees flit about, but not in large numbers. The similarly small red-breasted nuthatch made an appearance while my husband was looking out the window and just this afternoon, three American goldfinch found the platform feeder. As mentioned earlier the cardinals are easy to spot, especially the male in his flaming red costume.
The largest birds coming in for birdfood are the wild turkeys. We thought we had lost them permanently after we adopted a dog last year. They came around for a while but grew tired of being chased off. Spring and summer
came and went and there was no sign of the turkeys, but apparently this winter of deep snow has forced them to take some risks. They are definitely ground feeders, so we have started putting out cracked corn on a low stump in the yard. The dog is not always outside, so they cautiously make their way up the field and ‘gobble’ up as much as possible before he wakes from his nap in the sun and spots them through the glass paneled sliding door. This elicits an immediate reaction as he leaps against the glass, barking loudly. This is when the turkeys take the hint, lift off and fly across the road into the forest. When we let the dog out he quickly surveys the scene to make sure none of the interlopers are near. We’re not sure why he has this reaction to the turkeys, since he completely ignores all the other birds around our yard. This scene repeats itself at least twice a day and still the turkeys return.
Even though we are a bit discouraged by the reduced variety of birds coming to the feeders, we will continue to put out bird food, as I’m sure you will. It is still the cheapest and most relaxing form of entertainment possible. And we know we’re giving the birds an extra helping hand in these long, cold winter months
By Kate Crowley