Words On Birds 12-01-18

Early Winter Weather Drive Birds to Feeders
December 01, 2018
By Steve Grinley

     The winter–like weather that has hit us so early in the season has not only brought record-breaking low temperatures and snow to the area, but it has brought many more birds to the feeders. The numbers of goldfinch have increased at our thistle feeders in Essex, and we counted twenty-six mourning doves feeding on the millet we throw under the feeders. This is despite the regular visits by our local Cooper’s hawk. The woodpeckers are busy at the suet feeders which include a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers, a hairy woodpecker and at least 2 pairs of downy woodpeckers..

     I saw our first pine siskin at the finch feeders on Tuesday and two were joining the goldfinches and house finches on Wednesday. A couple of purple finches were at the sunflower feeders again this week. The titmice are enjoying the shelled peanuts that we put on the railing of the deck, as do the nuthatches. Both species take a nut and leave. When the blue jays arrive, they gulp down five or six nuts before leaving to digest them.

     We had our first fox sparrow under the feeders this week and it has remained for several days. These large rust and gray sparrows, scratching the ground back and forth with their two feet together, are my favorite. We had them at our store feeders only three years out of the eighteen that we had feeders at the building two doors away. So it was special to add them to our new yard list in Essex.

     Also on the ground our feeders have been our regular flock of juncos and a few white-throated sparrows. Joined by an occasional song sparrow, we are still waiting for our first tree sparrows of the season and maybe something more unusual. Very unusual was the chipmunk that was feeding with the squirrels under the feeders during the morning that we awoke to twelve degree temperatures.

     We keep waiting for our first evening grosbeaks. They are all over the area, only occasionally visiting feeders. But as more arrive, and natural food gets consumed, more may make their way to feeders. Such was the case with our good friend Doug Chickering of Groveland:

     “It’s Thanksgiving time and the winter, the real winter has arrived. I wasn’t quite ready. Snow accumulation, a bit of shoveling wet snow and a pervasive, discouraging cold. I was not ready for this. It was nearly enough to blanket the spirit and trigger a low-grade discouragement.

     “But in many ways the early start of this winter has an upside as well. It looks as if we are going to have better than average winter birding. I have already seen Snowy Owl and Northern Shrike. There are huge flotillas of both Surf and Black Scoter lounging off shore at Plum Island. The first Razorbills are also out there. Snow Buntings are here and there is even the occasional reliable report of Lapland Longspur.

     “The fall Fox Sparrow has been visiting my modest feeders every morning now for over a week. And now another pleasant surprise. This morning not only were the usual feeder birds there in good numbers, but the Fox Sparrow and an American Tree Sparrow were also scuffing through the light snow cover.

     “Then came one of those bright surprises as I had a pair of Evening Grosbeak fly onto the feeder. A gorgeous pair. Male and female brightening up my yard and my morning. Its enough to make one welcome the incoming dark season and touch one with the anticipation of what we will see when we pass Christmas and drop into true winter. When the winter comes too early, we need something like Evening Grosbeaks in the back yard to spark our enthusiasm.”

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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