Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Winter Weather Brings Unusual Birds to Backyards
January 22, 2011
By Steve Grinley

     The relentless cold and snow this winter continues to keep the bird feeders buzzing with activity. A large flock of 50-60 goldfinches are ever present at our store thistle feeders along with a single common redpoll that also visits every day. I am going through about five pounds of Nyger a day just to keep the feeders full. We also have a dozen or more tree sparrows visiting the store feeders, along with several song sparrows and a couple of white-throated sparrows. A white-breasted nuthatch is enjoying our suet log and our hanging seed cakes. Chickadees, cardinals, mourning doves and an occasional downy woodpecker are the usual cast of characters.

     The winter weather is, however, causing some winter finches and other unusual birds to show up at area feeders. Our common redpoll is the first in sixteen years here. One Byfield resident has a couple of pine siskins visiting her thistle feeders with her goldfinches. I have had siskins here in past years, but none yet this season.

     I had two separate Amesbury residents report lone white-winged crossbills visiting their feeders. One crossbill was on Point Shore feeding at a platform feeder one day and at their window feeder the next day. At the same time, another was visiting a feeder on Maple Street. A Newbury resident on High Road stopped by and told me that he has had eight white-winged crossbills, two males and six females, visiting his feeders for about a week. He said that they were eating the wild finch mix from a thistle feeder and remarked how interesting it was to watch them use their long, sharply curved bills to get seed out of the tiny holes in the thistle feeder.

     We received another call from a customer telling us that a Baltimore oriole was visiting a feeder in Amesbury. Orioles do occasionally try to make it through the winter here, but this has been a rather harsh winter so far for this neo-tropical bird to survive.

     A yellow-bellied sapsucker was visiting a backyard on Conomo Point in Essex this past week. The resident said that the bird checked out his seed feeders, but seemed to prefer working on the trees in his yard, hoping for sap I imagine. Hard to get sap to run during these cold temperatures! As a result, sapsuckers are birds that also don’t usually winter here, though one was found during the Christmas Count at the Oak Hill Cemetery here in Newburyport. That bird continued there into January.

     Flocks of robins and bluebirds continue to feed on bittersweet, winterberry, holly and any other fruit that they can find. The resident mockingbirds often get very territorial over their own patches of berries, chasing off the thrushes, waxwings and any other bird trying to feed in the area. On Plum Island, the mockingbirds are defending their berries from a couple of wintering catbirds and even a brown thrasher.

     A few Bohemian waxwings have been discovered within the flocks of cedar waxwings that are roaming around looking for food. It is not like the Bohemian waxwing invasion of a couple of years ago, at least not yet, but several Bohemians were in with cedar waxwings on Plum Island, two were spotted at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation and two were seen at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield. If you see a flock of waxwings in your yard, look for a larger, browner bird (not yellow underneath) with white in the wings and red under the tail.

     With all the cold and snow, we have gone yet another week with no reports of snowy owls on Plum Island, nor at Salisbury. A short-eared owl continues to be spotted irregularly on the Refuge. There are several eagles being seen – I saw an adult at Salisbury on Wednesday. Maybe the coming frigid weather will draw more eagles to the area, in time for the Eagle Festival on February 12.

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