Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
First Snow Brings Birds to Feeders
December 16, 2022
By Steve Grinley
The birds were flocking to the feeders earlier this week, just before the season’s first snowfall that occurred overnight. Our goldfinch numbers peaked to over fifty! Joining them were four pine siskins, several house finches and a purple finch. One of the siskins had an all white cap on the top of his head. A strange, but very cute looking bird!
All the finches were jockeying for position on our sunflower and finch mix feeders. There definitely were not enough ports available as we saw a goldfinch and a house finch sharing a perch on one of the Big Tube feeders. They took turns feeding – a very uncharacteristic behavior for both species!
A red-breasted nuthatch joined its cousin white-breasted nuthatches at the peanut feeder. Half a dozen downy woodpeckers, pairs of hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers all competed for peanuts and suet.
More than twenty juncos were feeding on millet on the ground under the feeders, and a few came up to the deck for Margo’s handouts of peanut hearts and millet. On the ground, the juncos were joined by a few white-throated sparrows, tree sparrows and a song sparrow.
Also coming to peanuts on the deck railing were more blue jays than ever, gulping down the nuts at an amazing pace! Occasionally Mrs. Red-belly would come and poke a blue jay out of the way to grab a peanut and fly-off to cache it somewhere. More polite tufted titmice and nuthatches made brief visits to take a peanut to eat elsewhere. The Carolina wrens sneak into their feeder on the deck to devour their live mealworms after announcing their approach loudly all around the neighborhood.
The feeders have been busy all week, though the numbers fluctuate. The resident Cooper’s hawk keeps things quiet for periods of time, but created some drama one day. We heard a raucous in the yard and saw that the Cooper’s had grabbed something. It was on the ground a few yards into the woods, covering its prey with its wings so that we couldn’t see it. Apparently, a red-tailed hawk did.
The red-tail swooped down at the Cooper’s and wrestled the prey away without much effort. The Cooper’s hawk, greatly over-matched, flew off and the red-tail flew up to a branch to enjoy its breakfast. Another red-tail joined it, but the other didn’t share and they both flew off down the creek.
Out in the field, Margo and I found our first snowy owl of the season on Monday. It was perched atop one of the osprey platforms on Plum Island. Apparently another, or perhaps the same bird, was seen at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation the same day. Late arrivals this season, and fewer snowy owls are expected.
I was speaking with Mark Wilson, author and photographer from New Hampshire whose words and photographs graced the Boston Globe for so many years, including iconic photos of the Great Gray Owl in Rowley during the winter of 1996. He said that it is mostly the young snowy owls that make it to our area in the winter. Low numbers of lemmings in the arctic this past year, its main food, resulted in low nest production this past summer, producing fewer young. So we probably won’t see many snowy owls this season.
Mark’s new book, Snowy Owl Scientist, is a great last minute gift suggestion. As in with his previous book, Owling, he shares stunning photographs and lots of information, perfect for any owl lover. Coupled with a snowy owl puppet, it makes a great gift for children as well!