For the Birds Radio Program: This Winter
Other birds around town
What with all the excitement about owls, it’s hard to believe there might be other birds in the northland right now. But this is a pretty good winter at feeding stations. There are the usual chickadees, nuthatches, and little woodpeckers, but we’re also having a good year for some winter finches—especially redpolls. I’ve heard that Hoary Redpolls are more common than usual, but they’ve completely eluded me so far. Pine Siskins are abundant where they happen to be, including my feeders, but some places aren’t getting any, like my mother-in-law’s Port Wing feeders. Oddly, she’s been inundated with goldfinches, while in my yard only two have shown up, and they stayed for only a few minutes. Pine Grosbeaks are in many places north of Duluth, and have visited my yard a couple of times. Sadly, Evening Grosbeaks are very few and far between, further evidence that this is a declining species. I’ve received several reports of Pileated Woodpeckers visiting feeders, including one female who is eating cracked corn in a backyard near St. Louis, Missouri. My own personal Pileated, Jeepers, turns up now and then, and on days when he doesn’t come to my window feeder, I can always hear him yelling from a distance through my window.
Shrikes are appearing here and there, but they don’t stay in any place for long, since their best hunting weapon is the element of surprise. I’ve also heard of a couple of hawks attacking feeder birds—most likely Cooper’s or Sharp-shins, but Merlins have also overwintered a few times up here. I’ve seen Red-tails from I-35 on my way to the Cities, Bald Eagles can be anywhere, and there are some Rough-legged Hawks in open areas.
One lone Canada Goose was swimming among floating ice crystals at Brighton Beach this week, and a lone male Red-breasted Merganser was farther out. The Yellow-billed Loon that appeared in Two Harbors for a week or so seems to have disappeared, but two Harlequin Ducks are still in Agate Bay, along with Goldeneyes and Bufflehead. A smattering of other ducks have also appeared here and there.
A Townsend’s Solitaire has been sticking out the winter in my neighborhood, giving lots of birders great looks but cleverly keeping out of my own sight. A few robins are sticking out the winter, feasting on the abundant crabapples. Bohemian Waxwings have been unpredictable and hard for many visiting birders to find. I found my first ones of the year in the Sax-Zim bog, eating buckthorn, which is really not good because when they wander, they plant the seeds of this invasive plant—I’ve even found buckthorn this winter growing within one of my lilac bushes.
A gang of about 10 juncos has been appearing some days at my feeder. And for the first year ever, I have Rock Pigeons in my backyard. At first there was one. Then a family unit of three appeared late this summer. Now I have at least two different flocks coming to feed a few times a day—I can tell they’re different because there’s a pure white one with a black tail that appears sometimes when there are 24 pigeons, and sometimes there’s a strangely patterned bluish and white one that appears when there are 11 pigeons, and the two oddballs never appear together. Pigeons are another invasive species, like buckthorn, but unlike buckthorn they don’t appear to have hurt the natural environment at all—they provide food for hungry Peregrine Falcons, and pretty much keep to the urban and backyard environment. And every now and then a Great Gray Owl swoops through the yard and they fly off in a flurry of color and a thunder of beating wings. And that brings us back to the owls, which is where we stop.