For the Birds Radio Program: Migration Update
Today Laura Erickson talks about some of the birds showing up at Northland feeders.
(Recording of a Evening Grosbeak)
Evening Grosbeaks are finally back at at least some Northland feeders after an inexplicable absence. They’re in full breeding plumage, which in their case includes the beak—it turns a pretty shade of green in late winter and remains green until the young are on their own in late summer. Evening Grosbeaks breed in loose colonies, and once the babies leave the nest all the adult birds pitch in with child care. At that point the young birds are full grown, and look pretty much like adults except that they have pale beaks. I’ve watched one baby Evening Grosbeak get food from three different females and five different males, and so I suspect that the adults’ green beaks help the young to recognize which birds are potential food sources.
Evening Grosbeaks come to feeders for sunflower seed, but another of their favorite foods is box elder seeds. People often ask me why grosbeaks don’t ever seem to discover their feeders—in every case I know of, the people didn’t have a box elder tree nearby. Grosbeaks flying over are more likely to notice a tall tree waving it seeds at them than a bird feeder close to the ground, but once they alight on the tree they soon notice the feeder.
Redpolls are suddenly abundant all over—I have at least a hundred coming to my feeder, and one feeder on the Gunflint Trail has a good 200. Many redpolls manage to survive the worst winters without coming to feeders at all, but for some reason, by March or early April they’re ready to throw in the towel and give up roughing it, exchanging their wild world for a little security. Redpolls’ favorite feeder fare by far is niger seed—also known as thistle. The redpolls in my yard don’t get that—it costs as much per pound as Porterhouse steak, so mine have to settle for sunflower. Many popular bird books don’t show redpolls because they are birds of the far north. But if you have a little streaky bird with a rosy pink breast and an iridescent red forehead, it’s a redpoll.
My Pine Siskins are all paired up now, but they’re still coming to my feeder together, which means they haven’t laid their eggs yet. I’ve also heard of a few goldfinches back, so feeders will be getting more colorful soon. Many juncoes have returned, along with at least a few tree sparrows and song sparrows. All of these birds come to sunflower seed, and the sparrows and finches will also take mixed grocery store seed scattered on the ground, or cracked corn in flat feeders near the ground.
Some Mourning Doves are singing now. They come to my sunflower seed feeders, but they also like seed mixes and cracked corn.
Blue Jays are starting to look for nesting sites now, and are also investigating new feeding stations. They are especially fond of peanuts. In my yard there’s a daily competition to see who gets the most peanuts—the jays or the squirrels. After the squirrels have eaten one or two, they carry the rest away if the jays don’t beat them to it, but either way the jays are the real winners—mine follow the squirrels and dig up the peanuts as fast as the squirrels can bury them.
Feeder watching is the perfect pastime for April, when it is often too slushy for skating or skiing, but too gloppy for biking or kite flying.
(Recording of an Evening Grosbeak)
This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”