Titmice on the increase & October Feeder Survey results

Bird Column for November 2, 2003

Here is a discussion of the results of the October Feeder Survey. This includes all the material that appeared in the Post Standard as well as additional details including the species that were most often seen as well as a complete list of all the birds observed.

Sixty-seven people from the Central New York area watched their feeders during the first week of October and sent in a report listing the largest number of each species that they saw at any one time during the week.

The survey is conducted the first week of each winter month. With the help of hundreds of readers for 44 years, useful scientific information has been obtained. It has enabled me to see that the cardinal increased gradually during this period. We have seen the pheasant decline.

Tree sparrows come down from Canada for the winter in November. We found that their numbers increase gradually and reach a peak in February. By early April one-half have returned to Canada. Just a few are left for the May count and they soon leave.

The evening grosbeak also visits from the north, but it only comes every other winter. The red-breasted nuthatch comes down every year, and its numbers are always high one year and low the next.

The count of tufted titmice this October was the highest ever recorded. In the early 20th century it was found only in the Southern states. It started to move northward and two of them were first reported at Bessie Bradt's feeder in Manlius in 1959. By 1980 it was on 10% of the feeder reports. It reached 20% by 1994 and now, 47% of the observers list it.

These illustrations show how your efforts on the feeder survey have provided valuable and interesting information over the years.

The November feeder survey starts today and ends Saturday. Please watch whenever you can and keep a record of the number of birds of each species that you see each time. At the end of the week, list the largest number of each species that you saw at any one time during that week.

I need more people to help with this project. No list is too short. If you live in upstate New York you are invited to participate even if you do not subscribe to the Post Standard. There is a set of directions for participants that includes how to make the observations, how to prepare the report and where to send it. To read those directions, select LIBRARY at the left and once there , choose The Feeder Survey Directions. Some history of the feeder survey is given there as well.

Sixty six fairly common species were seen. In addition to these 66 fairly common birds, 22 others were each reported by only one person. So the total of all reports was 88 species.

As usual in October, the Canada goose was the most abundant bird with 6,765 per 100 reports. Next came the starling with 858. There were 479 house sparrows, 464 grackles and 465 mourning doves.

After the mourning dove, the other abundant birds were the goldfinch, blue jay, crow, chickadee, house finch and rock dove.

In addition to the numbers, we can ask how wide spread each species was. That is, what percentage of the feeders attracted the bird?

Almost everyone had blue jays and chickadees. Eighty-seven percent had mourning doves and goldfinches. Other species spotted by over half the observers were crow, white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker, cardinal, house finch and Canada goose.


Some people have long lists and some have short lists. Every list is important regardless of its length. It tells us what birds are visiting your vicinity. It tells us what the numbers are for the species you have. When all of the lists are tabulated, you can see how many of the species are visiting the average feeder.

Sometimes an observer does not send a list because there are not very many birds on it. All your lists are important. So let me hear from you. By counting them and keeping a copy of the list, you can also compare the way the numbers change at your feeder during the winter or from one year to the next.

The shortest list on the October survey came from the combined observations of two third grade classes at the New Haven Elementary School. In October, they saw 4 mourning doves, 1 blue jay and 5 goldfinches.

The typical list this time had 14 species on it. There were 4 on the list from Debbie O'Connell of Camillus. Eight species were listed by David Bigsby of Verona Beach, Alan Fitch of Marcellus, Elaine Lyon of Cortland, Albert Neveu of Scriba, Linda Shuron of Solvay and Donald Windsor of Norwich.

The longest list was turned in by Paul Radway who lives near Pompey. He tallied 43 as he did last year. Bill Purcell of Hastings reported 41 species and so did Ken Zoller of West Winfield. Linda Quackenbush of Waterloo had 39.


The first figure for each species is the number of birds spotted on 100 reports and the one in parentheses is the number of reports out of 100 that listed that species.

If you divide the number of birds by the number of reports, you get the average number of birds visiting a feeder. Lets do it for the goldfinch. There were 446 seen by 86 people. 446 divided by 86 is 5.2. So that means the average person had about 5 of them in sight at once. How many goldfinches did you have?

Here is the entire list:

Great blue heron 5 (5); turkey vulture 54 (24).

Ducks and geese: snow goose 71 (1); Canada goose 6,765 (62); wood duck 5 (2); mallard 34 (6); common merganser 1 (1).

Hawks: osprey 1 (1); harrier 3 (3); sharp-shinned 10 (10); Coopers 4 (4); goshawk 1 (1); broad winged 1 (1); red-tailed 11 (11); kestrel 7 5).

Pheasant 5 (4); ruffed grouse 8 (4); turkey 65 (10); killdeer 2 (2).

Gulls: ring-billed 211 ( 9); herring 9 (2); rock dove 218 (20); mourning dove 455 (87); screech owl 1 (1); horned owl 2 (1); barn owl 1 (1); hummingbird 2 (2); kingfisher 3 (3).

Woodpeckers: red-bellied 26 (21); sapsucker 2 (2); downy 122 (72); hairy 54 (41); flicker 57 (27); pileated 3 (3); phoebe 13 ( 9); kingbird 1 (1); tree-swallow 22 (2).

Blue jay 411 (93); crow 401 (84); chickadee 366 (95); titmouse 90 (47); red-breasted nuthatch 36 (26); white-breasted nuthatch 113 (75); Carolina wren 6 (5); house wren 5 (4); winter wren 1 (1).

Golden-crowned kinglet 22 (6); ruby-crowned kinglet 6 (2); bluebird 8 (4); Swainsons thrush 2 (1); wood thrush 1 (1); robin 164 (33); catbird 12 (10); mockingbird 6 (1); brown thrasher 2 (2); starling 858 (26); cedar waxwing 93 (5); warbling vireo 1 (1).

Warblers: blue-wing 1 (1); Tennesee 2 (6); Nashville 3 (2); black-throated blue 3 (2); yellow-rumped 26 (6); black-throated green 2 (2); palm 1 (1); mourning 1 (1); yellow throat 3 (2); rose-breasted grosbeak 2 (2); scarlet tanager 1 (1); towhee 7 (5).

Sparrows: tree sparrow 3 (2); chipping 78 (24); field 9 (3); savannah 3 (2); song 69 (32); swamp 1 (1); white-throated 191 (35); white-crowned 120 (29); junco 147 (47); cardinal 203 (69); rose-breasted grosbeak 2 (2).

Red-winged blackbird 114 (10); grackle 464 (18); cowbird 10 (4).

Purple finch 13 (7); house finch 275 (56); goldfinch 446 (86); house sparrow 479 (36).

To get in touch with Benjamin P. BurttVia Mail: Write to B.Burtt, Stars Magazine, P.O. Box 4915, Syracuse,, NY 13221.

Via E-mail: Send to features@syracuse.com. Be sure to put “For B.Burtt” in the subject line.