December Feeder Survey Results

BIRD COLUMN For December 28, 2003

By Benjamin P. Burtt

What birds were visiting feeders in December? That is, are some birds scarce this year? Which birds from Canada have moved into our area this winter? You can compare your sightings with what others are seeing by inspecting the results of the feeder survey that was taken during the first week of December. When numbers of birds are mentioned below, they are the number of birds for every 100 reports..

Skipping geese, starlings, gulls and crows, the most abundant bird right at the feeders was the goldfinch with 1,007. This was also the highest count for that species in the 45 years this survey has been taken. In the past on the average, people had about 5 at their feeder, but this year there were about 12. Some had more and some had less. Sharon Crane of Smyrna estimated that there were about 200 in her yard at one time! Ken Zoller had 50 at West Winfield.

Eighty-two percent of the feeders had goldfinches.

In the winter, the male goldfinch closely resembles the female. To tell them apart, note the arrows in Roger Tory Peterson’s painting of the winter male. One arrow points to the small white shoulder patch and the other directs your attention to the white rump. The winter female has a buff rump and no shoulder patch. The painting is from the “Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America,” fifth edition. ( Courtesy of the Houghton Mifflin Co.)

In the list of birds by number, after the goldfinch came the house sparrow with 751, dark-eyed junco 597. Other relatively abundant birds were house finch, chickadee, blue jay, tree sparrow and cardinal.

There were a number of other birds that were reported in above average numbers for their species. The number of red-bellied woodpeckers was higher than it usually is in December. The same was true for the junco.

Nuthatches were more numerous than they were last year. The numbers continue to go up and down in alternate years. This includes both the red-breasted and the white-breasted. Last year they were down and this year both are up.

Tree sparrows breed far north beyond the limit of the trees where there is brush and weeds. In the winter they come south to spend the winter from the northern border of the United States south to Tennessee. Over the years, the feeder survey has shown that while some come in November, the bulk of them arrive in early December. They were right on schedule this year.
There are a number of northern finches that sometimes migrate south into New York for the winter months. These include evening and pine grosbeaks, crossbills, redpolls and pine siskins. This time there were two reports of siskins, one for redpoll and four reports of evening grosbeaks. While this is an increase over last year, it does not suggest a big migration this winter.


The shortest list this time came from Norma Griffin's 3rd grade class at the New Haven Elementary School. They reported 18 mourning doves, 7 goldfinches and 2 blue jays.
Listing 5 species were Robert and Barbara Domachowski of Clay. There were 6 on Susan Cummins list from Mcgraw. In Lansing, Kellie Stiadle had 7. Tallying 8 species were Ted Williams of Fabius and Pete and Kathy DiPino of Parish.

The typical feeder had 14 species so half of the people had less than 14 and half had more than 14. Who had the longest lists?

Linda Quackenbush of Waterloo has a yard that is very attractive to birds and she listed 30 species. Terry and Wanda Wood of Jamesville tallied 23. Reporting 22 species were Lawrence Abrahamson of Marcellus and Steve and Dorothy Hanzlik of Whitney Point.

Bob Asanoma of Liverpool and Steve Swensen of Baldwinsville had 21. There were 20 on Ken Zollers list from West Winfield. Tallying 19 were David Pardee of Brewerton and John and Elizabeth Wallace of Baldwinsville.

Listing 18 species were Paul Radway of Pompey, Clara Barrett in Clinton, William and Marilyn Fais of New Woodstock and Jim and Doris Wagner of Fayetteville.

Four people reported chipping sparrows, but did not tell how they were identified. As I have written before, the chipping sparrow does not have a red cap in the winter. The top of its head is brown with some black stripes. It normally leaves New York State by mid November.

Many winter reports turn out to be tree sparrows in which the breast spot was not obvious.

The List
Here is a list of all species reported. The first figure for a species, is the total number of them spotted on 100 reports and the second figure, the one enclosed in parentheses, is the number of reports that list the species.

If you divide the number of birds by the number of reports that listed the species, you get the average number visiting a feeder. For the chickadee this is 483 divided by 96 reports. So on the average, people have about 5 chickadees at their feeder. You can compare this to the number visiting your feeder.

Loon 12 (1); snow goose 335 (2); Canada goose 6,238 (45).
Ducks: black 5 (1); mallard 51 (5); turkey vulture 1 (1).
Hawks: northern harrier 1 (1); sharp-shinned 9 (9); Cooper's 7 (7); red-tailed 30 (26); rough-legged 2 (2); kestrel 1 (1).

Pheasant 2 (2); ruffed grouse 2 (1); turkey 137 (9).
Gulls: ring-billed 14 (6); herring 8 (2); rock dove 269 (19); mourning dove 829 (86); horned owl 2.
Woodpeckers: red-bellied 54 (49); sapsucker 1 (1); downy 189 (88); hairy 74 (45); flicker 4 (4); pileated 3 (3).

Blue jay 284 (82); crow 851 (81); raven 1 (1); chickadee 483 (96); titmouse 103 (44); red-breasted nuthatch 57(41); white-breasted nuthatch 123 (75); brown creeper 2 (2); Carolina wren 2 (2); golden-crowned kinglet 3(1).

Bluebird 4 (1); robin 32 (4); mockingbird 4 (3); cedar waxwing 5(1); northern shrike 4 (4); starling 1,143 (44); cardinal 214 (77).

Sparrows: tree 228 (50); chipping 7 (3); song 11 {5}; white-throated 86 (25); white-crowned 7 (5); junco 597 (95).

Red-winged blackbird 21 (5); rusty blackbird 4 (2); grackle 212 (7); cowbird 49 (7).
Purple finch 21 (8); house finch 517 (70); redpoll 1 (1); siskin 2 (2); goldfinch 1,007 (82); evening grosbeak 20 (4); house sparrow 751 (48).


The January Feeder Survey starts next Sunday January 4 and continues all through that week.
If you have not participated before, your report is welcome. Anyone in upstate New York State is welcome to participate. Years ago, our Sunday newspaper circulated all through Northern New York up to the St. Lawrence River and through the Adirondacks. I hope those former readers will join me once again now that this column is available on line.

For each species, report the largest number you see at any one time during the seven days. To read the complete instructions, go to the top of this page, click on LIBRARY on the left and then choose "Feeder Survey Directions."

At the end of the week, put your list on a postcard or in a letter or in an email and send it to the appropriate address on the home page.

Every list is important and short ones are just as important as long ones. Lists range from 3 to 30 species and the typical report has 14 species.

This is a project to try to measure how the numbers of each species change over time at feeders in Central New York. It does not matter how many species are attracted to your feeder, for ALL feeders should be counted.

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 Be sure to put “For B.Burtt” in the subject line.