January Feeder Survey Results and abundant Redpolls

BIRD COLUMN For February 8, 2004
By Ben Burtt

What birds were most abundant at feeders during the first week of January when we conducted the feeder survey? While geese and crows were more abundant than any other species reported, they were not at feeders.

The most abundant bird right at feeders was the goldfinch. There were 1,147 per 100 feeders. We always present the numbers per 100 feeders so that comparisons can be made with results in the past.

The count this year is higher than in any January since 1979. In mid winter the goldfinch has been more abundant than any other species in recent years.

After the goldfinch came the common redpoll with 974. It was followed by mourning dove, starling, junco and house sparrow. Then came the chickadee and house finch.

It is also fun to know what species are present at most feeders. As usual, just about everyone had chickadees. 97% of the feeders had at least one chickadee. Other birds that were common at feeders were juncos 91%, downy woodpeckers and goldfinches at 88% of the feeders. Mourning doves came in at 86%.

After that, 79% of the people reported crows and cardinals. Blue jays were not as common this time with only 73% of the feeders reporting them. Red-breasted nuthatches were seen at 72% and this is much higher than last year.

Other common species were house finch 60%, tree sparrow 55% and redpoll 52%.
That 52% is high for common redpoll. In December only one person reported it and he saw only one. There were none listed in November and October.

In January, these little finches visited feeders in flocks of about 20 birds and we had a total of 983 of them. They breed far to the north beyond the large trees and inhabit areas with brushy terrain. Every other winter they move south to visit us and this is one of those years.

CAPTION: The common redpoll from the far north showed up in large numbers for the first time this season on the January Feeder Survey. It is a chickadee sized bird and both male and female have a bright red forehead and a black chin. The male has pink on the breast. This painting is from the "Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America", fifth edition. (Courtesy of the Houghton Mifflin Co. )

Sharon Crain had 68 in Smyrna, Matt Young had a flock of 61 in his yard in the highlands east of Deruyter. There were 60 at Dorothy Crumbs feeder in Jamesville. Both Paul Radway in Pompey and Bill Purcell in Hastings listed 55.

If you did not have redpolls and wish to attract them, use black oil sunflower seed and be sure to have a tubular feeder with only niger seed in it. Redpolls are in the finch family and all such birds are strongly attracted to niger seed.

Now and then amongst the common redpolls we will see a few that have a lot of white on them. These are hoary redpolls and are shown in the field guides. They also live far to the north. Paul Radway and Matt Young each reported one hoary redpoll.

There are some redpolls whose plumage is between the extremes of these two species and it is sometimes very difficult to tell which one you are observing. Some scientists believe that they are just variations of the same species.

Goldfinches continue to be abundant and there were a few more siskins reported than in December.

A total of sixty species was spotted. Of these, 49 were fairly common, that is they were seen by 3 or more observers.

The other 11 species were seen by only one or two people. The typical feeder had 14 species. By that I mean that half of the observers had more than 14 and the other half had less than 14.

The shortest lists.

The shortest list came from the New Haven Elementary School class taught by Norma Griffin, they had three species. Ken Sparks of Cazenovia had 6. Tallying 8 species were Milt and Kay Bieber of Tully, Susan Cummins of McGraw and George and Jackie Miller of Potsdam.

In Mexico, Thelma Castle listed 9 and so did Eugenia Fish of Cortland. Listing 10 species were Elaine Lyon of Cortland and Judith Miller of Pulaski.

The longest list came from Waterloo, had 30 species and was turned in by Linda Quackenbush. Tallying 23 were Lawrence Abrahamson of Marcelluls, Steve and Dorothy Hanzlik of Whitney Point and Steve Swensen of Baldwinsville.

Winter Birds
Birds here in winter fall into three categories. First, those that live here throughout the year.

Secondly, are those that come down from the north for the winter such as the tree sparrow and the white-throated sparrow.

Thirdly, are those that remain here for the winter even though most of their tribe have gone south. Examples are robins and bluebirds.

Small numbers of robins are listed on every feeder survey through the winter. Normally, about 10 people have robins. This time, only the William Burch's at Skaneateles saw robins and they had five. Three people had a total of 6 bluebirds. Also very scarce were red-winged blackbirds, grackles and cowbirds.

Finches from the north

This year there has been no large movement of northern finches from Canada into our area except the redpoll. Only three people listed evening grosbeaks. Seven listed the pine siskin and there were no crossbills.

The report from the farthest north came from Peter and Linda Biesemeyer of Malone. In addition to more common birds, they listed some norther species, 2 ravens, a red-breasted nuthatch, three golden crowned kinglets, 15 redpolls, 3 siskins and 25 evening grosbeaks.

The Rare Birds

Steve and Dorothy Hanzlik of Whitny Point had a goshawk. Clifford Manchester of Ithaca saw snow buntings. At Brewerton, Sharon Sheedy had a sapsucker as did Ed Street of Cazenovia who saw one at his suet feeder on the day after the survey ended.

Kathy and Scott Trefz of Perryville were the only people to list a horned owl. These owls carry on their courtship in January, are the first birds to nest and will soon be incubating eggs.

In Manlius, Ilse Vogelpoel saw a fox sparrow. Ted Williams of Fabius listed a rusty blackbird. A chipping sparrow was listed by A.J. Wood of Oneida.

The total picture

Here is the list of all species reported. The first figure is the number of birds spotted per 100 reports and the one in parentheses is the number of reports out of 100 that listed the species.

If you divide the number of birds by the number of reports for a particular species you get the average number visiting a feeder. It is fun to compare this with your own tally for that species.

Canada goose 1,658 (32).

Ducks: black 2 (1); mallard 22 (3); bufflehead 20 (1);

Daytime birds of prey: northern harrier 2 (2); sharp-shinned hawk 8 (8); Cooper's hawk 9 (9); goshawk 1 (1); redtail 26 (18); roughlegged hawk 2 (2); kestrel 2 (2); pheasant 5 (2); turkey 123 (7).

Gulls: ring-billed 25 (6); herring 127 (4); rock dove 157 (17); mourning dove 784 (86); horned owl 2 (1).

Woodpeckers: red-bellied 55 (44); yellow-bellied sapsucker 1 (1); downy 196 (88); hairy 77 (49); flicker 9 (6); pileated 2 (2); blue jay 287 (73); crow 1,194 (79); raven 6 (2); chickadee 499 (97); titmouse 95 (48); red-breasted nuthatch 70 (44); white-breasted nuthatch 125 (72); brown creeper 6 (5); Carolina wren 3 (3); golden-crowned kinglet 3 (1); bluebird 6 (3); robin 5 (1); mockingbird 3 (2); cedar waxwing 126 (5); starling 673 (48); cardinal 290 (79).

Sparrows: tree 275 (55); chipping 1 (1); fox 1 (1); song 16 (7); white-throated 97 (25); white-crowned 2 (2); junco 571 (91); snow bunting 3 (1); red-winged blackbird 5 (3); rusty blackbird 2 (1); grackle 4 (2); cowbird 28 (2); purple finch 16 (7); house finch 428 (60); redpoll 983 (52); hoary redpoll 2 (2); pine siskin 38 (7); goldfinch 1,147 (88); evening grosbeak 35 (3); house sparrow 563 (44).