May Feeder Survey Results

BIRD COLUMN FOR May 30, 2004

By Benjamin P. Burtt

Topic: What birds were visiting feeders during the first week of May?
The Results of the Feeder Survey conducted during that week.

Courtesy of the Houghton Mifflin Co.

CAPTION: The rose-breasted grosbeak has been unusually abundant at feeders in Central NY this spring. As shown in this painting from Peterson's "Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America", the male has a red triangle on the breast. In flight, it shows black and white flashes. The female is streaked like a large sparrow. Both have a thick, pale colored bill.

Results of the Feeder Survey for the first week of May

The final feeder survey of the season was held during the first week of May. Readers watched their yard and recorded the number of birds of each species that they saw. At the end of the week they listed the largest number of each species that they saw at any one time. For example, if a person saw 200 goldfinches during the week, but never more than 8 at a time, then 8 was put on the list.

All the lists were compiled and the results of that project are given here.

There are always more species on the May survey than on any other during the year. This time 94 species were seen by two or more people.

In addition, 16 observers each recorded an additional species not seen by anyone else. So the total of all reports was 110 species ( we had 117 last year). The typical report had 22 species. That is, half the reports had fewer species than 22 and half had more.

What species were on that typical report? The robin was seen at 98 percent of the feeders. Others seen at more than 90% were mourning dove, goldfinch, blue jay, crow and chickadee. About two-thirds of the reports had downy woodpeckers, cardinals, rose-breasted grosbeaks, grackles, red-wings, starlings and cedar waxwings.

What was the most abundant species?

If we ask how many of each species did we see, the goldfinch was the most abundant bird as it usually is in May. The figures below are averaged as the number seen per 100 reports. There were 1,284 goldfinches on 100 reports and 95% of the reports listed it.

Why is the goldfinch count so high in May? We must keep in mind that at this time of the year most birds are busy with nesting activities and only one parent of each pair can be at a feeder at the same time. Since the goldfinch does not nest until late July and August, both male and female can visit feeders now.

Lets look at a bird that is busy with nesting activities now and see how the nesting activity has reduced the number of them at the feeder. The chickadee is an example. There were about 3 chickadees per report on this May survey.

During the winter there were about 5 per feeder. So In May when one parent was near the nest, the number seen at feeders dropped to almost half .

After the goldfinch, other birds on the list in decreasing order of abundance were starlings, blue jays, grackles, red-wings, crows, mourning doves, robins, chickadees, cowbirds, chipping sparrows and cardinals.

May is always the biggest month for white-throated sparrows and it is the only month when we have many white-crowned sparrows. They move through now towards their nesting grounds far north in Canada beyond the trees.

Rose breasted grosbeaks were reported on 65% of the reports which is a record. In the 1970's hardly anyone listed them on a feeder survey. Then in the early 1990s their numbers began to increase. The present tally is the highest in 11 years.

Some species are always less abundant in May than they were the month before. Most tree sparrows had returned to their breeding grounds in the north. Juncos had moved further north. Redpolls were almost gone. Only 2 reports of evening grosbeaks came in. These were from Matt Young east of Georgetown and Pete Biesemeyer at Malone.

Unusual Birds

There were 16 people who listed a species not seen by anyone else. Some of them are easy to identify, but none of the rare or difficult to identify species included a description or a list of field marks observed.

Here is a list of those species: loon, raven, osprey, kingbird, hooded merganser, white-eyed vireo( a very rare and unusual report ), Swainson's thrush, blue headed vireo, black-billed cuckoo, warbling vireo, redstart, cormorant, red-eyed vireo, and pheasant.

The longest lists

What is the largest number of species that any one individual might be expected to find in a yard in May? Certainly no one would get all 110 species.

The longest list of 59 species was turned in by Linda Quackenbush of Waterloo. There were 57 species on Jeanne Ryans list at Cazenovia. The Goettels listed 52 at their camp at Otselic and so did David Pardee at Brewerton.

Tallying 51 were Steve and Dorothy Hanzlik of Whitney point and Matt Young of DeRuyter.

At Marcellus, Lawrence Abrahamson tallied 44. Paul Radway had 39 at Pompey. William and Marilyn Fais listed 38 at New Woodstock and Kathy and Scott Trefz got 37 at Perryville.


Here is the list of all species. The first figure is the number of birds spotted on 100 reports and the number in parentheses is the number of reports that listed that species. This is the percentage of the reports that had that species.

Keep this list for a time in case you have an unusual bird visit your yard. See if your bird is on the list. This will give you an idea how remarkable your sighting is.

Loon 1 (1); double-crested cormorant 1 (1); great blue heron 29 (24); green heron 5 (4); turkey vulture 81 (38); Canada goose 318 (44).

Ducks: wood 17 (5); mallard 96 (38); hooded merganser 2 (1); common merganser 5 (2).

Hawks: osprey 1 (1); harrier 5 (5); sharp-shinned 6 (6); Cooper's 10 (8); broad-winged hawk 1 (1); red-tailed 14 (11); kestrel 4 (3).
Pheasant 1 (1); ruffed grouse 5 (4); turkey 51 (20); killdeer 9 (7); woodcock 9 (3).

Gulls: ring-billed 44 (5); herring 6 (2); rock dove 107 (18); mourning dove 296 (96); black-billed cuckoo 1 (1).
Chimney swift 10 (2); hummingbird 63 (41); kingfisher 3 (3).

Woodpeckers: red-bellied 51 (38); yellow-bellied sapsucker 19 (10); downy 165 (87); hairy 99 (62); flicker 51 (36); pileated 10 (9).
Phoebe 39 (20); great crested flycatcher 2 (2); kingbird 1 (1).
Blue-headed vireo 1 (1); warbling vireo 1 (1); red-eyed vireo 1 (1);
Blue jay 369 (90); crow 323 (90); raven 6 (2).

Swallows: tree 156 (35); bank 9 (4); barn 26 (10).
Chickadee 279 (89); titmouse 77 (45); red-breasted nuthatch 27 (18); white-breasted nuthatch 77 (56); creeper 3 (3); Carolina wren 4 (4); house wren 39 (27); golden-crowned kinglet 3 (2); ruby-crowned kinglet 8 (4).

Thrushes: bluebird 18 (8); veery 1 (1); Swainson's 1 (1); wood 7 (7); robin 297 (98).
Catbird 38 (23); mockingbird 2 (2); brown thrasher 8 (6); starling 420 (74); cedar waxwing 68 ( 7).

Warblers: blue-winged 2 (2); Nashville 5 (4); yellow 24 (18); chestnut-sided 3 (3); magnolia 2 (2); black-throated blue 3 (3); yellow-rumped 19 (10); black-throated green 2 (2); blackburnian 2 (2); redstart 1 (1); ovenbird 4 (3); common yellow-throat 6 (5); scarlet tanager 5 (4); towhee 11 (9)

Sparrows: tree 28 (6); chipping 237 (66); field 8 (6); savannah 3 (3); fox 5 (2); song 104 (56); swamp 3 (3); white-throated 164 (44); white-crowned 209 (62); junco 125 (51).

Cardinal 200 (86); rose-breasted grosbeak 167 (65); indigo bunting 5 (4); bobolink 9 (6); red-winged blackbird 329 (77); meadowlark 5 (3); rusty blackbird 3 (2); grackle 395 (80); cowbird 269 (63); Baltimore oriole 44 (29); purple finch 87 (66); house finch 213 (60); redpoll 7 (2); pine siskin 34 (8); goldfinch 1,284 (95); evening grosbeak 4 (2); house sparrow 204 (

The last Spring Migrants & Hearing outside birds inside

BIRD COLUMN FOR May 16, 2004

By Benjamin P. Burtt

Topic: The last migrants of the Spring
and How to listen to birds outside when the windows are closed, a review of a device that really does this very well

(Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Co.)

THE INDIGO BUNTING is a small finch that should arrive from the tropics this week. The male is blue all over with a heavy, finch type bill. The female is a rather plain brown bird. This painting is from the "Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America", fifth edition.

The Height of the Spring Migration
This week there will be more species of birds in Central New York than at any other time of the year. These include the last of the new arrivals, the indigo bunting, the nighthawk, the trail's flycatcher and the pewee. Many species that first appeared in April will continue to stream through towards their breeding grounds further north.

Hearing the birds outside
When the windows are closed, it is fun to hear the outdoor bird sounds over a loud speaker inside.

I first enjoyed this experience when I visited the original Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology building in Ithaca, NY many years ago. There was a large observation room with lots of windows that looked out upon the pond as well as a nearby group of feeders. Visitors would sit in comfortable chairs and watch the birds outside. Not only could you see birds, but you could hear them as well. It was a most enjoyable experience.

The scientists there had designed and installed their own sound system with microphones outside and loud speakers inside.

Today, they have a new building with a similar view and those treasured sounds can still be heard inside.

The early equipment for home use
Over the years since The Laboratory of Ornithology first installed their system, several companies brought to market a device for home use. Outside was a microphone with a small radio transmitter. The radio broadcast was picked up by the antenna on a special radio receiver in the house.

Unfortunately, the antenna also picked up commercial radio stations as well as clicks, humming sounds and buzzy noises produced by all sorts of electrical devices.

The noise was annoying and made it hard to hear the birds, so these devices never really caught on.

What is available today?

There are two models on the market. The first one is "Natures Window". It is excellent. Like the system at Cornell, a wire connects the microphone to the equipment indoors. There is no antenna or radio involved that can pick up stray sound.

I have used one for the past six months. A small box containing an amplifier and loud speaker is placed in the house where it is plugged into an electrical outlet. A wire connects it to a water-proof microphone that is outdoors near the feeder. The outdoor sounds can be heard clearly without any interference.

On May 3 at 7:00 AM, I heard my first wood thrush this spring when its song came through my loudspeaker. It was right on schedule! A moment later a robin sang and was interrupted by the calls of two Canada geese flying over. Sounds of crows could be heard in the distance. Although the windows were closed, the room was filled with song.

My microphone hangs just above the big platform feeder so small sounds by birds feeding there are easily heard. On another day, a female red-winged blackbird was picking up cracked corn there when she was disturbed by a blue jay arriving to feed and she had to step aside. She made a horrible squawk which was heard clearly.

A cardinal also uttered a harsh note of protest when it had to give way to the jay.

Even with the windows open, there are faint sounds that the unaided ear can not hear. Last summer a blue jay family was at the feeder. Over the speaker we heard these birds communicating with each other using some soft "murmering" sounds

One day a strange croaking sound on the speaker brought me to the window in time to see a great blue heron moving by at low altitude with slowly beating wings.

After dark, we have heard bull frogs, green frogs, spring peepers, crickets and owls. The microphone has certainly increased our enjoyment of the birds and other creatures near our home.

There is an on-off switch and a volume control on the box.

“Mother Nature’s Monitor” is the other model that is available today in stores. It is a wireless model. It is one of the older types. It has been available for perhaps 10 years. It has a weatherproof, plastic container that holds a microphone and a small FM radio transmitter that can be hung from a tree branch or a feeder. There is no wire connecting the microphone to the box. This device costs $40.00.

How do these two models compare?

The wireless model, "Mother Nature's Monitor", permits the microphone to be placed anywhere in the yard within a distance of 75 feet from the little box in the house. The sound is clear and distinct if there are no other electrical devices nearby.

This wireless model requires 4 C batteries in the microphone outside and 4 AA batteries in the box indoors. To save the batteries, it can be set to turn off automatically when it gets dark and to turn on when the light returns. It is imported from China and has a one year warranty.

This wireless model works best in country locations where there are no nearby TV towers, cell phone towers or power lines that can produce static or a roar.

A number of people near Auburn, NY have this model and find it satisfactory. This is a small town west of Syracuse. However, in locations close to Syracuse such as at my home it can not be used. There is a loud roar that almost drowns out the bird songs.

You should try it on each of the two channels and if at least one channel gives good reception, you can keep the unit. If you can't get good reception on either channel, the store mentioned below will take it back for a full refund.

The new wired model, "Nature's Window" is the first commercial unit to have a wire connecting the microphone to the amplifier and loud speaker in the house. It is more sensitive than the wireless type. Even for a distant bird it gives a clear and distinct sound with no static or hum.

It must be pointed out that such a sensitive microphone will pick up all the sounds outdoors. A chickadee once alighted on the microphone and began pecking it. What a noise that made!

When it is raining or the wind is blowing, you may wish to turn down the volume or shut it off. If there is a busy highway nearby, you will hear that too. An airplane going over or your neighbors lawnmower can be irritating.

One family near Auburn, NY had their unit on at night and overheard two prowlers who were near the microphone whispering outside about burglarizing the house. Police were called and the criminals were caught before they had done any harm.

Now, back to "Natures Window" where the microphone is connected by a wire. The wire with the microphone on the end is passed through an open window that is then closed gently over the wire.

The distance between the box indoors and the microphone is limited by the length of this wire which is about 6 feet. Thus the microphone picks up the sounds from a point just outside the house and brings them in clearly.

If you would like to have a longer wire for the microphone, for example, so that you can place the microphone close to a feeder, ask the store to order one with a "custom probe" that has a wire of the length you specify. It will be sent to the store in two days. The charge for the rewiring will be $1.50 for each extra foot.

I ordered mine with a 20 foot wire so the microphone could hang just above the feeder. I wanted the microphone to be able to pickup the faint sounds that birds make as they feed. It does a fine job of getting all the other natural sounds as well. There are no batteries needed since the box plugs into a nearby electrical outlet in the house.

It is manufactured by Lumatron, a small family business in Tennessee. It is hand made and has a lifetime warranty.

It was carefully designed by Theo Chamberlin. About 1970, when he first thought about making one, the electronic components needed to get the high quality he wanted were not available at affordable prices.

Eventually he was able to get the parts he needed and in 1999 his device finally appeared in stores where it costs $80.00.

It is an excellent product and does bring in the sounds clearly and it does just what it is supposed to do. It has a lifetime warranty. Chamberlin told me that so far over a thousand have been sold and not one has been returned.

Any store or individual can order the “Nature’s Window” and information about it as well as how to order is given on their web site: Click on the next line

"Nature's Window", the wired model, is available at the Wild Birds Unlimited store, 402 East Genesee St., Fayetteville, NY 13066, phone 315-637 0710.

It is also carried by other Wild Birds Unlimited stores around the United States. If the one nearest you does not have it, they can order it for you.

The wireless model, “Mother Nature’s Monitor” is available in Central New York at the Bird House store, 2148 State Route 326, Auburn NY 13021, Phone 315-252-1850.

Spring arrival dates & April Feeder Survey results


By Benjamin P. Burtt

The Topics: The Time Schedule for the Spring Migration During the Next two Weeks

The Results of the April Feeder Survey

CAPTION: The wood thrush should arrive this week. This beautiful singer is brown with a rusty head and large spots 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.,)

Incoming flights

It is time for the warblers to arrive. Also due this week are the least flycatcher, the great crested flycatcher and the kingbird.

The chimney swift and the catbird are due. The song of the wood thrush should be heard any day now. The white-crowned sparrow will start to pass through to the north. Also expected are the whip-poor-will, red-headed woodpecker and bobolink.

In about a week we expect the veery, Baltimore oriole, scarlet tanager, rose breasted grosbeak and hummingbird.

April Feeder Survey Results

During the first week of April 75 readers counted the birds visible at their feeder and in their yard. For comparison with results from earlier surveys, the numbers given in the discussion below are averaged as if exactly 100 reports came in.

The most abundant species at feeders and in yards were red-winged blackbirds and starlings. There were a bit over a 1000 of each. Next was the grackle, then the junco and cowbird. This is the time of the year when juncos that went south are moving back through this area to nest in southern Canada.

Birds at the typical feeder

Every feeder had mourning doves. Nearly all had chickadees, robins and juncos. About 85% of the reports included crow, cardinals, goldfinches, blue jays and starlings. Over two-thirds of the reports listed downy woodpeckers, red-wings, grackles and song sparrows.

Redpolls and tree sparrow were less abundant than in mid-winter for many have left for the north. The high counts of juncos and white-throated sparrows in April presumably were due to the northward movement of those that went further south.

The 5,395 goldfinches seen during the winter on the six surveys from November through April, was larger than in any winter since the feeder survey started 45 years ago. Normally, it is about 3000 each winter.

The winter tally of red-breasted nuthatches this winter was very high. It is large one year and small the next. They breed from Pennsylvania north to the limit of the trees. Those that breed in the very northern part of the range move southward in the winter and for that reason we see more in the winter than during the breeding season.

The winter numbers have been higher in alternate years since about 1989. Going back from this winter for example, the yearly totals were 343, 113, 349, 101, 353, 138 etc. Before 1989, the numbers were irregular and followed no pattern from one year to the next.

Strangely, the numbers of white-breasted nuthatches have gone up and down in the same way on the same years as have the red-breasted nuthatches.

Species reported by only one person

David Bigsby of Syracuse listed a broad-winged hawk. A loon and a goldeneye were tallied by Morgan Cooper in Spafford. The only great horned owl was heard by Dorothy Crumb of Jamesville. At Richland, James Lacelle spotted a hooded merganser.

A golden crowned kinglet and a Carolina Wren were spotted in Waterloo by Linda Quackenbush. Two snipe were seen in Cazenovia by Jeanne Ryan. She also reported that a neighbor, Polly Monz has had a Carolina wren all winter.
The only kingfisher was listed by Judy Thurber of Syracuse. Kathy and Scott Trefz of Perryville spotted a coot and a black-backed gull.

Nine double crested cormorants were sighted over a small pond near Matt Young's home south and east of DeRuyter. One early towhee was spotted at Cazenovia by Carol and Robert Standridge.

How many species were seen?

The average list had 20 species. The shortest list had two species and they were reported by Paul Keyson of Cato. Next were the eight species tallied by Helen Clark of Camillus and Linda Shuron of Solvay. Listing 10 species were David Bigsby of Syracuse, Charles Bruner of Brooktondale and G. R. Tegner of Marietta. Eleven were spotted by Matthew Broderick of Syracuse and Kathleen and David Zakri of Liverpool.

The longest list was once again turned in by Linda Quackenbush of Waterloo. She had 45! Matt Young and David Pardee tallied 40; Dorothy and Steve Hanzlik of Whitney Point listed 37 species.

Others long lists were36 from Kathy and Scott Trefz of Perryville.
34 from Lawrence Abrahamson of Marcellus.
33 from Jeanne Ryan of Cazenovia.
32 from Bill Purcell of Hastings
31 from James Lacelle of Richland and from Paul Radway of Pompey


Below is the list of all species reported. The first number for a species on the list is the number of individual birds of that species on 100 reports. The second number is the actual number of reports that listed that bird.

This list can be very useful to you. Suppose you identify a rusty blackbird in your yard. To find out if this is unusual at this time of year, find rusty blackbird in the list. There you see the numbers 9 (4) after the name. You conclude that Its pretty rare, since only 4 people spotted one!

Loon 1 (1); double-crested cormorant 9 (1); great blue heron 11 (9); turkey vulture 66 (30).

Geese and ducks: Snow goose 275 (2); Canada goose 672 (50);
wood duck 22 (6); black duck 2 (1); mallard 80 (27; goldeneye 1 (1); bufflehead 19 (3); hooded merganser 3 (1); common merganser 5 (2).

Hawks: northern harrier 6 (5); sharp-shinned 9 (8); Cooper's 9 (7); broad-winged 1 (1); red-tailed 38 (26); kestrel 10 (7).
Pheasant 3 (3); ruffed grouse 4 (3); turkey 123 (18); killdeer 11 (8); coot 5 (1); snipe 2 (1); woodcock 13 (5).

Gulls: ring-billed 678 (21); herring 120 (6); black-backed 5 (1); rock dove 118 (9); mourning dove 378 (100).
Horned owl 1 (1); kingfisher 1 (1).

Woodpeckers: red-headed 2 (1); red-bellied 56 (38); sapsucker 4 (4); downy 159 (74); hairy 81 (44); flicker 20 (18); pileated 13 (10).
Phoebe 29 (20); tree swallow 31 (9); blue jay 216 (78); crow 329 (84); raven 6 (2).

Chickadee 381 (95); titmouse 89 (50); red-breasted nuthatch 44 (26); white-breasted nuthatch 100 (62); brown creeper 9 (7); Carolina wren 1 (1); golden-crowned kinglet 4 (1).
Bluebird 38 (18); robin 447 (92); mockingbird 3 (3); cedar waxwing 145 (5); starling 1,025 (77).

Sparrows: tree 138 (47); chipping 10 (5); field 2 (2); fox 63 (27); song 198 (65); white-throated 95 (23); white-crowned 4 (4); junco 869 (89).
Cardinal 210 (84); red-winged blackbird 1,011 (74); meadowlark 36 (4); rusty blackbird 9 (4); grackle 920 (71); cowbird 600 (63); purple finch 38 (20); house finch 212 (63); redpoll 149 (23); siskin 50 (8); goldfinch 578 (83); evening grosbeak 23 (2); house sparrow 389 (54).

May Survey starts today

The last Feeder Survey of the season starts today and continues through Saturday. Record the largest number of each species you see at any one time during the week. Lots of reports are needed. Short lists are just as valuable as long ones.

At the end of the week, mail or e-mail the report to B.P. Burtt at the appropriate address on the home page.