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 (