October Feeder Survey results & Where have all the male Goldfinches gone?


By Benjamin P. Burtt

TOPIC: The results of the feeder survey taken the first week in October, 2004
Question from a reader: Where are all the male goldfinches? I only have females at the feeder.

This column is divided into two sections here

SECTION 1 is a copy of the column that appeared in the post standard on October 31 and includes an introductory discussion of the results of the October Feeder Survey.

SECTION 2 continues the discussion of that Feeder Survey with the detailed summary, a complete list of species seen, unusual species as well as species that were more abundant or less abundant than usual in early October.


Notice: The November feeder survey starts next Sunday, November 7 and ends Saturday the 13th. Please watch whenever you can and keep a record of the number of birds of each species that you see each time. For each species, report the largest number you see at any one time during that week. For complete written instructions, visit this address on the web


or write to ask for a free printed copy.

At the end of the week, put your list on a postcard or in a letter or in an email and send it to B.P. Burtt via email at features@syracuse.com or by regular mail c/o Stars, P.0. Box 4915, Syracuse, N.Y. 13221.

A readers questionMr. Burtt: I have lots of goldfinches at my feeder, but all of them are females. Where are the males? –R.S., Cazenovia, NY.

Dear R.S.: the males look almost exactly like females in the winter. So some of your birds were probably males. See the illustration.

CAPTION: The goldfinch was the most abundant bird at feeders during the first week of October. They have several plumages. The female is shown on the right. The male in winter is on the left. It does have a remnant of a yellow shoulder patch and a whitish rump, but otherwise it resembles the female. The bird in the middle is the male goldfinch in summer. This painting is from Peterson's "Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America", (Courtesy of the Houghton Mifflin Co. )

The October Feeder Survey Results

Readers counted the birds in their yard several times each day during the first week of October. At the end of the week, they sent me a list showing for each species the largest number they saw at any one time during that week. For example, if a person saw 20 chickadees during the week, but never more than 4 at one time, then 4 was put on the list.

This survey showed that during the first week of October, there were more goldfinches at feeders than any other bird. It was also the largest October count of goldfinches in the 46 years I have been conducting the feeder survey.

SECTION 2 Here are additional details of the October survey that were not in the published column.

During the first week of October 74 readers recorded the number of birds of each species that were seen at their feeder or that were visible from the yard.

Sixty nine fairly common species were seen. By "fairly common" I mean that each species was seen by two or more people. In addition to these 69 fairly common birds, 19 others were each reported by only one person. So the total was 88 species.

The most abundant species

As usual in October, the Canada goose was the most abundant bird with 5,645 per 100 reports. Next, right at feeders came the goldfinch with 993. There were 983 starlings, 517 grackles, 476 mourning doves and 426 house sparrows. Next came 375 chickadees, 368 crows, 322 blue jays, 216 house finches, 213 rock doves and 104 titmice. This was the largest October tally for titmice in 44 years.

CAPTION: this is a plot of the October feeder survey results for the tufted titmouse from 1960 to 2004 in Central New York.. Each bar shows the number of titmice for every 100 feeders in October for that year.

The tufted titmouse is a southern bird, that first nested in New York on Staten Island in 1914. Then it moved into the New York City area and the lower Hudson Valley. My records show that it first showed up in Central New York in Manlius in 1960. As shown in the graph the population gradually increased as these birds moved northward. This year we tallied 104. This topped last years record count of 90.

How widespread is it? At present , 48% of the feeders in Central New York have titmice.

These illustrations show how the feeder survey has provided valuable and interesting information over the years.

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

Ninety-nine out of 100 people had chickadees. Ninety-four percent had goldfinches. Other species were blue jay on 92% of the reports, Mourning dove 90%, crow 80%, cardinal 74%, white-breasted nuthatch 71%, downy woodpecker 67% and house finch 50%.


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 yard. Most of the reports had between 10 and 15 species.

You can compare your list of birds to the average feeder on the survey. Did you have 4 chickadees as did the average person? Are some common species missing from your list? Do you have a species that hardly anyone else reported?

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 observations of Norma Griffin's fourth grade class at the New Haven Elementary School. In October, they saw 2 mourning doves, and 21 goldfinches.

Also listing 2 species were Beatrice Grainger at Morrisville and the Sampson family at Cazenovia. Listing 5 species were Lawrence Daley of Cazenovia and Joanne Sant of Baldwinsville. At Dryden, Marsha Smith listed 6. Tallying 7 species were Dorothy Coye at Skaneateles and Dawn Franits in Syracuse.

The longest list of 44 species was turned in by Linda Quackenbush of Waterloo. Tallying 39 were Paul Radway near Pompey and Ken Zoller of West Winfield. Bill Purcell of Hastings reported 33 species.


As mentioned above there were 19 species each reported by only one person. Some of these are hard to identify and others do not come to feeders so they are not often seen near the house .

Four species of warblers were still around. The only people to report a fox sparrow were William and Mary Fais of New Woodstock. Nils Tegner saw a hummingbird on October 3 in Liverpool. Most leave in late September, but there are always a few sightings up to October 10. Now and then one stays later.

There was one report of two redpolls down from the north. The earliest record is October 16 so this could be a new early date.

There were just a few reports of tree sparrows from the north and this is normal for October. They usually do not show up in good numbers until December. The white-crowned sparrow is erratic and this year the numbers are a bit low.


Below is a list of all the species reported. The first figure is the number of birds spotted 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 993 seen by 94 people. 993 divided by 94 is about 10. So that means the average person had about 10 of them in sight at once. How many goldfinches did you have?

Here is the entire list:
Great blue heron 11 (10); turkey vulture 78 (28).

Ducks and geese: Canada goose 5,645 (49); wood duck 21 (1); mallard 22 (6); common merganser 4 (2).

Hawks: harrier 4 (4); sharp-shinned 5 (5); Coopers 5 (4); red-tailed 11 (10); kestrel 4 (4); merlin 2 (2).

Pheasant 3 (3); ruffed grouse 5 (3); turkey 86 (10); killdeer 7 (3); snipe 1 (1); woodcock 1 (1).

Gulls: ring-billed 402 (17); herring 217 (2); rock dove 213 (24); mourning dove 476 (90); screech owl 5 (4); horned owl 1 (1); barred owl 1 (1); hummingbird 1 (1); kingfisher 2 (2).

Woodpeckers: red-bellied 10 (9); sapsucker 9 (6); downy 118 (67); hairy 55 (39); flicker 8 (8); pileated 4 (4); pewee 2 (2); phoebe 24 (17); horned lark 5 (1); tree-swallow 10 (1).

Blue jay 322 (92); crow 368 (80); raven 5 (3); chickadee 375 (99); titmouse 104 (48); red-breasted nuthatch 36 (25); white-breasted nuthatch 118 (71); brown creeper 5 (4); Carolina wren 4 (4); house wren 4 (3); winter wren 1 (1).

Golden-crowned kinglet 13 (3); ruby-crowned kinglet 10 (4); bluebird 39 (6); hermit thrush 1 (1); robin 160 (34); catbird 7 (7); mockingbird 1 (1); brown thrasher 2 (2); starling 983 (28); cedar waxwing 32 (5); blue headed vireo 1 (1).

Warblers: Tennessee 1 (1); Nashville 2 (2); magnolia 1 (1); black-throated blue 1 (1); yellow-rumped 12 (4); black-throated green 3 (3); palm 3 (1); yellow throat 3 (2).

Towhee 6 (5); cardinal 165 (74).

Sparrows: tree sparrow 8 (4); chipping 64 (21); field 6 (5); savannah 9 (3); fox 1 (1); song 77 (31); swamp 3 (2); white-throated 106 (20); white-crowned 46 (15); junco 49 (25).

Red-winged blackbirds 211 (10); grackle 517 (18); cowbird 5 (2).

Purple finch 12 (6); house finch 216 (50); redpoll 2 (1); pine siskin 3 (2); goldfinch 993 (94); house sparrow 426 (38).