Thursday, January 31, 2019

Hairy Woodpecker -28 Degrees

-28 degrees Fahrenheit this morning, 30 January 2019, in Northfield, Minnesota. This Hairy Woodpecker might appear to be suffering, but probably not. Small birds have a number of adaptations to extreme cold. They often fluff their feathers to trap body heat and can also practice regulated hypothermia, thereby surviving drops of 15% of their normal body temperature. Woodpeckers cache food supplies for mornings like these. Some food-caching birds can increase their brain size in the winter, thereby increasing their memory of the locations of cached food. Dr. David Swanson, who studies cold tolerance in birds at the University of South Dakota, wrote me that almost all small birds show increases in maximum capacity for heat production in winter compared to summer.

This bird appears to be cleaning its bill against the tree bark, perhaps after caching a bit of suet from our bird feeder. Its closed eye may be just blinking or may be closed to avoid hitting the tree trunk. I don’t think that the eye is injured.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

American Goldfinch

Between the rigors of house-showing and cold weather, I have not ventured out much this January. The feeder birds at home are scarce. I took this image of an American Goldfinch ten days ago in nearby Washington County. The jet-black wings indicate this bird is a male. The lack of bright yellow on the shoulders is typical of males during their first winter. These males will become bright yellow this summer but will retain golden shoulders through the remainder of their lives, even as the rest of their plumage becomes drab during their second winter.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Black Duck

On 17 January 2019, I visited the Superior Ave Pond here in Northfield. To my surprise, a bit of open water still remains. Mostly I listed a mountain of Canada Geese, perhaps 500. Among them loafed a large number of Mallards. I searched the melee for American Black Ducks. I was delighted to find a few.
Black Ducks differ from female Mallards in a number of respects. The throat of a Black Duck is grayish and streaked. The throat also contrasts markedly from the dark breast. Furthermore, its olive bill is relatively unmarked, unlike a Mallard's yellowish, splotchy bill. You can see the difference in the third photo. (A male Mallard has a clear, yellowish bill, like the one in the forth picrture.) American Black Ducks are interesting birds, as I have previously posted.
Two white, domestic ducks swam among the geese and Mallards. Almost all domestic ducks are derived from Mallards. Feral populations of domestic ducks are a relatively common encounter. White birds often breed back with wild ones. Although often free flying like the birds I found, domestic ducks can not be included on birders’ checklists. There are rules about GMOs, you know.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Siskin and Bluebird

Erika and I took a stroll at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in nearby Carver County on 11 January. We saw a number of new birds for our year list, including this male House Sparrow. These birds are introduced to America and obnoxiously common. One of the adbantages of keeping a yearly list is our delight of seeing a House Sparrow, adding to the list, and even photographing it.
Two other birds we saw were flagged as less often seen species. This tag just means that the birds occur less frequently than others on regional eBird reports. The Pine Siskin can be super abundant at feeders, but they tend to be sporadic. Bluebirds winter in our neck of the woods. Although they are not unheard of even further north, Central Minnesota is about the limit of their northern range. They are not common, but can be seen every winter.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Erika and I visited the Carpenter Nature Center in Washington Co., Minnesota, on 10 January 2019. A passerby pointed out a Sharp-shinned Hawk eating a pigeon on the forest floor. The pigeon was killed in the morning, and the hawk returned for a second course when we saw it in the afternoon. The nature center must not have been too pleased, since the kill was only a few feet from a pigeon coop. Sharp-shinned Hawks are bird specialists, although they usually take smaller prey than pigeons. During the breeding season, they often augment their diet with small mammals. This hawk seems to be a first-year female.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Trumpeter Swan

On Thursday, 10 January, Erika and I took a quick drive to the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers. Since this area is usually not frozen, many waterfowl can often be seen there. Not so on this trip. We found only a few Canada Geese and 11 Trumpeter Swans. Swans will attempt to brace Minnesota winters in ice-free areas. Young swans, like the dusky one in this photo, usually remain near their parents through their first winter. The species was hunted almost to extinction in the Lower 48 states. Habitat loss also played a role in the swan’s decline. Apparently Trumpeter Swans depended on beaver houses as nesting platforms. Breeding stock was obtained from multiple sources and, during the late 1900s, released in Minnesota. Now the wild population exceeds 2000 birds

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

White-breasted Nuthatch

My year list is now at 21 species and this White-breasted Nuthatch is the 11th species photographed. This year will probably not be a banner one for my bird-list. Our attention is diverted by the stress of relocating to Olympia. But still I have an eye on the bird-feeder. Nuthatches are among my most frequently seen birds, so I was glad to add it to my 2019 image list. Note that this bird is an old friend. He is banded on his left leg. Not enough numbers are visible to tell when he was banded, but a left-footed band is evidence that he is one of my birds.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Brown Creeper

Brown Creepers, like this one on 2 January 2019, are usually hard to photograph. They are small and constantly move about trees. They spiral up the trunks, then fly to the base on another tree to continue their upward spiral. They search for small arthropods, arthropod eggs, and larvae. Creepers are also fond of feeder suet cached by nuthatches and woodpeckers. Although creepers occasionally feed on the ground under the suet feeder, I am not sure I have ever seen one on the feeder.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Pine Siskin

Six more Pine Siskins eventually joined this one at our feeder on 2 Jan 2019. Siskins have been sporadic at our feeder this winter. As I have written previously in this blog, siskin numbers tend to fluctuate from year to year. Even during invasion years, siskins may be common at one feeder in town, but absent from others. Although usually thought of as being drab, brown-striped birds, at close range, you can see their exquisite gold-gilded flight-feathers.

Friday, January 4, 2019

New Year Woodpeckers

Two woodpeckers that I had not seen much of during December 2018 obligingly put appearances in to our feeder to be counted on our year bird-list on 2 Jan 2019. I have occasionally heard the Red-bellied Woodpecker this winter, but this visit was his first to the feeder. Erika maintains this woodpecker is poorly named, although its belly does have a reddish stain. The Pileated Woodpecker in the bottom image foraged much further away. The bird pounded on its tree trunk perch, stopping occasionally to preen. Pileated Woodpeckers are not unusual in our woodland, and the surprise is how infrequently I have recorded them this winter.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Cold Ducks

Despite the miserable weather, my 2019 bird list hit 11 species on the first day of the year. Our daily high temperature was 11 degrees F at 12:01 AM, fell to 1 degree by sunrise, and rose to 9 by noon. To have escaped icing over, the Superior Ave Pond in Northfield must be both deep and spring-fed. I only saw nine very chilly Mallards and a continuing female Ruddy Duck. Yesterday’s goldeneye and large Canada Goose flock were nowhere to be seen.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Sharp-shinned Hawk

This Sharp-shinned Hawk is my last bird of 2018. I found it surveying waterfowl on a local lake from a Northfield rooftop. This urban habitat is somewhat atypical for this forest-inhabiting species. Cooper’s Hawks are usually found such urban locals. But this bird is smaller than a Cooper’s. Furthermore, this bird’s dark cap continues down its nape, giving the head a more rounded, less boxy shape. Finally, the tail appears to be relatively square-ended, unlike a Cooper’s Hawk’s more rounded tail.

2019 resets the yearly bird list. I contemplated trying to photograph each species I listed in the upcoming year and presenting them on this blog. The logistics of such an effort make it unlikely, however, since many of the birds I find are distant or uncooperative. Meanwhile new adventures have presented themselves as Erika and I made the relatively sudden decision to leave Northfield for Olympia, Washington. Anyone interested in a Minnesota house with a bird-list of 132 species?