Sunday, February 24, 2019

Common Merganser

Due to this Common Merganser’s barred sides and white wing patch, I believe this bird may be a male in basic (winter) plumage. On the other hand, I think by this time of year, mergansers should sport breeding plumage. This duck is, regardless of its sex, my first spring migrant. A pair appeared at a local Northfield pond on 22 February 2019. The birds shared a very small patch of open water with at least 55 Mallards. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

Northern Flicker

This Northern Flicker visited our suet feeder on 20 February 2019, as snow fall exceeded a record-breaking 32 inches for the month. Most flickers flee Minnesota winters, but a few spend the season here—especially if suet feeders are available. This individual is an eastern, yellow-shafted, bird. Further west, flickers have red flight feather shafts. Most American ornithologists now consider the two populations to be distinct species, despite hybridization in the western Great Plains. European scientists, however, argue that enough genetic, behavioral, and plumage differences warrant treating them as separate species.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Northern Cardinal

Erika and I made a dash up to the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum on 16 February. Their bird feeders were busy, and included this male Northern Cardinal. The church seems over represented among bird common names. Bird and religious cardinals share bright red plumages. Other church members include prothonotaries, nuns (nunbirds and nunlets), and bishops. Can you think of others? Preacher bird, an old name for Red-eyed Vireo, comes to mind.

Monday, February 18, 2019

American Tree Sparrow

Strolling at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum last Saturday, Erika and I spied two small birds feeding on the snow-covered ground. American Tree Sparrows breed across arctic North America and winter in much of the northern United States. Naugler et al. (2017) point out that “tree sparrow” is somewhat of a misnomer, since the species often breeds north of the treeline. This source also reports on surprising genetic studies. American Tree Sparrows appear somewhat similar to Chipping Sparrows, and used to be classified in the same genus, Spizella. Apparently, despite looking quite different, tree sparrows are most closely related to Fox Sparrows. Ornithologists now place tree sparrows in a single-species genus, Spizelloides.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Common Redpoll

A friend, Penny H., called from the Northfield United Way. She had a flock of 25 Common Redpolls feeding in a few birch trees outside her office. Despite a fierce, but short, blizzard, I rushed over and took these photographs. During alternate years, redpolls flee their arctic breeding grounds due to spruce and birch seed crop failures. Males are similar to the brown and white females until the males enter their third year, when they molt into their bright red breast plumage. Both sexes sport red crowns.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Juncos are the beneficiaries of the messy seed eaters at our bird feeders. Juncos are hardy birds, wintering across almost all of the United States and southern Canada. They breed across much of the northern US, north into much of Canada and Alaska, south through the Rocky and Appalachian mountains.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskins perform a valuable service at our bird feeders. The many squirrels in the area keep the snow below the feeders cleaned out of bird seed. Siskins are messy eaters, often dropping seeds. I guess that is what happens when you eat with your mouth full. The result is plenty of seed for the ground-feeders below.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

House Finch

House Finches can be difficult to identify for beginning birders. Three field marks point to this bird being a House Finch: 1) the head is relatively plain, lacking a distinct white stripe from the bill, over the eye, and across the head; 2) the upper mandible is distinctly curved; 3) the wing tips do not project very far along the tail. This individual is relatively heavily streaked below, which leads me to think it may be a first-year male. Although most male house finches molt into a distinctly reddish plumage, some first -year males remain very similar to adult females. I suspect the reddish tinge of some of the wing feathers may also indicate this bird is a male. I took the first photograph on 1 February 2019; the second image is of a more typical male for this time of year on 4 February. Both are at our feeders in Northfield.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Black-capped Chickadee 2

A couple of days ago I wrote about identifying Black-capped and Carolina chickadees. The task is often difficult. Another field mark is the relatively ragged throat patch on a Black-capped Chickadee. Carolina’s have a much sharper line between the black of the throat and the rest of their white underparts. This photo is of one of several birds that discovered suet crumbs below the feeders on 4 February 2019.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Red-breasted Nuthatch

I think I’ve mentioned recently that this winter has been a Red-breasted Nuthatch flight year. Usually a few of these nuthatches appear in the fall, disappear, then are seen again in spring. Other years we don’t see them at all. Red-breasted and White-breasted nuthatches are clearly closely related, often feeding “upside-down” in typical nuthatch fashion. More interesting, perhaps, are genetic studies that suggest Red-breasted Nuthatches are even more closely related to a number of Old World nuthatch species.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Black-capped Chickadee

Today, 31 January 2019, the temperature skyrocketed to -3 degrees. Still a cold day, judging by this fluffed up Black-capped Chickadee. Ornithologists determined that chickadees can withstand temperatures down to -80. All month I have tried to photograph chickadees in my attempt to gather images of all the species I see this year. But, although common, chickadees flit away from the feeder too fast for my camera fumbling. One way to tell Black-capped from Carolina chickadees is by the Black-capped’s white-edged secondary feathers. These feathers are dull gray in Carolinas. I am, nevertheless, always glad that Carolina Chickadees do not venture north into Minnesota.