Sunday, March 31, 2019

Spotted Towhee

The first bird at our newly setup feeders—a Spotted Towhee—28 March 2019. I recently blogged a bit more on this species. By the next day we had nine species frequenting our backyard. The speed at which local birds discovered the feeder is reassuring. Getting used to local towhee calls will be difficult. Here they sing a simple trill, unlike the more complex calls of birds further east. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

Eurasian Wigeon

Yesterday, 28 March 2019, we took a day off from setting up house in Olympia. We took a short stroll at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, only a ten mile drive. We found a single Eurasian Wigeon feeding in tall marsh grass about a quarter mile from us. Hurray for a 3000 mm lens and to Erika’s volunteering to be a human tripod. Unlike American Wigeons, this duck has a chestnut head and a large, cream-colored crown.

When we visited Olympia last December, we unsuccessfully searched for Eurasian Wigeons. They are common across the Old World. Eurasian Wigeons appear along the North American coasts and individuals stray to almost every US state. They are, however, not known to breed in the New World—our Eurasian Wigeons probably breed in Siberia or Iceland. The oldest Eurasian Wigeon, however, was banded in California and recovered over ten years later, also in California (Allaboutbirds). Although I listed the species in Europe, this sighting is my first in this hemisphere.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Crow vs Raven

24 March 2019 found us in Missoula, Montana. Although we enjoyed decent weather and road conditions, March proved to be a poor month for birding. We did enjoy seeing Common Ravens and American Crows in Missoula. The two species are fairly easy to identify. Crows are smaller than ravens. Note the much more massive bill of the raven in the second photo. Crows have square-ended tails, whereas a raven’s tail is wedge-shaped—long at the center but with short outer tail feathers. Finally, the calls are quite different—“caws” from crows, “croaks” from ravens.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Bighorn Mountains

Our westward journey continues. Today Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains appeared on the horizon. Fortunately our highway went around the range rather than over them.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Northern Cardinal

As we left our Northfield home, a Northern Cardinal sang an incessant “I’m a pretty birdie birdie.” Oddly, this male did not show much of a crest. Perhaps few competitors elicited a more showy display. With this serenade we packed our belongings, cleaned the house, and moved to a local hotel. Tomorrow we begin our trek west to Olympia, 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Northern Cardinal

Even our neighbors see more cardinals than do we. A record number for us on 14 March was a male and four females—this bird is one of the females. I suspect cardinals prefer more bus=y habitat than we offer. I am surprised by her ragged tail. Perhaps all the snow of the past month has forced cardinals to feed more heavily on the ground, with resulting tail feather wear. This is just an hypothesis, since I lack supporting data. In any case, Northern Cardinals do not migrate. Although young birds tend to randomly disperse after fledging, no banded breeding bird has ever been recovered at a great distance the following winter (Halkin and Linville 1999).

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Hairy Woodpecker

A pair of Hairy Woodpeckers regularly visit our suet feeders. The male and female make separate feeding trips. On 14 March 2019, two females appeared in the backyard. The one in focus on the left side of the tree in this photo was clearly dominant, perhaps the territory owner. The dominant bird chased the new-comer from tree to tree. The other woodpecker often flew to the backside of trees.

This behavior may be part of the Hairy Woodpecker “Bill-waving Dance Display, “ which includes jerky body movements and bill waving. The birds often stop, mid-display, with bills pointed up—perhaps preparing to attack or for defense. Since the bird on the right in the photo appeared not to be the dominant individual, its upward pointing bill may be a defensive posture. This display is often seen between Hairy Woodpeckers and also during encounters with other species that are nesting site competitors (Jackson et al. 2018).

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinches have been around our neighborhood all winter—just not at our feeder until 9 and 10 March. Then two appeared. Although both are in their drab, basic plumage, goldfinch gender can be discerned by their wing color. Note the jet-black color on the wing of the male in the first photo. Compare the dusky black, almost slaty wing on the female’s wing in the second image. In the late spring, of course, the striking yellow and black male plumage is obvious. At this time of year, relative brightness of males and females varies quire a bit. Any time of year, however, you can rely on wing color to tell goldfinch gender. The crest on this goldfinch is odd. I have never noticed a crested goldfinch. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Pine Siskin

Although not daily, a small flock of Pine Siskins has become regular at our feeders. Years ago in South Dakota, siskins were among my most banded birds. Even then, individual banded birds visited my feeders only irregularly. This cycle led me to hypothesize that groups of siskins roamed about town, perhaps trying to keep one step ahead of various predators such as hawks or shrikes.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Black-capped Chickadee

Perhaps not surprisingly, even the Black-capped Chickadees are up to their shoulders in snow. We enjoyed over 30 inches of snow in February and March greeted us with about 4 more inches. The temperature this morning, 3 March 2019, was a balmy -15 F, with a -30 degree wind chill. This chickadee made a trail through the snow while the bird searched for seeds spilled from the feeder.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Red-bellied Woodpecker

This past month proved to be the snowiest February in Minnesota history. Repeated snow storms made birding difficult. A steady stream of regular species, including this male Red-bellied Woodpecker, did visit the suet feeder. These woodpeckers are habitat and food generalists. Unlike others, Red-bellied Woodpeckers seldom excavates for insects. They search for insects by other methods, and also consume fruit, seeds, and even small vertebrates. They are less likely than other woodpecker species to cache food (Miller et al. 2019).