I wouldn’t say that there had necessarily been a lull at the feeders, per se, during the warmer temperatures, but certainly activity was a bit decreased for those few days as birds found it easier to find their own food out in the woods. With the return of the snow yesterday, the feeders were back to normal, bustling with birds looking for easy food. Most of the birds blend in with one another, with no one individual really standing out. The species that we don’t get very many of, however, like the nuthatches, are more likely the same individual visiting frequently (in the case of the Red-breasted Nuthatches, we’re pretty sure there’s only two, and one has the black crown of the male, while the other is a female sporting her grayish crown, which makes it easy to tell them apart).
There are a couple of individuals that we banded a little earlier in the winter and who are continuing to come round to the feeders. One of them is this male Hairy Woodpecker. I haven’t noticed the banded female recently, but this male is a regular. Here he is proudly displaying his jewelry while he checks out the activity at the nyger feeders (he eventually left without trying the seed).
Another is this banded siskin, the only banded siskin that I’ve noticed still hanging around (though Dan indicated he thought there might be two). The others have most likely headed north already, given their fat levels when we caught them. Even the couple of banded redpolls I’d observed for the first little while after they were captured have now disappeared, leaving just this lonely individual still hanging out at the feeders. It can’t be that s/he’s having trouble finding enough food to put on the fat, because s/he dominates the feeders. Just as feisty as always, she (or he) reaches up to take a nip at an offending redpoll.
It’s been hanging-room-only at the feeders the last couple days, as the snow arrived and birds started scrambling for food. They’ve been plowing through the seed, easily going through half a tube’s worth over the course of a frenzied day. I wonder just how much food each bird actually ingests during all this squabbling. Obviously some will get more than others, but it seems like half their time is spent shooing others away, rather than just sitting and eating.
When not at the feeder, those birds that turn their beaks up at foraging on the ground will wait their turns on the surrounding branches. There’s easily just as many, or more, birds lined up along the twigs as there are on the feeder itself. I love the collection of little red caps and yellow beaks against the browns and grays of the winter landscape.
At one point something went overhead and all the birds at the feeder went stock-still, except for their heads which they rotated sideways to point an eye up at the sky. I’m not sure what it was they spotted – it could have been a hawk, after all we had that Sharpie around a little while ago. It could have been a raven soaring over, looking hawk-like in profile as it cruised overhead; certainly we’ve had plenty of those about during the winter. Possibly a Red-tailed Hawk, moving low overhead. I’ve seen one or two around over the course of the winter, though it would be unlikely they’d come down to the feeders. If we were closer to a flight path I might suggest it could even have been an airplane, but we hardly ever see them through here, and when we do it’s pretty easy to hear the engines as they pass by.
Our male Hoary that we spotted earlier in the winter has apparently hung about, and was active at the feeders the last couple of days. Either that, or it’s a different individual. Either way, he was a nice addition to the feeder crowd. He stood out from the rest, even though he didn’t look quite as pale as the one from earlier. Redpolls only have a single moult to replace their feathers, in the fall, rather than the two that most songbirds have. They acheive their breeding plumage through the gradual wearing-off of the pale feather tips over the course of the winter, exposing the rosy underneath. This process would also expose the brown on his back, probably an advantage during the breeding season when white isn’t as common a colour in the landscape, and would result in him looking paler earlier in the winter than now.
His pure-white undertail coverts and thin, sparse flank streaking were give-aways, as was the stubby bill when he turned his head. The other thing that jumped out about this individual was his gorgeous rosy breast on a fluffy white background. When he perched on the branches away from the feeder, it was easy to spot him, he had considerably more pink to his chest than the Commons did.
There are two subspecies of Hoary Redpoll. The one that most people probably think of, the stereotyped pale Hoary, is C.h. hornemanni, which has very reduced pink to the breast. It breeds in the Northwest Territories and winters from Michigan to Maryland. The other subspecies, C.h. exilipes, is a little more common, breding from Alaska to Labrador, and wintering right across the continent from Oregon to Maryland.
This latter subspecies isn’t as pale as the first, and, according to the “bander’s bible” which gives the moult details for every age and sex of every species, in the adult male exilipes “the pink of the underparts [is] deep, usually covering most of the breast.” Interestingly, that contradicts his statement later on in the species account where he says the “breast and rump with a light to moderate pink wash”. I just read this latter statement at first and was thoroughly confused about what appeared to be a heavily-marked Hoary, until I read the subspecies description.
This may be my last redpoll post; they’ll be departing soon, headed back to the shrubby tundra lowlands across northern Canada. We can probably expect to enjoy another couple of weeks of them gobbling nyger seed before they’re gone – at least till next winter.