Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Feeder Birds

I dropped by Bootstrap Analysis this morning and read an elegant and informative post about the American tree sparrow. A couple of hours later I stepped out the front door and saw my first American tree sparrow of the season! In her post Nuthatch writes that she expects to see this bird in Michigan soon. Looking at the map I guess that I am on the same latitude as the middle of the lower part of Michigan, so I expect she will.

I was surprised to see the bird because I had just been thinking that we are usually at least a little ways into the Feederwatch season (starts in November) before we start getting visits from this sparrow. But perhaps my feeling has more to do with the fact that the leaves on the Norway maple where the feeders hang are still green. Looking around to see if I could find out if American tree sparrows are turning up in southern Ontario in October I ended up at eBird. Going to "explore data" and plugging in my parameters I got to this page. I didn't entirely understand how to interpret the information, but it seems that one is unlikely to see a tree sparrow at all in the Great Lakes Region before October. Whether migrants are settling in southern Ontario now, or it's more likely the one I saw today was passing through I couldn't tell.

The tree sparrow didn't hang around, but as I stood out there I noticed that there was a great deal of activity in the yard. A chipmunk was loading its cheeks with fallen seeds under the feeders and taking them off to storage, coming back for more every few minutes. A kinglet was feeding in the snowball bush--is this bird settling in here, or is it a different bird each time, I wonder. Chickadees, so bold they almost flew into me a few times, were gathering seeds voraciously. A pair of purple finches turned up. Then a pair of red-breasted nuthatches (first I've seen at the feeders since spring--they breed in the area, but don't hang around the hamlet in summer), a pair of white-breasted nuthatches, the missing goldfinches, and the juncos came in. Once I was safely back in the house the blue jays resumed their visits.

Feederwatch is a Citizen Science project at the Ornithology Lab at Cornell. It's easy to do--just a matter of counting the birds that come to your feeder over two days every couple of weeks through the fall and winter (November to March), using a pretty straight-forward protocol to make the counts, and submitting data online or by mail. And not only do you contribute to knowledge of the wintering birds, but you learn things you might not have noticed about your own feeder birds, e.g., who really comes every winter (e.g., chickadees) and who just comes now and then (e.g., evening grosbeaks).

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