Thom Smith: Winter birdfeeder populations in flux


Q: There has been only a single blue jay at our feeder this winter. There is usually a squadron of them.

The cardinals have come in large groups, as many as seven at a time. The turkeys that number 40-plus have not as yet taken over. They have arrived only as a small group of half a dozen.

Have others noted a change in their feeder population?


A: Feeder-population changes are almost as common as changes in Berkshire weather. As alluded to in a recent Naturewatch, hummingbirds have been reported at sugar-water feeders in December, and, equally exciting if not more so, a pine warbler has been visiting a bird feeder in Williamstown, eating suet, mealworms, and seeds.

This small songbird is normally a migrant and, less common, a breeding bird in pine woods in the valley. It has been known to arrive as early as March 10, while the last (fall migrants) depart by the end of October.

There are December and January reports farther east.

In addition to expected species such as the house finch, goldfinch, tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadee, and white-breasted nuthatch, we may sometimes have a red-breasted nuthatch, or purple finch this time of year. While we may be content having a cardinal or two at the feeder, sometimes many more take advantage of the plentiful food -- as many as two dozen have been reported at one feeding "station."

While some of us are excited to see winter flocks of eastern bluebirds and American robins, they too have been seen at feeders. Bluebirds are especially attracted to mealworms, now available freeze dried!

As for blue jays, many are migrant and often are uncommon or absent, especially in Central and Northern Berkshire during the winter.

It is probably more the norm to see a few during the harshest months.

During the latest local Berkshire County Christmas Bird Counts, 138 blue jays were counted in Southern Berkshire, while in Central Berkshire, 53 were counted and
in Northern Berkshire, 54 were counted.

And there are "irruptions," when birds of the far north, lacking adequate food supplies, head south. This winter, visitors from the north include the pine siskin, common redpoll, pine grosbeak, tree sparrow, and snow bunting, the latter probably not at feeders.

One final note: The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife may frown on intentionally feeding native game species, i.e., the wild turkey.

BALD EAGLE SURVEY: After more than 30 years of conducting a midwinter bald eagle survey in January, the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) will be shifting to a survey of breeding eagles in the early spring. The Breeding Eagle Count will be similar to the Midwinter Eagle Survey.

A certain survey period will be chosen, allowing people to report eagle sightings and a specific count date for a more concerted effort will be chosen sometime in late March before the leaves begin to grow on trees.

There will also be a survey period for people to report eagle sightings similar to the survey period for the midwinter count.

When the details have been finalized, an announcement will be issued through the MassWildlife eNewsletter and posted on the agency website, and I'll pass the information along.

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email


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