It’s getting ready to be seriously cold. Our local birds will be able to handle the weather just fine, but unusually cold weather will likely bring the birds to feeders in droves. It adds a little short-term stress to their winter lives. This is an opportunity to see some unusual species that normally will be foraging in the woods and brush nearby. If we get a bit of winter precipitation mixed in, the activity will be even more intense.
I have already gotten reports of some noteworthy things happening at feeders. In one of the more unusual area occurrences in recent memory, a yellow-breasted chat has been coming to feeders and showing winter territorial behavior by pecking at the host’s windows. This is unusual in a couple of ways.
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First, there are very, very few winter records of chats in the Piedmont. Coastal birders may encounter one very rarely in early winter, but reports from the Piedmont are almost unheard of. I have seen winter chats only three times, all coastal. There is one record from the Southern Lake Norman Christmas Bird Count from almost 15 years ago. This bird was counted on last week’s Charlotte Christmas Count for a first count record.
Second, chats have a reputation for being skulkers. Males may sing from exposed perches at times, but most of a chat’s time is spent in dense brushy thickets with a healthy amount of blackberry canes. As a rule, they prefer to stay hidden – which is too bad, because they are are extremely attractive birds.
The fact that this bird is exhibiting outgoing behavior, even aggressive, by pecking on windows is amazing to me. I suppose it illustrates that the procurement of food trumps the natural inclination to stay hidden.
By the way, it seems to be fond of suet cakes, grapes and chopped peanut bits. You might want to try adding these items to your winter feeder offerings. I’m going to say you almost assuredly won’t attract a chat of your own, but you very well could bring in something you haven’t noted before. And don’t forget to include water. Most of the natural water that songbirds depend on will be frozen for a few days.
As always, let me know what new birds are showing up at your feeders.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.