One of the most frequently asked questions I receive through the year is “Where are the birds?” Many who have bird feeders get concerned when there is a drop-off in feeding activity.
Well, I haven’t had that question in a while. In fact, the new question is, “When are these birds going to leave?” A few days prior to the bitter cold that gripped the Midwest, Northeast, and most of the eastern third of the country, pine siskins poured into our area and have been slow to depart. All across the state incredulous birders marveled at the sheer numbers of small finches that were devouring everything in sight. Counts of over 100 birds were not rare, and I got a couple of reports with estimates of 300 birds.
Such a flock of hungry birds can put a serious dent in a bird-feeding budget. They can go through 50 pounds of sunflower seed in a week. Pine siskins are nomadic, so they could depart soon. But they also could stay until early April. They like to go where the food is.
And as is often the case with large infusions of birds into an area, there are probably some rare birds along with the siskins. I received a photo of a common redpoll from a mountain county where the siskins also were in big numbers. There have also been some reports from along the coast. Redpolls are similar to siskins but are not as streaky and have a red cap on top of the head. Given the number of pine siskins in the area currently, I suspect there is a common redpoll or two somewhere close by.
As is also the case with late winter’s harsh weather, a number of folks have been seeing some unfamiliar feeder birds of late. Oriole reports have jumped in the last few weeks. Many folks are noticing colorful male pine warblers for the first time. Eastern towhees have impressed some watchers, and yellow-rumped warblers and ruby-crowned kinglets have moved into suet offerings.
Now is definitely the time to look for new bird visitors. As I mentioned before, there is likely a redpoll someone is enjoying, and maybe a western tanager or two somewhere. Keep a sharp eye open and let me know what you are seeing.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com. Check out his blog at piedmontbirding.blogspot.com