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Frigid temperatures bring birds from the woods to feeders

The arctic blast that came into the area last week brought overnight changes to the birds that could be found locally and throughout the state.

Prior to the weather change, the generally mild and benign conditions had resulted in many birds lingering farther north or west than usual. Blue-gray gnatcatchers, a species I have seen but three times in Mecklenburg County in the winter, were found on two local Christmas Counts. The same goes for black and white warblers, found on two local counts. Two common yellowthroats and a blue-headed vireo were found on the Lake Norman Count. Waterfowl numbers had been pretty low, too, with no really rare ducks showing up.

At the state level, no rarities significant enough to mention were reported. Usually by this time there are some nice birds to chase at the eastern refuges.

That all changed by Jan. 8. Brutally cold and nasty weather to our north pushed birds into the Southeast. Local 8-degree temperatures flushed birds out of the frozen shallow marshes to more open environs. Birders checking Lake Davidson found three common mergansers, a pretty rare northern duck around here. With them were canvasback, greater scaup, American black duck, and more than 200 mallards. A white-winged scoter was found on Lake Norman, and I received a report of more gulls than usual on Mountain Island Lake.

The sights were not limited to water birds. Several feeder watchers reported Baltimore orioles for the first time this season. I haven’t seen any of those lingering small land birds either since the cold arrived. I’ll bet many of you noticed more visitors at your feeders. Unusual cold or winter precipitation drives birds from the woods to the feeders.

Even birders out in the field noticed changes. The numbers of reported rarities increased as birds moved around searching for food, water and warmth.

So keep an eye open for new and unusual arrivals at feeders. Refresh your hummingbird feeders even if you haven’t seen any of those birds. And most importantly, remember to provide water for all birds in temperatures well below freezing.