WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley Feeder Watch

I have been getting mixed reports this month on the number of birds people are seeing at their feeders.  Laura Erickson, birder extraordinaire up in Duluth reports far fewer birds than in year’s past.  Others have echoed her reports.  Here in Willow River we have had plentiful blue jays and chickadees, while just north of us near Barnum Ruth Pfaller reports almost no blue jays.  Joyce in Askov reports good numbers of woodpeckers and cardinals, the latter of which is not on our list of visitors.  We have not seen a single purple finch, pine siskin, or common redpoll.  One can’t help wondering “Where are these birds?” 
In an exceptionally cold winter, such as this one, we would expect to see an irruption of species from the far north. It has already pushed the snowy owls south in what is considered to be one of the biggest invasion in decades. Apparently the lemming population was so large this past summer that the owls were super productive and many of the birds that have come south are this year’s young and they were not starving when they arrived.  My Facebook page each day has photos by some great Minnesota photographers of these gorgeous white birds. There is a new research effort that has coalesced because of this unusually large invasion.  It’s called Project SNOWstorm and I encourage you to go to their website of the same name to learn more about what is happening.  They have captured some of the birds and attached GPS transmitters thereby letting the scientists and the interested public get a chance to follow their movements.  We still haven’t seen one in person, but winter is far from over, so we will keep our hopes up.   
But where are those other songbirds?  The Pine County Christmas Bird Count which was held on December 27th had some interesting results.  We were not able to participate, but our friend Ruth Pfaller did and sent us the data. They did not see one pine grosbeak or common redpoll, whereas last year they counted 214 and 630 respectively! We know birds move around depending on season and food supply and like the owls and lemmings, maybe it was also a bumper crop year for the seeds the finches and redpolls depend upon.  The Count also showed significantly lower numbers of rock pigeons, European starlings and house sparrows – all non-native species that have often displace our native species. 

We are participating in FeederWatch and every week we count and report on the birds that come to our feeders over 2 days.  I wish more people participated in this Citizen Science project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, but there is another opportunity coming up in February to add a bit more data to the overall understanding of our bird populations. It’s called the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) and it happens from February 14th  through the 17th.  All over the world people will record the birds they see, not only in their backyards, but wherever they choose to count – this could be in nearby parks or along country roads. The important thing is to record where, what species and how many were seen to the GBBC website and the world will have a better understanding of what is happening with birds this winter.  It only requires as little as 15 minutes of your time, or longer if you wish to count each of the four days. And it’s free.  The GBBC website ( has lots of interesting information about last year’s count which should inspire you to add  your own observations.  I hope you will consider participating.  I will remind you again two weeks from now.

In the meantime keep your eyes open for those flashes of movement and color outside your windows.  You just never know for sure what you might see.


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