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NATURE NOTES

Welcoming the birds of winter in Northumberland County

By Elizabeth Kellogg, For Northumberland Today

Roblonsberryphotography.comA Dark-eyed Junco is photographed in snow. As fall turns to winter, birders will be surprised by the species that appear in Northumberland County.

Roblonsberryphotography.comA Dark-eyed Junco is photographed in snow. As fall turns to winter, birders will be surprised by the species that appear in Northumberland County.

Sometime during the week of Nov. 11, you will find me, on two consecutive days, in the rocking chair in my living room that overlooks the garden and my bird feeders. I will be counting the number of birds of each species that visit my feeder.

I know that more than 20,000 people throughout Canada and the continental U.S. will also be counting birds. We are all participating in Project FeederWatch, which this year runs from Nov. 11, 2017 to April 13, 2018. This is a winter bird survey using an army of volunteers, called Citizen Scientists, to collect data in a systemic way.

What surprises might this winter bring? Just last winter, for the first time in 20 years, a Northern Flicker was a regular at our feeder. Most flickers migrate out of southern Ontario in winter, so this was a treat.

One year, a Chipping Sparrow spent most of the winter at the feeder, until some time in April, there were two Chipping Sparrows.

For a number of years, a female Pileated Woodpecker visited our peanut feeder.

My peanut feeder has sometimes been visited by a Carolina Wren. This species is at the north edge of its range in Northumberland. There are often a few White-throated sparrows that come and go and feed with the Slate-colored Juncos.

Sometimes there are large numbers of one species. When northern finches such as Pine Siskin and Common Redpoll irrupt south, they may mob the feeder and niger seed will disappear before one's eyes.

The prediction is for a big flight of finches this winter, so be prepared to spend a lot on niger and black oil sunflower seeds.

Project FeederWatch began in Ontario in 1976 when Dr. Erica Dunn of Long Point Bird Observatory started the Ontario Bird Feeder Survey. By the winter of 1987-88, the project had evolved into Project FeederWatch and was jointly organized by Bird Studies Canada and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The massive amounts of data collected by FeederWatchers across the continent help scientists understand:

  • Long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance
  • The timing and extent of winter irruptions of winter finches and other species.
  • Expansions or contractions in the winter ranges of feeder birds
  • The kinds of foods and environmental factors that attract birds
  • How disease is spread among birds that visit feeders

FeederWatch data is regularly published in scientific journals, regional birding and nature newsletters, national magazines and newspapers continent wide.

Anyone who runs a bird feeder and would like to take the time to learn their backyard birds can participate. In Canada, participants register through a membership in Bird Studies Canada. Participants will be sent a kit which contains, along with data sheets and instructions, a colour poster of common feeder birds. I have mounted this poster and have it hanging in the kitchen. I have seen all but one of the birds illustrated at my feeder over the years. There is a special kit for use by classroom teachers or homeschoolers.

The species most commonly found at feeders in Ontario in the 2016-17 season was Black-capped Chickadee, followed by Downy Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Junco, American Goldfinch and White-breasted Nuthatch.

For more information about this project or to sign up as a Citizen Scientist, go to feederwatch.org. Perhaps you will be surprised by the visitors to your yard.

Nature Notes appears on the last Friday of each month. Reach Elizabeth Kellogg at ekrf@eagle.ca.