Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

What I Learned about My Backyard from Project FeederWatch

A Common Grackle looks around the yard

A Common Grackle looks around the yard

Project FeederWatch ended last weekend. For those just tuning in, PFW is a citizen science project run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The idea is that you commit to keeping a record of all the birds that visit your feeders, birdbaths, birdhouses, and landscape features from November to April. In addition to being a part of something that helps scientists learn about and help birds, participants have the opportunity to learn a surprising amount about what goes on right outside their doors.

This is a summary of some interesting things I learned.

Observations about Specific Birds:

Wrens:

A Bewick's Wren stops by for a snack

A Bewick's Wren stops by for a snack

We get both Carolina and Bewick’s Wrens at our house. They both like suet and mealworms, but the Carolina Wrens will also take seeds from the cake feeders. Carolina Wrens also seem to be more willing to poke around the ground in the flowerbed, while Bewick’s Wrens prefer scouring the trees and plants for bugs. Carolinas also seems to be much more vocal; every morning, I can expect one singing (surprisingly loud) from the fence.

Hawks:

Accipiter hawk relaxing on the neighbor's fence

Accipiter hawk relaxing on the neighbor's fence

On several occasions, on count days and non-count days, I saw unidentifiable accipiter hawks swooping through the yard. On one occasion, I got some pictures of one sitting by the neighbor’s feeder and on another day, I saw one sitting by my feeder. I never got a good enough look to ID any of the ones I saw on count days, but readers of this blog thought the one I photographed was a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

I assume he’s been eating sparrows since those are the only birds whose counts have been lower than I expected them to be. The wrens, titmice, chickadees, and finches all seem to show up in basically the same numbers each week so I suspect they’re avoiding the hawks.

Goldfinches:

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

I was thrilled to see goldfinches show up in my yard at long last. I have my sister to thank. She got me some nyjer bags for Christmas, and the goldfinches arrived withing days of putting them out.

Lesser Goldfinches will only take nyjer seed from the bags, while American Goldfinches who seem to prefer the nyjer bags, will use the tube feeder when the bags are crowded.

American Goldfinch in winter non-gold plumage

American Goldfinch in winter non-gold plumage

I had hoped to see the American Goldfinches in breeding plumage, but they seem to have mostly left, although I did see one this weekend in transitional plumage. I hope he sticks around so I can see him in his full golden glory.

Blue Jays:

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Through most of the winter, the Blue jays came around only for the peanuts. As things warmed up, and nesting season began, they started taking suet again, which they didn’t touch during winter, ceding it instead to the wrens, titmice, kinglets, warblers, and mockingbirds. They also come around more and more for the regular seeds, but the peanuts are still the favorite.

Cardinals:

(no pictures. try back next year)

During the fall and winter, the cardinals only come around in the very early hours before dawn and the dusky hour between sunset and dark. During spring and summer they come around the feeders at all times of the day.

Doves:

One Mourning Dove and two White-winged Doves

One Mourning Dove and two White-winged Doves

White-winged Doves are the most prevalent and obvious birds at our platform feeder during spring and summer, but through fall and winter, there are substantially fewer and the Mourning Doves come around a bit more frequently.

Mockingbirds:

A Northern Mockingbird eyes the suet feeder

A Northern Mockingbird eyes the suet feeder

The mockingbirds come regularly for suet in the winter, but lose all interest in it when it gets warmer out. There is a pair nesting in the neighbor’s cedar tree, but their only interest in my yard now is the birdbath.

Titmice:

Black-crested Titmouse on the pinecone feeder

Black-crested Titmouse on the pinecone feeder

The Black-crested Titmice are almost always the first ones to check out a new feeder, and often the first ones to the worms in the morning, thus earning them the nickname Pigmice. They’re still my favorites, though.

Every morning in winter, one or two would burst from the wren box and start scolding me from a nearby tree until I had the worms out. Now that it’s warmer, they’ve left the box for the wrens and are nesting elsewhere, but they’re still first in line at the worm feeder most mornings.

And, now, some lists…

The Visitors:

The numbers are the highest numbers of individuals seen at one time.

  1. White-winged Dove (25)
  2. Chipping Sparrow (24)
  3. House Sparrow (20)
  4. American Goldfinch (8)
  5. Common Grackle (8)
  6. House Finch (5)
  7. Northern Mockingbird (4)
  8. Brown-headed Cowbird (4)
  9. Black-crested Titmouse (3)
  10. Mourning Dove (3)
  11. Carolina Chickadee (3)
  12. European Starling (3)
  13. Blue Jay (3)
  14. Lesser Goldfinch (3)
  15. Bewick’s Wren (2)
  16. Carolina Wren (2)
  17. Northern Cardinal (2)
  18. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (2)
  19. Red-bellied Woodpecker (2)
  20. Black-chinned Hummingbird (2)
  21. Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  22. Ladder-backed Woodpecker (1)
  23. Accipiter sp. (1)
  24. American Robin (1)
  25. Red-winged Blackbird (1)
  26. Song Sparrow (1)

The Permanent Collection:

These are the birds that appeared in all 20 counts.

  • White-winged Dove
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Black-crested Titmouse
  • Carolina Wren
  • Bewick’s Wren
  • Chipping Sparrow

All of these are permanent residents except the Chipping Sparrows. They will depart for points north in the next week or so, and return in October. If past years are any guide, we will see flocks of 60-70 in the yard for a day or 2 and then they will be gone.

House Sparrow only missed one week (Dec 27), which was incidentally, the first time I saw an accipiter hawk. Smart sparrows.

Passing Through:

Birds that came for a distinct span of time and then left.

  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1.3.09 – 2.7.09)
  • American Robin (2.28.09 – 3.14.09)
  • Orange-crowned Warbler (1.3.09 – 3.14.09)
  • Red-winged Blackbird (3.7.09 – 3.14.09)

I’ll be curious to see if these species come around these times next year.

Sometimes Birds:

Birds that are here year-round. They don’t come by the yard very often, but were kind enough to stop by on at least one count day.

  • Accipiter sp (Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s Hawk)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • European Starling

Spring/Summer Birds:

These are the birds that hang around the yard only during spring and summer along with their arrival dates.

  • American Robin (2.21)
  • Common Grackle (3.07)
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird (3.21)

Biggest Flocks:

These are the largest groups of individuals seen at one time.

  • White-winged Dove (25 on 3.14.09)
  • Chipping Sparrow (24 on 1.17.09)
  • House Sparrow (20 on 12.06.08)
  • American Goldfinch (8 on 02.21.09)
  • Common Grackle (8 on 03.07.09 & 03.21.09)

Life Birds:

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet considers the suet feeder

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet considers the suet feeder

These are the birds I had never seen and saw for the first time as a result of paying closer attention to the feeders.

  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • Accipter sp. (probably Sharp-shinned Hawk)

Non-avian Feeder Visitors:

A possum visits the bird feeder

A possum visits the bird feeder

Fox Squirrel

Fox Squirrel

  • Fox Squirrel
  • Virginia Opossum

Project FeederWatch was a fun and eye-opening experience. I intend to continue counting birds and uploading my counts to ebird for the rest of 2009, and I will definitely be participating again next year.

6 Comments

  1. That’s a great summary of your first Feederwatch experience James. I hope I’ll have the time tonight to get mine together and posted. (But an hour of this evening will be eaten by LOST, of course!) It gets even better the more years you do it, once you can start comparing previous years of data and making trend observations. Glad you got those Goldfinches to come in (kudos to your sister)! By the way, I notice on your platform feeder that there’s a big nail sticking up in the middle of it. Is that structural, or do you use that to attach fruit pieces to in the summer? Or maybe it’s meant as a (useless) warning for the squirrels and opossums?

    P.S. Have you considered including the “notify me of follow-up comments” option to your comment submission form? It would be handy, I think. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering which posts I leave comments on and where I should be looking for possible follow-up.

  2. what an interesting post! It’s interesting that some things are the same there as here in the UK – our wrens always sing really loudly too and our goldfinches love nyger seeds too though they seem totally different than your goldfinches. Lovely photos you’re sharing too, especially the hawk…

  3. Thanks for your nice summary! I enjoyed your different lists and I love the picture with both doves on the feeder. If you’re interested, you can enter data all year long using eBird.org. Stationary eBird counts are similar to the feeder watch protocol.

    Mikael

  4. Cool idea; nice results.

  5. Heather, that nail on the feeder if for fruit. I sometimes stick apple cores on it. I’ll have to look for a notify of follow-up plugin. That sounds like a good feature to have.

    Crafty Green Poet, Thanks. I enjoy learning about the birds in other corners of the world too. Sometimes the similarities are as surprising as the differences.

    Mikael, I have been using ebird. I even entered all my pfw data into ebird so I’d have access to those graphs.

    Jessica, Thanks. Good to hear from you again.

  6. My junior ornithologist daughter would envy you so much, having such a beautiful variety of birds.

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