Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: goldfinches

The Usual Suspects

Lesser goldfinch

Most all of the usual suspects have checked in for this year’s Project FeederWatch. The orange-crowned warbler and ruby-crowned kinglet came back to the suet feeders last weekend, and the goldfinches finally returned as well.

The lesser goldfinches are year-round residents, but they typically leave the feeders in October and return late in November or early December. This year it was late December before one came around. Especially exciting, though, was the fact that a few American goldfinches also came by. I saw them regularly during the 2008-2009 Feederwatch season, but last year I only saw one, and he came very late in the season. Hopefully, the ones I saw will tell their friends, and I’ll see them fairly regularly over the next few months.

The only species I haven’t seen yet are Bewick’s wren and northern cardinal. The Bewick’s wren is around. I see them several times a week, but I have yet to see one on Saturday or Sunday, which are my official count days. Perhaps they like to take the weekends off. I know I do. As for the cardinals, I’m not surprised that I haven’t seen any since summer. Some winters they’re around the feeders, and some winters they aren’t. If I don’t see any, I’m sure they’ll show up come spring. Down here, that means next month.

Here’s what I’ve counted. The numbers in parentheses are the highest single count for that species:

  1. White-winged Dove (24)
  2. Mourning Dove (1)
  3. Blue Jay (3)
  4. Carolina Chickadee (1)
  5. Black-crested Titmouse (3)
  6. Carolina Wren (2)
  7. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1)
  8. Northern Mockingbird (1)
  9. Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  10. Chipping Sparrow (23)
  11. House Finch (1)
  12. Lesser Goldfinch (1)
  13. American Goldfinch (2)
  14. House Sparrow (12)

I don’t think it’s too late to get involved with Project FeederWatch, which is good because citizen science projects rock.

Goldfinches

Lesser Goldfinch

The lesser goldfinches haven’t been coming around the feeders the past few days. Unlike their American cousins, they’re permanent residents here and gold year round, but this time of year they abandon the feeders. I suppose it’s because the weeds are all going to seed and that wild food must taste pretty good to them. Better than what’s in my feeder anyway.

The goldfinch feeders are up on the porch so it seems especially quiet without them. That’s funny since they’re not noisy birds, but I get so used to them most of the year that when I come out on the porch now it seems odd—like a town that’s too quiet in a horror movie—when they don’t all flutter off at the site of the dogs and me coming through the back door. I miss that confusion of black and yellow that blows outward like a visible gust of wind toward the neighbor’s trees.

They’ll be back in a few weeks, though, but there will be fewer than there were last summer when they came with all their young in tow, and they’ll soon be joined by overwintering American goldfinches, though their gold will have fallen out allowing them to migrate incognito, disguised as plain drab birds, their gold just a memory, a vague dream of summer.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

I finally got to see an American Goldfinch in breeding plumage. They’ve been coming around all winter, but they’ve mostly headed north now, leaving before turning yellow. This little straggler made my day on Saturday when he stopped by the nyger bag for a few seeds in between visits by the always yellow Lesser Goldfinches.

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.

Project FeederWatch Week 13

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

For Week 13 of Project FeederWatch, the Lesser Goldfinches decided to come around, which was especially exciting because they were a life bird for me, and my 10th for 2009. Goldfinches (Lesser and American) are both new to me and so I spent most of my feeder watching time this weekend watching them.

One of the best things about the Lesser Goldfinch is that they are permanent residents around here and so hopefully, they’ll keep coming to the feeder even after the Americans leave in the spring.

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

The nyjer bag seems to be the big draw (thanks again to my sister and her family for giving it to me for Christmas) and so I hung the fancy nyjer feeder, which hasn’t drawn a single goldfinch in the 2 years I’ve had it, above the bag. The bag is still favored, but some of the American Goldfinches finally discovered it, and not a moment too soon as the nyjer bag was getting a bit crowded.

At one time I saw 4 American Goldfinches and 2 Lesser chowing down on the nyjer seed. A few House Finches even came by, but they were more interested in the nearby hummingbird feeder, which I put back out this weekend on the off chance of seeing an early hummer.

American and Lesser Goldfinch

American and Lesser Goldfinch

The goldfinches are especially fun to watch because of their acrobatic nature: they seem as happy eating upside down as rightside up. The feeders are close to the window too, which makes photography sort of easy, but upon seeing these shots, I’m thinking I ought to clean the windows.

Other than the goldfinches, all of the usual suspects made appearances, the doves finally showing up just before dark on Sunday evening. At 16 species, this was my best count period for variety, though I’ve had higher numbers of individuals.

Two observations: Blue Jays only seem to come on Sundays. It is the only day of the week I’ve seen them the past few weeks. Doves are much scarcer than I thought they’d be. I knew the white-wing numbers decrease in the winter, but I never realized by how much.

And, now, the count…

  • White-winged Dove (1)
  • Mourning Dove (2)
  • Blue Jay (2)
  • Carolina Chickadee (1)
  • Black-crested Titmouse (2)
  • Carolina Wren (2)
  • Bewick’s Wren (1)
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1)
  • Northern Mockingbird (1)
  • Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  • Chipping Sparrow (11)
  • Northern Cardinal (2)
  • House Finch (2)
  • Lesser Goldfinch (2)
  • American Goldfinch (4)
  • House Sparrow (4)

Be sure to check out I and the Bird #93: The Compelling Nature of Birds at Vickie Henderson Art.

Lesser Goldfinch has left the blog post

Lesser Goldfinch has left the blog post

Project FeederWatch Week 10

American Goldfinch in winter non-gold plumage

American Goldfinch in winter non-gold plumage

I didn’t have any new birds show up in my Project FeederWatch count this week, but I did get the highest number of different species and the highest counts so far.

The American Goldfinch and Ruby-crowned Kinglet both brought friends, and I saw a House Finch for the first time in several weeks. The Chipping Sparrows edged out the House Sparrows for greatest number of individuals seen thus far. Other than that, it was the usual suspects doing the usual things.

The count for a crisp and pleasant weekend:

  • House Sparrow (7)
  • Black-crested Titmouse (3)
  • Carolina Wren (2)
  • Bewick’s Wren (1)
  • Chipping Sparrow (24)
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet (2)
  • Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  • Northern Cardinal (1)
  • House Finch (1)
  • American Goldfinch (2)
  • Carolina Chickadee (2)
  • Northern Mockingbird (1)
  • Blue Jay (1)
  • White-winged Dove (3)
  • Mourning Dove (1)

I’m hoping the goldfinch will continue and that they turn gold before they migrate since I’ve never seen one in the gold plumage.

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