Pretty quiet – well bird wise at least!

6 03 2009
Blurry Chickadee in Hand - Toni Tiller

Blurry Chickadee in Hand - Toni Tiller

Well this week has been a pretty quiet one for me on the blog and out in the field wise. Just had too much to do working out the details of a whole load of exciting trips for the next year amongst other things. Apart from popping out into the yard to fill the feeders there hasn’t been any chance to do any birding. I still have Pine Siskins around of course, probably 20 or 30 of the little cuties. It really has been the year of the Siskin with unbelievable numbers of them showing up at the hawk watches earlier in the season including days at Lighthouse Point with 2000+ birds. If you haven’t ever looked at Hawk Count it’s a great website with daily updates when watches are in progress and lots of interesting data in monthly and yearly summaries, how to get to the sites etc etc (see here).

Interesting to note that although there was a heavy fall movement there were only a couple of Christmas Bird Counts where Pine Siskins put in a significant appearance in Connecticut (see data here) however by January they seemed to be everywhere again. Recently on Massbird there was a post saying that we should be looking for these birds showing signs of breeding. Apparently in these irruption years they often hang on to breed (fairly early in the year) further south than they would regularly be occurring. This made me hazily recall having Pine Siskins hanging around the SoNo Reservoir’s pine stands in late May or early June one year and I remembered wondering about possible breeding. Just a reminder  that one needs to make better notes on stuff like this as I can’t for the life of me remember the right year let alone the exact month.

It has been interesting to keep track of the Pine Siskins this year and two things I have particularly noted are, the amazing variation in individual birds and the change in the vocalizations throughout the winter. Obviously with plumage some is influenced by the age and sex of the birds but the heaviness of streaking seems to be highly variable, with birds that look almost black-breasted, so dense are the streaks, to birds with just a couple of light diffuse streaks on the upper breast and flanks. This variation also seems to show up in other ways and there has been note of rare ‘green morph’ birds on CTbirds. The Stokes blog has some great pictures of a green morph (here) but I have noted that there is a deal of variation in the mantle colors of individual Siskins with many that seem to show a green back (although I have not seen one that shows such a deep yellow wash on the underside as in this picture.)

As far as their vocalizations, at first I was mainly picking these birds up in flight in fall through their simple flight calls, the ‘kleeyu’ call being particularly helpful as an ID until you got used to the difference in tonality with Goldfinch. These simple flight calls appeared to dominate vocalizations for most of the winter. However, by mid to late February I started to note that their calls seemed to be becoming much more complex around the feeders with some definite ‘singing’ going on. Today was different though and was the first time I spotted one doing one of those goldfinch-like  display flights in which they fly in loops around and around a little area (this time my yard) singing as they go – a pretty cool little exhibition. Anyway this year I’ll keep my eye’s open for more possible breeding behavior (carrying nest material, food carrying etc) and make sure to keep proper notes on it this time. I have made a little vow to make sure I stick all of these sightings on eBird as well from now on (eBird).

Just for fun today, as the feeders were empty this morning, I decided to see if I could lure some Chickadees down for a spot of hand feeding and for the first time in my life it actually worked! Pretty neat to have these little birds come land on your hand to grab a sunflower. I wondered if it was just because they were used to me filling the feeder that they trusted me enough to come in to land (I assume it was different birds some times although it might just have been the one hungry/brave one) but I quickly dispelled that idea by letting my wife have a go (which she did successfully).  Anyway, a cool little experience  feeling those little chickadee feet gripping your fingers as they grab a snack (talk about getting in ‘touch’ with nature). A couple of times they just sat there fairly nonchalantly for a while before moving on to crack open the seed. My wife took the above photo – not very good I’m afraid – I’m sure we’ll try again tomorrow.

Give it a go if you haven’t tried it before. To me, as a novice at this, the key seems to be a) have empty feeders – I doubt they’ll come to you if safer options seem available b) stand close to a safe perch that they can tee up on while they decide whether to come check out the food c) don’t look directly at the birds as they come in – this seems to scare them d) prepare for tired arms – it seems to work best if you hold your hand flat out so they can see the seed and you’ll need to hold your arm outstretched well away from your body. There are a few sites on the web that have suggestions of how to take a more systematic approach to this (here’s one) but I personally am not very good with delayed gratification so I was pleased it worked straight off .



One response

6 03 2009
steve t

Nice article and cool hooded jacket… 🙂

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