Winter is creeping closer and closer while nature and all living things prepare accordingly. The last couple of Novembers gave us a pretty abrupt start to winter, but who knows what will happen this year?
The birds always seem to be ready for colder weather, but for those that will be experiencing their first winter, it may be a bit of a shock if it is anything like last year’s cold and snowy November. I’m really hoping for a mild November as I still have so many things that I would like to do in preparation for winter including making bird feeders and planting several trees and shrubs in our yard and elsewhere.
If not the calendar, the birds are telling us that winter is getting close. For several weeks now we have had a steady influx of pine siskins streaming in from Canada. It’s still too early to tell if they will stay in our region for the winter months or continue to move further south. Most years they go further south, but last year they didn’t even come this far south. They are closely related to the goldfinches which do spend the winter with us.
Goldfinch males are no longer bright yellow and they all look about the same in their elegant olive-green plumage.
Yes, some goldfinches migrate south and some from Canada migrate here for the winter, but little is really known on how much of a population shift is involved. The same is true for other birds in winter such as robins, bluebirds, waxwings, and even blue jays – we just don’t know.
Don’t always assume that the birds in your yard are the ones that nested there in summer, as some may have moved south and others could be visitors from the north.
Evening grosbeaks, once very common and regular visitors to our area in winter have been very scarce this far south for a couple of decades now. Migration south was mostly driven by lack of coniferous cone seeds due to diseased trees up north. Apparently, that has been resolved.
Every year a few grosbeaks show up somewhere in Western New York, but the number of sightings is extremely small. Apparently, someone in Arcade already had a small flock of eight just recently. Generally, when they show up, they only stay for part of a day. I remember back in the 1970s and 1980s the grosbeak populations were substantial and often by late winter had formed flocks of more than 100 that would stay well into May before returning north. They could wipe out the sunflower feeding station pretty quickly.
We have had a very good infiltration of juncos, golden-crowned kinglets, and white-throated and white-crowned sparrows already this fall. All will stick around for the winter but many of the latter two will move even further south. I like feeding pure white millet on the ground or on my ground feeding board to keep the native sparrows and juncos happy. Kinglets do not come to bird feeders.
Many people have been enjoying seeing robins and bluebirds through the fall and many will spend the winter with us. Again, are these our summer residents? Or are some of them visitors from the north?
Having bluebirds in winter is nice. If you have bluebird nesting boxes now is a good time to check on them. I like to clean them out and then put in 2 or 3 inches of nice dry lawn clippings or grass to give them a clean little “mattress” to roost on. Generally, 4 to 10 bluebirds could pile into one nest box to keep each other warm. Often, they will keep using the same box for roosting all winter. I remember one winter having them use a box right next to our greenhouse.
Many of you are having active mockingbirds in your yards. They will spend the winter in the thickets eating berries. They can be very vocal in fall and then in winter only make their one syllable call. Other birds can also spend the winter, but in very low numbers, like the eastern towhee or the fox sparrow.
Many other northern birds of open country will be arriving over the next month or two. There will be plenty of great birding action for all of us in the months ahead whether it is out your window at the feeding station or out in the wild.
If you have any questions about the winter birds, bird feeding, and bluebird conservation you can reach me by call or text at (585)813-2676. Happy birding!
Hans Kunze will host a winter bird feeding clinic at Genesee County Park, East Bethany, at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 21.
Pre-registration is required and there is no fee.
This is an opportunity to learn several winter birds at the feeding station and others nearby on the Braille Trail just a little south of the Raymond Road winter Recreation Area parking lot. Meet in the parking lot at 9:30. Call or text Hans at (585) 813-2676 for more information and to confirm. Space is limited.
Hans Kunze is an avid birder and nature enthusiast who has been writing about birds and nature for more than 30 years. He writes for the The Daily News twice each month. Write him at 6340 LaGrange Rd Wyoming, NY 14591 or call (585) 813-2676.