Watch for these November birds

U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceA northern harrier is seen in flight.

In the birding world, November generally isn’t real active or exciting. The weather can range from wintery to pleasant. We and the birds are hoping for the pleasant end of the range which it appears to be during the second week of November.

If you have your bird feeders going you probably are already seeing more action, but not nearly the activity that you will see when winter really sets in. Bird feeder activity can vary greatly based upon the type of habitat in which you live. We do not live in the woods, but do have a yard that now has many trees. For that reason, we have a pretty good variety of birds with our “hybrid habitat.” If you live in the woods or right on the edge you are probably seeing much more activity from the chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers already. We are seeing some action but nothing like we will have when winter deepens. For right now many birds are still quite successful in finding natural food in the fields, thickets, and mature forests.

Some of the birds that are hanging around our home here on the farm include cedar waxwings, robins, bluebirds, mockingbirds, house finches, goldfinches, juncos, white-crowned and white-throated sparrows, cardinals, blue jays, red and white- breasted nuthatches, golden-crowned kinglets, doves, and a few others including birds of prey. Generally, by now we get hints of northern birds arriving here for their winter visit, but not much action there. We can count on snow buntings coming. Also, likely to appear will be northern shrikes, pine siskins, common redpolls, rough-legged hawks, and maybe some evening grosbeaks and crossbills.

Taking walks around the farm, Leslie and I are welcoming the return of the very elegant northern harrier which is a hawk species that has long wings and tail and a very distinct white rump. It flies low over meadows and fields showing its white rump and excellent zigzag undulating flying skills. This hawk flies erratically as a hunting technique. There may be a rabbit sitting still in a meadow hoping not to be seen by the harrier. Though the harrier doesn’t see the rabbit, the erratic zigzag action suddenly makes the rabbit think that the harrier sees it and thus runs. Now the harrier sees the rabbit and pounces on it. Still probably not that easy as a rabbit can run a very fast zigzag to thicker cover.

There’s a good chance you may have a mockingbird or two in your yard. If so, they will probably stay all winter and nest there in the spring. They like scattered trees and shrubs like multiflora rose, barberry, holly, or winterberry. Some days they are actively chattering and mimicking several other birds and other days they are quiet. Watch for their flashy white wing patches when they fly.

Cedar waxwings are still around and enjoying berries as well including crabapples and mountain ash. During the winter months they can be difficult to find at times. They tend to form larger flocks as the winter progresses and will travel to where they find the best concentration of wild and ornamental berries. Many people cannot hear their high-pitched calls, nor see them as they are inconspicuous among the tree branches. They are often overlooked – even by experienced birders.

Robins are present now and generally will be all of winter where they have thick cover and a good supply of winter berries. It is thought that most of our winter robins are from Canada. Though the vast majority of our bluebirds head to some of the southern states some do spend the winter here, and some of those could also be from Canada. As I have mentioned before, leaving some dry clean grass clippings in your bluebird nest boxes may help attract a local small flock of bluebirds to roost in a nest every night of the winter. I have my eye on a box that the bluebirds seem to be steadily patronizing over the last couple of weeks here on the farm.

The four species of birds I just mentioned primarily live on wild and ornamental berries in the winter, so you won’t see them eating at the bird feeders. A bird bath can attract them. So, even with the feeding station a bit slow at this time of year, there are many other birds in your yard and beyond to see. I only mentioned a few of them.

Now is still the time to make sure you have your feeders ready to go for wintery weather, keeping in mind that the feed needs to stay dry for best results. It’s also a good time to register for Cornell’s Feeder Watch program which can be a fun thing to do with the kids or for yourself.

Enjoy the beauty of November’s coppery oaks and larches – just to name a couple. Happy birding on these nice days coming our way.

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 Livingston County News twice each month. Write him at 6340 LaGrange Rd., Wyoming, NY 14591 or call (585) 813-2676.

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