counting ‘feeder birds’ and sharing my data, 2017 edition

I’LL TELL YOU MINE, if you tell me yours–and then how about we all tell eBird.org (or join the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count), and help scientists by providing more data for their research? I’ve been counting “backyard” birds as I do each winter, including the curious juvenile Cooper’s hawk on my back-porch doormat the other day, looking in the glass door (or maybe at its own image).

I jot down then record my daily winter “regulars list” of about 20 species maybe one per week or two, along with a dozen or so less consistent offseason visitors on the days they show up. The guest book looks something like this recently:

garden visitors, average winter 2017 day:

  • 30 dark-eyed juncos
  • 25 goldfinches
  • 3 Northern cardinals (2 M, 1 F)
  • 3 white-throated sparrows
  • 3 house finches
  • occasional American robins (from 3 to up to 30 on warm, bright days)
  • 8 mourning doves (up to 20 on warm, bright days)
  • 6 blue jays (ebbs and flows between several and 15ish birds)
  • 4 tufted titmice
  • 8-10 black-capped chickadees
  • 2 white-breasted nuthatches
  • 1 pileated woodpecker
  • 1 red-bellied woodpecker
  • 2 downy woodpeckers
  • 2 hairy woodpeckers
  • 1 yellow-bellied sapsucker
  • 1 red-tailed hawk
  • 20-30 wild turkeys (and lots of raucous voices!)
  • 1 Carolina wren (reappeared Jan. 20, loud-mouthed as ever)

occasional sightings, winter 2017

  • Cooper’s hawk (as above, staring in the glass door–or perhaps at its own reflection–from the doormat recently, and then a few minutes later as below, a few feet away on the grass)
  • brown creeper
  • Eastern bluebirds, 1 to 6 individuals
  • barred owl (heard periodically, not seen)
  • crows
  • raven
  • winter wren

species absent so far, that I usually see in winter

  • ruffed grouse (typically the grouse picks the magnolia by my kitchen window clean of its seeds late fall through winter, gradually, but late last fall a Swainson’s thrush hung around and pre-empted the usual customer)
  • Northern flicker (in 2016, it began reappearing at my suet feeder in January, but not yet in 2017)
  • red-breasted nuthatch (began appearing in January 2016 daily, but not yet this year)
  • cedar waxwings (in 2016 they visited on the last day of January; usually wandering flocks visit every so often through winter, but no big groups in 2017…yet)
  • Sharp-shinned hawk (seen nearby, but not in the garden proper so far)
  • the occasional starling (see below)
  • purple finch
  • golden-crowned kinglet (haven’t seen one since late fall 2016)

If I feel the need to see starlings, I need only walk to the extensive dairy-farm fields just down the road, where there are also often even flocks of sea gulls despite the inland position. On days when stored-up slurry of waste from the herd is spread on thawing fields, loaded with bits of undigested grain I expect, so many crows descend that I cannot even guess the count–but it’s a fantastic sight.

birds i wish would visit this winter

Years ago, I always saw these species; now, only every few years.

  • pine siskin
  • common redpoll

Only one year in 30ish here did I have a visit from pine grosbeaks (below in a crabapple out back), a species among Canada’s assortment of so-called winter finches. (Get the 2016-17 winter finch report here.) But a girl can live in hope–and I do, that those gregarious, beautiful birds will stop in sometime again.

In the first decade or so here, I always saw evening grosbeaks in winter–but not in probably 15 years. Bird-mad friends not so far away do still see them (jealous!).

Let me know who you’re keeping company with this winter, please–and do use the links below to join eBird and the Great Backyard Bird Count.


do you eBird? sign up now

ebird logoTHE ONLINE bird-counting application called eBird, a project of Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, launched in 2002. Unlike well-known counts such as Great Backyard Bird Count and Project Feederwatch (more on them below), which have specific start and end dates each year, eBird is a lifetime tool, for use anytime, whether at home or elsewhere. Maybe make joining eBird a slightly belated New Year’s resolution?

As I learned in this interview with Frank La Sorte of Cornell, data from eBird-ers like me is helping scientists unravel the mysteries of bird migration, among other important subjects. Or how a shifting climate appears to be shifting where certain birds spend the winter.

I like eBird’s “Location Explorer,” allowing you to explore who’s seen what in a particular area of interest—as useful for seeing what other species are around where you live as it is for planning a birding trip to some exotic distant place, or perhaps just in the next county, where a rarity has been spied.

Within it I can drill down to see how many species have been recorded in my vicinity (either all time, or this year, or during recent “big day” events). For instance, I regularly zoom in on data for adjacent Berkshire County, MA, where there are far more participating birders just across the state line from me–and a whopping 292 species submitted in nearly 20,000 alltime checklists. What’s exciting: Most are birds I have never seen–but apparently could someday, without going too far afield. The Location Explorer even tells me where they were seen, if I care to go have a look myself.

When I see a new-to-me or unusually timed bird, like the hermit thrush I sighted through the start of November 2015 and again in January 2016 (a bird that typically migrates away from here for winter), or the Swainson’s thrush of late 2016, I always look at adjacent areas on eBird to see if anyone else saw the same species. Indeed, there was data on hermit thrushes in two other spots within an hour of me, around the same time period.

That’s why it’s important that we participate, so a fuller picture can be had by researchers than they could gather on their own. As in: Do you see what I see? Probably not. Off I go to transfer the numbers on my pad of paper into my eBird account.

  • eBird: Sign up here and use the online checklist anytime (which helps by suggesting possible birds in your area).
  • GBBC: Sign up for the next Great Backyard Bird Count, February 17-20, 2017 (a joint project of Cornell, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada, and powered by the eBird technology).
  • Project Feederwatch: Or you can still join Project Feederwatch (from Cornell and Birds Studies Canada), which runs November into April and as it sounds is about recording birds in your backyard in feeder season, at the feeders themselves or in your garden plantings or using its water features—counting birds using something you provided.
Categoriesbird sh-t
  1. Beth Toron says:

    What a great variety of birds you see! How wonderful! Birds at my feeder do keep my spirits up all winter, I also contribute to science data by counting feeder birds for Birds Studies Canada Feederwatch program. I’ve been doing this for 17 years, and notice the ebb and flow of species over time. This winter has been mundane, so far, as to the number and variety. It’s all the usual Blue Jays, Chickadees, Hairy and Downey Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, with the occasional appearance of a Brown Creeper and one dramatic episode when a Sharp Shin Hawk swooped in and grabbed a Chickadee. No Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, or the huge flocks of American Goldfinches that have come in the past. Winter still has a way to go, so there’s hope to see more.

  2. jean says:

    I had a robin in my yard about two weeks ago. For N.J that seems to be really early. I feed my birds canned worms and perhaps this enticed the robin. He flew away and I haven’t seen him since.

  3. Peg Lotvin says:

    Earlier in the winter, up until the day before Christmas I had a Brown Thrasher every day. He/she wasn’t interested in the suet and sunflower seeds. He stripped the berries from my Beauty Berry bush. When they were all gone except on the very thinnest branches he departed for somewhere else. There are lots of Winter berries around so I hope he either found them or headed south where he belongs this time of year.
    Not at my feeders, alas, but some nearby are seeing Evening Grosbeaks in fairly large numbers, so keep hoping. No Pine Siskins or Redpolls this year. We will see how far south they came this winter when they publish the results of the Great Backyard Bird Watch. I have participated for years in this fun project. I did have a Red-bellied Nuthatch and the Carolina Wren off an on. Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks survey my chickens from time to time, but haven’t made off with any so far. Hens are pretty heavy for them to carry away, but they still can attack.

    1. margaret says:

      Funny, Peg, I had a Swainson’s thrush till like very late fall, I think. Had never had one before, and would not expect it so late. I have never had a brown thrasher; lucky you!

  4. Bette says:

    Within the last hour was witness to a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk catch & feed on a Mourning Dove. The victim had been sitting motionless on a heated birdbath directly below our breakfast room window when it was chased into the window glass and captured. The hawk carried the unfortunate Dove to the snow-covered driveway where it was reduced to a pile of wing & tail feathers. Not the most appetizing way to start the day but an insightful one!

    1. margaret says:

      Nature does indeed show us that complex food chain at work nonstop. Years ago I was horrified; now I think of it as just that: food chain. Thanks for sharing the story, Bette.

  5. Judy Cornellier says:

    Oh how I want to share that for 3 years strait a cooper hawk family set up a nest at the top of a boxelder tree not 50 feet from my window. Each year they had 3 young ones. What a treat to see them every day doing their routines. The young ones would entertain us each august with their flight learning. We would laugh at all the antics. You should see 3 immature hawks trying to take a bath in the water fountain on the ground. Sorry to say That 2 years ago
    a storm blew down the nest and the hawks have moved on. Still occasionally I see them in the spring. I know this is not now but I loved them sharing their life with me those years. With them gone my other birds have returned in great number, I am happy to say.

  6. Ray says:

    The only unusual winter bird visitor I’ve seen in my yard was a flock of white-winged crossbills several years ago. I had loads of pine siskins and redpolls last year. None so far this year. I too get an occasional Cooper’s Hawk looking for a meal. You always know when he’s in the yard because the songbirds are nowhere to be seen.

  7. Stacy says:

    Aside from the ordinary purple finches and chickadees, doves and blue jays. I had a peregrine falcon in my backyard this year. I’ve enjoyed watching it.

  8. Jane in So Cal mts says:

    Without a doubt my winter birds continue to keep me entertained as well! Although we experienced a very worrisome wildfire that was halted just 500 yards from my neighborhood in August the winter flocks have nevertheless found their way to the backyard feeder. And even the local Cooper’s hawk continues to make the rounds here. House finches, l gold finches, junckos (including gray headed and slate colored), towees, chickadees, scrub and Stellars jays, woodpeckers/sapsuckers/flickers, an occasional phoebe, white and golden crown sparrows, rc kinglets, CA quail, wb nuthatches have all dropped by while of cours ravens cruise overhead. A neighbor even spotted a golden eagle. Among the missing at this point are the pine siskins, occasional warblers and the titmice. The overall numbers seem to be less this season, but hopefully with this surprisingly wet winter our avian friends will have an exceptional breeding season. Fingers crossed! ????

  9. Alana Steib says:

    My comment on the joys of feeding and watching birds during the dark days of winter: Today, right in the middle of a late season snowstorm here (by the end totaling 8.9″) I saw our FIRST American Robin, hopping from branch to snow-laden branch, in what has become an 18′ holly that I’d gotten as a seedling from my Aunt –probably 25+ years ago. The robin was enjoying red berries and he/she stayed in that holly all day long feasting! Thank you Aunt Vi! (Long since gone, but still part of my garden, with her holly, and her gift of her old gardening fork and gardening spade.)

  10. Amanda Dymacek says:

    Great capture! We’ve not seen any siskins this year either but we are weirdly mild. Just found your blog yesterday – love it!

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