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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Winter Finches Are Headed Your Way, How To ID and Attract Them!

This could be a good year to see some of the irruptive winter finches at your feeders, according to the annual Winter Finch Forecast report of Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists. Cone crops average poor in Southern Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Canada, New York, Vermont and New Hampshire. However, crops are good in Northern Ontario, Western Canada and Alaska. Pine Siskins and White-winged Crossbills may move west to get to cone crops rather than south but some may move south. Purple Finches are moving south in numbers. Common Redpolls may also move south. Finch species and others leave their northern areas in the Boreal Forest in winter when there are low seed and cone crops. So who to look for at your feeders?

Pine Siskins

 Pine Siskins like bird feeders filled with sunflower or thistle (Nyjer) seed.

Common Redpoll

Redpolls eat sunflower and thistle (Nyjer) at bird feeders and can descend in numbers so put out multiple feeders.

Pine Grosbeak, female

Expect to see a few Pine Grosbeaks and Red and White-winged Crossbills. All three species and rare at bird feeders.

Here's a basic guide to some of the winter finches and how to attract them to your bird feeders.

Purple Finch, males are red, female has a white eyebrow, American Goldfinch, winter, top.

Purple Finch — This is a large-headed, broad-necked, short-tailed finch that is a fairly common winter visitor to the eastern half of the US and along the West Coast. The male is strongly reddish on the head and body while the female is streaked white and brown and has a thick white eyebrow. One of the Purple Finch’s common calls is a distinctive sharp flat “pik.”

Common Redpolls

Common Redpoll — The Common Redpoll nests very far north and winters mostly in s. CAN; but in certain years may show up at feeders in northern states. It is a small, deep-bellied bird with a small head and very short stubby conical bill. It has a red patch on its forehead and a black patch on its chin; the male’s breast is suffused with red while the female’s is streaked brown over white. You may have just a few at your feeder or as many as 50–100! A common call is an ascending scratchy “jeeyeet.”

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin — The Pine Siskin is a slim finch with a small head and fine-pointed bill. At first you might overlook this rather drab streaked brown bird until it opens its wings and reveals a bright yellow streak. It has a distinctive ascending buzzy call that sounds like steam from a boiling tea kettle — “zzzeeet.” Siskins can be in flocks from a few birds to a hundred or more and they can fill the room at your feeders and even eat on the ground beneath, cleaning up fallen seed bits.

American Goldfinches, winter plumage, Pine Siskin, far right.

American Goldfinch — These generally yellow finches live year-round in the northern half of US and migrate down into the southern states in winter. They are unmistakable in summer with their bright yellow body, dark wings, white wingbars, and orange bill. In winter, they are more drab with grayish to brownish body, dark bill, and variable amounts of pale yellow on the chin. Because of their dull winter plumage, some people mistakenly think that they do not have any Goldfinches at their winter feeder. A typical call in flight sounds like “potato chip, potato chip.” 

Evening Grosbeak, male

Evening Grosbeak — Aptly named, this large finch has a huge deep-based conical bill, well-suited to cracking open the large seeds it likes, such as black oil sunflower and even striped sunflower which has a tougher shell. This bill is pale greenish in spring and summer and paler in winter. Both sexes have white patches on their black wings, seen in flight. The male’s body is a deep yellow and he has a dark head with bright yellow eyebrow; the female has a gray head and back separated by a dull yellowish collar. The calls of Evening Grosbeaks have been likened to the sound of old fashioned sleigh bells.

Here's how to attract finches to your bird feeders in winter.

1. The favorite seeds of finches are black oil sunflower or hulled sunflower (which is sunflower minus the shell), thistle (Nyjer) seed, and finch mixes which contain small seeds like thistle (Nyjer) and millet. 

2. Offer black oil sunflower in sunflower feeders such as Stokes Select sunflower tube feeders, Stokes Select Large, Medium and Small Hopper feeders, Stokes Select 3 in 1 Platform and Red Platform feeders and Stokes Select Sunflower Screen, Mini Seed Screen and Giant Combo feeders. Evening Grosbeaks will eat striped sunflower which is a larger seed with a tougher shell.

3. Offer thistle (also called Nyjer which is an imported seed and not from our wildflower) and finch mixes (which contain tiny seeds), in finch tube feeders. Finch tubes have very small holes, which contain and disperse the finch seeds without having the seeds spill out. Do not offer finch seeds in regular sunflower feeders which have large holes, because the finch seeds will spill out! Put finch seeds in feeders such as, Stokes Select Jumbo Finch Feeder, Stokes Select Thistle Tube feeder, Finch Tube feeders, and Finch Screen feeder.

4. Finches are flock oriented birds so they will be more attracted to your yard if you provide space for lots of birds to feed. Put up multiple feeders mounted on Stokes Select Bird Feeder Poles.

5. Finches like to drink water. Provide clean water in bird baths, You can add bird bath heaters in winter although some feel it is better not to offer water in heated bird baths in the most severe winter weather.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Hawk Migration happening NOW, How to ID Them!

Broad-winged Hawk, adult. Has thick, black-and-white tail bands.

The hawks are coming! The hawks are coming! We're entering prime hawk migration time for birders in the northern and eastern half of the U.S. Some hawks, such as Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, Merlins and American Kestrels, will move by flapping, but Broad-winged Hawks, an abundant migrant, travel by using rising thermals. Weather conditions of clear and sunny, with mild north or northwest winds, should produce ideal conditions for Broad-winged Hawk migration. The Hawk Migration Association of North America runs a large website where all the dates and numbers of migrating hawks are recorded. Go there to keep track of migration or to find a hawkwatch site in your area. Most of the Northeast hawkwatch sites will seen many Broad-winged Hawks this fall as well as many other raptors.

Here are some tips for watching hawks:

1. Prime Broad-winged Hawk migration in the North is Sept. 11 to 25, in the South (TX) it is Sept. 25th to Oct. 10.

2. Prime Sharp-shinned Hawk migration in the Northeast is Sept. 1 to Oct. 10, in the Mid-Atlantic States it is Sept. 10 to Oct. 20, in the West it is Sept. 11 to Oct. 31.

3. Hawks usually move most under sunny skies with mild northwest, north or northeast winds. Broad-winged Hawks require thermals to move.

4. Go hawk-watching at one of the many "official" hawk-watch sites here. Or find your own by going to a hill, mountain, or tall structure available to you that has good views to the north, because that is the direction the hawks are coming from.

5. Bring binoculars that are at 8 power, or even 10 power if you have them. Scan slowly back and forth across the sky at different heights to find the hawks. Most hawks will be fairly far away and some may look like specs. Learn hawk shapes at a distance to identify them. Many hawkwatchers also use spotting scopes to locate hawks.

6. Here's a brief look at the most common hawks you will see:

Broad-winged Hawk, adult

Broad-winged Hawk, juvenile

* Broad-winged Hawks. These are medium-sized hawks, 16" long, with broad wings, and soar together in groups. Look for the broad black-and-white tail bands seen on the adults, usually visible even at a distance. Juvenile Broad-winged Hawks have thin tail bands and dark streaking that is usually heaviest on the sides of the breast.

Red-tailed Hawk, juvenile

*Red-tailed Hawks migrate a bit later than Broad-winged Hawks and here in NH, we can see them all the way through Oct. or even later. People may confuse juvenile Broad-winged and Red-tailed Hawks. Note on this bird, the dark mark, called the patagial bar on the leading edge of the wings, a great clue, also the dark belly streaks form a "belly band" another great clue.

* Sharp-shinned Hawks. These are small, about Blue Jay-sized, 12" long, hawks in the accipiter group. They migrate mostly singly with flap-flap-flap glide flight and have short rounded wings and a somewhat long tail that has a squared end.

* Cooper's Hawks. These are extremely similar to Sharp-shinned Hawks, and are a tricky ID challenge, but are somewhat larger, 17" long, with a longer, rounded tail and larger, longer head and similar flight pattern.

* American Kestrels. These are a type of falcon. They are smaller than a Sharp-shinned Hawk, about 10 1/2" long, with pointed wings and a long tail and fly mainly with continuous flapping.

* Merlins. Very similar to a Kestrel but darker and larger, about 12" long. Has broad, pointed wings and a somewhat shorter tail than a Kestrel. Flies swiftly and strongly. See yesterday's blog entry for details on Merlin vs. Kestrel ID.

* Turkey Vultures. Very large, about 27" long, all black birds that constantly soar with their wings held in a V.

7. Keep track of your numbers and turn them in to your local bird or hawk-watching organization.

8. For more complete information on identifying hawks see our all new national photographic guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. It has 3,400 images and is the most complete photo guide available.