by Robin Song
The activity at my feeders began well before the sun broke over the treeline in the south the morning of January third- the annual Christmas Winter Bird Count Day in our area. As usual, I made sure the feeders were full and ready, for the birds had survived another long, cold winter night and were in need of fuel right away. The Black-capped Chickadees could lose 10% of their body weight overnight just shivering to keep warm. They don’t have a crop to store food, like Redpolls and other birds do, so they have to burn body fat to keep warm. During cold snaps I bring in the suet and peanut butter feeders overnight and put them back out when the first birds arrive, so they can get at the food easily and so not have to burn precious calories prying at frozen food.
The three Nuthatches chattered as they worked at the suet nets. The male and female Hairy Woodpeckers preferred the suet cage out at the big feeder swinging from a wooden hanger at the edge of the forest, even though that suet was frozen. With their big, sturdy beaks, frozen suet presented no problems for them. The much smaller pair of Downy Woodpeckers came in to the thawed suet at the porch, however.
The flock of Pine Grosbeaks came to the two big platform feeders attached to the porch railings and their soft melodic calls added a sweet melody to the mixed gathering of birds. As the golden sun topped the trees, I stood out in the snow in front of the cabin, listening. I heard Redpolls high up in the tall spruce, then heard something else. I listened closely, and recognized the songs of White-winged Crossbills. I smiled. 2014 had been “the Year of the Crossbills”, it seemed. I had seen more of this species on many of my hikes over the summer and fall than in any previous years. Usually I only saw crossbills at the ranch in wintertime, but a small flock had stayed throughout the summer and fall. As I spotted the six birds atop the tall spruce next to the ranch’s drive, I was delighted to add them to my birding list.
The crown of my Bird Count was the trio of Dark-eyed Juncos who decided to winter-over. One male had wintered here last year, and now there were two males and a female. I wondered if one male was the one from last winter and had ‘told’ his buddies that if they’d stay, instead of migrating, they’d get fed here all winter. Well, you just never know! Of course I buy special seed mix for them and put it out everyday, to make sure they’re getting enough to eat. I want my rare visitors to be taken care of. I sprinkled the seed on the snow just off the porch as the juncos sat in the trees watching me.