Odd occurrences at the bird feeders this winter

Dark Eyed Junco Foraging

Some winter friends, snowbirds, stopped to visit for the first time this winter and their delayed, late arrival had nothing to do with the pandemic.

For these were real snowbirds, dark-eyed juncoes, down from the boreal forests of Canada, not “snowbird” humans headed for warmer climes. And they were weeks behind their normal first appearance.

Dark-eyed juncoes earned their nickname, it has been said, because their dark gray tops and white bellies are reminiscent of the heavy rolling snow-clouds so familiar in winter. Most winters they show up by Thanksgiving and at least before Christmas, and they stay till winter breaks in March or early April.

But this winter had been a weird one for my Froggy Bottom bailiwick when it comes to patronage of my bird-feeding stations. I maintain eight feeders – suet, black-oil sunflower seeds, and a mix of white millet, cracked corn, and sunflower seed. It is an enjoyable winter pastime that helps me stay in touch with nature.

I used to feed Niger seed as well, but the tiny black seeds (they resemble mini-mouse turds) are expensive and scatter too readily. Most of them often end up wasted, on the ground. Goldfinches, Niger seed fans, do just fine on the oily sunflower, I have seen. But I digress.

This winter has been an “off” one for birdfeeding in my northwest Ohio latitudes. Wherever you are hunkered, things may be different. But I have made only two feed trips to the local farm-supply store, which is unusual by January’s end. Saves money, but I’ll take more, and more kinds of, birds. So, bird variety is down…and I see far fewer numbers of what does show up. As with the very late-arriving juncoes, the first house finches arrived just a couple of weeks ago, and the big flocks of goldfinches also arrived late. More mourning doves than usual seemed to have stayed around, and more house or English sparrows have pestered and ganged up at the feeders.

Woodpecker numbers also are fewer…usually I will see a handful of downy woodpeckers and several red-bellied at my suet feeders. This year, a couple here or there so far. Thank goodness for white-breasted nuthatches, cheery little upside-down feeders, which have been here in good numbers since fall. And missing in action here so far are another winter regular, black-capped chickadees. Maybe the next weather-maker will bring them in.

The juncoes, a small flock, showed up just today, Jan. 31, in the middle of the first real snowstorm we have experienced in three winters. A nice solid northeaster, though not a real old-fashioned howler. I may even have to fuel up and fire up the snowblower in the morning.

Coincidence? Maybe. But I wonder whether something is different. Climate? I may have to ponder the old Yogi Berra-ism, the future isn’t what it used to be.

Categories: Ohio – Steve Pollick

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