Northland Nature: A surprising bird at the feeder
Like many in the Northland, I maintain a bird feeder near the house. Mine is a feeder that is regularly stocked throughout the long and cold winter. During warmer weather, I take it down, clean it and put it away until next October.
However, there is a period of time after the winter has waned and before the days have warmed, in the spring, that I keep the feeder filled. And sometimes, these changing days of the season have good numbers of birds present.
All during the cold season, the feeder was never devoid of activity. In the time of short daylight in December, 40 degrees below zero in January and the record-setting snows of February, the local avians discovered the feeding site and were a delight to watch.
Winter days, I hosted the same seven songbirds: black-capped chickadees; white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches; blue jays; and three kinds of woodpeckers, downy, hairy and red-bellied.
On most days, a group of non-songbirds, turkeys, came by for meals as well. There were also sporadic visits from goldfinches, but the bulk of finch feeder activity took place later.
Around the middle of March, redpolls found the thistles seeds and for about a month, they dined here each day, often joined by their cousins, the pine siskins. Goldfinches, now turning yellow, were here, too, as were the reddish purple finches.
The biggest variety of bird species seen on one day happened late in the season.
Along with the changing weather of April came more migrants. Many of the finches were replaced by sparrows of several kinds.
Most numerous were the juncos. These gray-black birds with white undersides and tail feathers are a kind of sparrow, though we call them juncos. (This is one of the few examples where we commonly call a bird by its scientific name.)
We tend to think of sparrows as being little brown birds and the other sparrows that came to the feeder in the April weather of rain, snow and cold were indeed more sparrow-like — little brown birds, often with spots. These included fox sparrows, song sparrows, tree sparrows and white-throated sparrows. Some of these nest here, but most are migrants.
One cool rainy day in April, I noticed three other migrants at the feeder as well: a robin, a hermit thrush and a yellow-rumped warbler. These birds are common in the area, but not often coming to feeders.
Ice-out time came in April. A small migrating bird that I have learned to associate with this aquatic change is the ruby-crowned kinglet. And sure enough, on the same day as the lake lost its ice, I watched one feed among willow catkins.
No surprise here, but as the month ended and we entered May, I was about ready to retire the feeder, when I looked out to see that a ruby-crowned kinglet had discovered this food site, a new one for here. It did not stay long and I suspected that I would not see the bird again, but for the next several days, it kept returning.
The ruby-crowned kinglet and its cousin, the golden-crowned kinglet, are barely 4 inches long, one of the smallest birds in the region. They are olive-green with white wing bars. Ruby-crowns have red on the head; golden-crowned are yellow. Both actively feed on insects.
Apparently, with cool, wet weather and fewer insects available, this ruby-crowned kinglet came to the feeder to seek insects as well as feed on suet. I'm glad it came and I hope it found the desired food.