23 April 2018

Spring Surprise for Local Birds at Valentine

April 18, 2018. Valentine Midland News 46(92): 8. With a photograph of wild turkeys by Laura Vroman.

The blizzard on April 13-14, 2018 had a dramatic effect on the behavior of local wild birds. There were significant activities by local avifauna as the storm descended and during its duration as multiple inches of snow were atop nearly every place where birds usually foraged. As a result, other resources of food were found and appreciated.

At my residence on Lake Shore Drive, grain and seed have been freely provided for the local fauna for weeks. Dark-eyed Junco and the American Tree Sparrow have been especially prevalent, along with a pair of locally breeding Northern Cardinal.

As the storm was initially transitioning to heavy snow on Friday, dozens of American Robin flew into the pines on the hill. Birds were busily eating seed. A Sharp-shinned Hawk bounced off the north picture window and then just sat for a while to recover. Ten minutes later it was feeding just a few feet away upon a small songbird, perhaps a junco. During a bit of earlier time a Pine Siskin had flown in and immediately started eating seeds that moments before had been spread on a front step, with the front door still swinging open and a tall man less than three feet distant. This feathered mite was indifferent and upon my carefully returning indoors, it fed to its own content.

As the storm was underway and immediately afterward, there was a lot of birdly activity. On Sunday morning – while the deep snow lingered – there were 14 different species present at one time or another. Return visitors were local Eurasian Collared Dove, Mourning Dove and House Finch. Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackle descended in bunches – again and again as they are very skittish but would soon return from nearby treetops – lingering enough to get something to eat. Their regular haunts are snow-covered or frozen marsh habitat. Unusual among the group were two male vibrantly colored Yellow-headed Blackbird.

There were lots of juncos, some apparently new to the place as they did not know how to deal with the glass of a picture window. Tree sparrows continued to linger, though it is late in the season for them to still be present. Among the bunch of birds was a Song Sparrow, as well as new arrivals being Harris’s Sparrow and Lincoln’s Sparrow.

A Red-tailed Hawk with its dramatic plumage coloration indicating an older age was seen perched atop a powerline pole, eating one of the many blackbirds. Some other blackbirds were sitting atop a nearby tree, watching as the hawk picked at the carcass of something which a buteo hawk does not typically eat; their usual prey is small mammals, but once again inches of snow would make hunting for a mouse a vole or a rabbit difficult. This bird is one of a pair that resides in the north hills and that are certainly striving to get enough to eat during their breeding season.

Initially only a couple of Wild Turkey gobblers visited, seen hurrying through inches of hillside snow to get to the cleared front walk so seeds and grain could be easily eaten without any need for scratch and search foraging. Later, the larger flock with more hens arrived to feed.

Though much of the Mill Pond water surface was ice on Sunday due to the exceptionally chilly temperatures (with a record overnight low of 9o), there was still a fine variety of waterfowl here and along Minnechaduza Creek. Canada Goose were most prominent, with lesser numbers of Blue-winged Teal (8), Northern Shoveler (2), Gadwall (4) and Green-winged Teal (6) taking advantage of the small areas that were not frozen water. In the same vicinity were a Killdeer and Greater Yellowlegs that found a bit of open-water creek suitable for foraging. Along the creek below the dam was a transient Redhead – the first time this species has been seen at this locality – and then four Wood Duck. A Belted Kingfisher was also heard as it especially appreciated the open water of the flowing creek through the park.

During the morning walk, the spot where a local sharpie had eaten a bluebird on the north side of the Mill Pond was discovered, as the remnants included obvious blue feathers. The bird perp was perched nearby and readily seen.

A species which has had a difficult time due to the weather would be the local Turkey Vultures. They could not forage during rain and snow, should would have had to sit still at their perch(s) and simply deal with the conditions. Then, once conditions improved to an extent to where they could at least soar about in search of carrion to eat, the snow cover would make this effort also very difficult since something edible would be buried to extent to where it might not be found.

Nearly any of the several bird feeders in the city area would have been appreciated and assisted in survival of many of our feathered friends. Certainly the people enjoy seeing the birds for which they provide feed.

My personal supply of seed and grain diminished significantly during the blizzard, as both food sources outside had to be regularly refreshed as the fast-rate snow kept covering what had been spread earlier.

It should be noted that a rabbit or two, a couple of squirrels and a fine bunch of White-tailed Deer have also enjoyed what has been provided at the shack buffet.