Sunday, January 30, 2005



Hello Readers,

Even though we are approaching the “dead of winter” with substantial snow cover and frigid temperatures, the longer days signal the stirrings of new life. Great Horned Owls will begin their mating rituals in January and begin nesting in February. Listen on nights with strong moon light for the familiar, “Who’s awake, me toooo” call. Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) generally lay two to three eggs in an old nest built by another species such as a crow, osprey or squirrel. Both parents incubate the eggs that hatch in about four weeks. The parents protect and feed their young until they are ready to leave the nest at approximately 2 months of age. If you have heard their calls recently, they are probably nesting nearby and should now be on their eggs.

In northern states as natural food sources begin to wane, you may find more birds coming to your feeders. We certainly have! Now is the time to be watchful for those harder to find species such as Redpolls (Carduelis flammea), Crossbills (Loxia), and Pine Siskins (Carduelis pinus). I have had each of these species at my feeders in Maine and in Northern Illinois in February in the past. In snowy areas also look for Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax hyperboreus), Lapland Longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus), and even Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris) gathering grit on road edges or in large, mixed flocks in fields. Birds this time of year don’t have it easy with the stress of the cold temperatures and trying to locate food. If you feed the birds, keep feeders clean and well stocked. Suet is a high-energy food that attracts woodpeckers, nuthatches and others. We purchase inexpensive beef suet from the supermarket and put in an old bait bag. Black sunflower seeds are always popular as are peanuts or peanut butter. Peanut butter can be smeared on a branch or a tree trunk. Water is most valuable at this time of year. We utilize a heater to keep our birdbath clear of ice.

As rivers and lakes freeze solid it is a good time to search for concentrations of wintering ducks, gulls and eagles anywhere there is open water. Below dams, in cooling ponds for some industry, and occasionally in wastewater treatment plants are good places to try. Along the coast it is still a good time to get out the spotting scope and scan for alcids, wintering ducks, loons and grebes as well as Purple Sandpipers (Calidris maritime) at the end of breakwaters and jetties.

This is also a good time of year to search large grasslands, fields, coastal marshes, airports or blueberry barrens for Shrikes (Lanius) or Snowy Owls (Nyctea scandiaca).

When birding try not to “stress” birds by approaching too closely, pishing, or by playing tapes. Your presence may keep birds from feeding or cause them to burn important calories flying toward or away from you. I am always surprised and delighted to see so many birds in winter. You may find our usual winter friends or something uncommon if you get out and look. Winter birding is great fun. Hope to see you when I’m out and about!



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