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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Counting Birds

In the spirit of the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen-science project sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I thought I would take you on a birds' tour of our garden.

Our resident red-shouldered hawk can usually be seen perched in one of the many trees around the garden. He blends into the winter landscape really well.

red-shouldered hawk

Somehow the song birds instinctively know that he much prefers a rodent over them because when he is hanging about the garden the birds are still very active at the nearby feeders.

red-shouldered hawk


I find woodpeckers much easier to spot in the winter when the trees are bare. There are several we see regularly including the red-bellied, red-headed, downy, yellow-bellied sapsucker, and Pileated.


red-bellied woodpecker

red bellied woodpecker

Of course that doesn't mean they are easier to photograph. Woodpeckers are constantly moving up and down or around tree trunks, tapping for insects or sap.

The Pileated woodpecker makes a very distinct tapping sound but is notoriously difficult to get in photos. The bird (or the photographer) is always on the wrong side of the tree.

Pileated woodpecker


The yellow-bellied sapsuckers are another migratory bird that are very active during the winter months in our garden. We usually see them perched on the side of trees drilling their signature rows of holes around the trunk to lap up sap with their brush tipped tongue.


yellow-bellied sapsucker (male)

yellow-bellied sapsucker (male)

They will also visit suet feeders and have a cache in trees like this male who was retrieving some black sunflowers seeds.

yellow-bellied sapsucker with seed

Another of our winter visitors is the hermit thrush. Typically we see them hopping around in the leaf litter searching for insects but they have visited the feeders often during our chilling temperatures. The snow, ice and sleet we got this week made it extra challenging for these birds to get food. Ground foragers can't scratch through the ice layer so I was sure to scatter seeds.

hermit thrush in snow

hermit thrush

White-throated sparrows are also temporary residents, winter through spring, when they migrate northward for breeding.

white-throated sparrow

white-throated sparrow in snow

The pine warblers are bright patches of bright yellow in an otherwise pretty monochromatic landscape. They look a little out of place in all the snow. But these little birds have been a ray of sunshine on our gloomy winter days.

pine warbler in winter

pine warbler

This weekend (February  14-17) is the Great Backyard Bird Count. It is super EASY to participate. All you have to do is...
1) Register at Great Backyard Bird Count website.
2) Count the birds you see for 15 minutes (or longer) on one or more days. Make your best estimate on the number of each species.
3) Enter your list(s) online at http://gbbc.birdcount.org/ Enter a new checklist for each day, location, or same day/location but different time.

Make your best estimate on the number of each species you see. Here is a grouping of cardinals at the edge of our woodland garden which I shot yesterday during our snow storm. How many do you see?

Cardinals in winter landscape

The GBBC website has bird lists by zip code or National Park/Forest, an online bird guide and tricky bird ID helps. There is even a photo contest for those who are interested in submitting their images.

Why is it important to participate? Well, this project collects data on our dynamic bird populations. The data helps scientists get a big picture look at the distribution and movements of bird populations around the world. It looks at how weather can change or influence these populations, changes in population numbers, changes in migration patterns, bird diseases affecting populations in certain areas, and differences in diversity in rural, natural and suburban areas.

But, most of importantly it is FUN!

20 comments:

  1. Pięknym ptakom udało Ci się zrobić wspaniałe zdjęcia. Ostatnie zdjęcie z 14 kardynałami jest niesamowite w kolorach. Pozdrawiam.
    Beautiful birds you were able to make great pictures. Latest photo of 14 cardinals is amazing colors. Yours.

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    1. It was a beautiful site. I don't ever remember so many sitting together before in my garden.

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  2. Wow, that's a lot of cardinals! My favorites are the woodpeckers. I would love to see a Pileated woodpecker sometime, as I've never seen one. I'll definitely be counting this weekend. My kids love participating, too!

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    1. The woodpeckers are really fun to watch. We have lots of trees and those that are declining or have died really attract the Pileated. Have fun counting Indie!

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  3. The White-throated is such a cute bird. We have them up here too, although they usually migrate Southward. No shortage of Cardinals here either. That is a nice sized flock you have. I agree, the woodpeckers and sapsuckers are a pain to photograph. They circle the trees and move in a staccato motion. Very short and abrupt.

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    1. The freezing temps and need for food provided the perfect set up to attract that many Cardinals at one time. They are always the last to go to the feeders (maybe because they know they stand out) so they always sit on the periphery and wait.

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  4. I don't recall ever seeing that many cardinals in one spot! Lovely! We have most of these birds here, but rarely see pine warblers. They do hang around the pine forests in Northern Wisconsin, though. Hermit thrushes are so sweet. Good luck with your count. I have a busy weekend ahead, but I might try to count on Sunday. It's a worthy project, and definitely a good and fun thing to do.

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    1. Hope you have time to do a little counting. Maybe you can do it from the warmth of inside looking out a window. Y'all have had a rough winter this year!

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  5. Amazing photos. You really have a lot of patience to get such great photos of the birds like you do.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. For the most part the birds are pretty cooperative. We have so many birds that I just walk around the garden, keep a fair distance so not to scare them off and take photos.

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  6. Great photos, as always. But what if, like me, you can't tell the difference between a sparrow, a hermit thrush, and a Carolina wren? Wouldn't I be messing up the estimates if I participated?

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    1. LOL Sarah! They do have a bird id app and online guide that would help. I think there can be some err if birds aren't id properly but this study just helps them look at the big picture.

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  7. I cannot participate but I can tell that despite the gloomy, stormy, rainy day in London, birds woke me up this morning, signs of spring coming? I hope so!

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    1. I love waking up to the birds singing. It is such a great way to start the day. The birds have started singing here again too. Starting to stake out their territories and find mates...spring is definitely not far off!

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  8. Sometimes I think the GBBC in the North would be better in early April. For now I have a few birds but our snow keeps most away. I also love the woodpeckers and you have so many...your hawk is a stunner too!! I had one cardinal in the yard....yours took my breath away.

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    1. It would certainly be better conditions for those counting, especially up north! I think originally it was schedule right before spring migration to get a snap shot of the winter birds. The hawk is fun to watch...He is out hunting everyday somewhere in the garden.

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  9. I just the photo of the tree filled with cardinals. :o) I've been putting out a lot of seed this winter and the yard is full of birds. We don't ever get the big pileated woodpeckers but have lots of the little guys.

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    1. This winter has been SO cold Tammy we have been going through a lot of bird food too!!! I saw your on the list for the Fling...looking forward to meeting you!

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  10. Wonderful photos! I love all the shots of the woodpeckers, but the sight of all those cardinals in the tree is amazing. I counted 15.

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  11. Wow, I am amazed by your number and variety of birds! I love that picture with all the Cardinals. And I am very jealous of all your Woodpeckers. We get mostly downies, with some hairy, red bellied, and northern flicker.

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