Northland Nature: Finches rarely visit feeders this winter
Retired teacher Larry Weber, of Barnum, is the author of “Butterflies of the North Woods" and “Spiders of the North Woods," among other books. Reach him via Katie Rohman at email@example.com.
By the time we reach early March, we are likely thinking of the coming spring and not winter. But it is still winter, and even if we can believe the calendar, winter will remain for a couple weeks. It is not unusual that during early this month we will still see wintering conditions of subzero temperatures and snowfall. However, the greater amount of daylight each day is moving toward spring.
During the coming of this new season, we look forward to the arrival of migrant birds that wintered to the south of us. And they do arrive. Some may have already made their appearance. But we have observed and appreciated those who did not leave us during the winter.
Those of us who feed birds were able to watch their activities as they fed on or near the feeders as we sat in the warmth of our houses. Their daily arrival and feeding at such nearby sites added much to our enjoyment of the cold season. And may have made winter better for our feathered neighbors as well.
I noticed much variation in the activity at the feeders depending on the weather conditions. Cold and snowy days seem to bring in more birds while they are satisfied with finding food elsewhere during the milder days. But throughout it all, I noted a consistent “same seven” species.
All through the last four months, I hosted black-capped chickadees, white and red-breasted nuthatches, blue jays feeding on sunflower seeds and three kinds of woodpeckers at the suet: downy, hairy and red-bellied.
In addition to these seven, there were scattered visits from the larger pileated woodpeckers, a few turkeys that picked up the seeds on the ground and sometimes there were small flocks of goldfinches.
As their name says, goldfinches are a type of finch. Finches are varied in the region and in the course of winter, we could possibly see as many as 10 kinds.
Maybe the most dominant one is the large, brightly colored pine grosbeaks, often also seen at crabapple trees on cold days. Their rarer cousin, the black and yellow evening grosbeaks, may come to feed at some sites. The tiny redpolls, common and the more unusual hoary, can be abundant some years, gone others. I did not have redpolls at my feeders all winter.
Though not at feeders, the situation is similar with the red and white-winged crossbills. The other finches — purple finch, house finch and goldfinch — are likely to be seen each winter and they, along with the closely related pine siskin, may also be here in the warmer months. Finch populations vary each winter. Being irruptive, they fluctuate in their arrival from the north and are limited this year.
At my feeders, this winter saw very few finches. The only ones that came by for meals, usually selecting thistle seeds, were small flocks of goldfinches. Though neighbors reported others, these well-known finches were the only ones I saw at the feeders.
Goldfinches are best known for their summer appearance. Here is where they live up to the gold in their name. Males are yellow with black wings and forehead. Females are a bit more drab. Easy to see, they readily sing and nest in our yards — the wild canary.
In winter, birds wear a green-brownish plumage and travel in flocks. They often last at the feeders in the late winters into April.
Though I did not see many finches this winter, I appreciated flocks of goldfinches that did arrive.