Saturday, January 7, 2017

Project FeederWatch 2016: New Year, New Update

It is a new year, which means that it is also a new month for Project FeederWatch in my backyard, just north of Parry Sound, Ontario.

Pileated Woodpecker on tree in the backyard
Since the last update the Parry Sound region was pelted with about two-weeks of constant snow.  It was crazy!  I saw that with the large amounts of snow in the region my bird feeders just started getting more and more active.

Snow banks along our driveway (FYI, I am 5'1)

Panorama of our winter wonderland

The snow brought large amounts of American Goldfinches to the backyard, at times numbering close to 60.  For a week before Christmas holidays, a lone European Starling even added itself to our feederwatch lists.  It was even a new species for our backyard in general.  A single American Tree Sparrow has also been seen off and on the last few weeks, however it has not been seen since the new year. A single Pileated Woodpecker, though not at our feeder, was also seen within the range of where I count!

Starling and Downey Woodpecker on Suet
American Tree Sparrow

Purple Finches have been in and out of our backyard but not reaching the same numbers that they did last year.  However even still with this number and with the number of Goldfinches, I have been able to do a little more with FeederWatch than in previous years.  Project FeederWatch is not only about counting birds at your feeders, for example my previous post explored a new behavioural monitoring initiative that looks into bird interactions at feeders. Another form of monitoring that is part of this citizen science project is House Finch Eye Disease.

Winter has set in and so have the Goldfinches!

This avian disease was first noticed by FeederWatchers in the D.C. area and since has spread throughout much of the Eastern USA.  This disease can affect House Finch, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, and Evening Grosbeak.  By adding additional information on whether or not you see signs of this disease on these species within your counts, helps increase the amount of information gathered on the spread of disease and how much of the population it may be affecting.  To learn more on this and see photos of what it looks like click here.  Research has shown that bird feeders likely have attributed to the spread of this disease, however there are easy ways to help combat this and lower this threat to your feeder birds.  One of these is washing your feeder a few times a year with a diluted bleach solution.

While we haven't had many exciting "new" birds at our feeder, we have had some very exciting predators! The first predator to grace our backyard was a Northern Shrike!  We heard it's call from the tree tops and then got to watch it whip around the feeder area.  We did not see it catch any birds as prey, but it was very exciting to watch!

Northern Shrike waiting to strike
The second predator only came two days ago.  While working away at my desk (which faces our backyard and bird feeders) a flurry of action suddenly occurred. I was surprised to look up and see a Barred owl staring into my window from the closest tree!  I assume that it attempted to catch one of our local squirrels.  It quickly retreated into a tree further away and settled in for a half hour.  The funny thing about owls is that you could have absolutely no idea that it is there.  Had it not attempted to catch a squirrel, it is quite possible that I would have not even noticed it!

Barred Owl watching our feeders

Red Squirrel...likely traumatized ;)

The final predator to visit our feeder was a Sharp-shinned Hawk.  This was the first one I witnessed successfully depredate our feeder, flying off with an American Goldfinch in its talons.  Perhaps it will be back another day so I can take a photo!

White-breasted Nuthatch on suet feeder

The last observation I have for you all is a little bit funny!  We have a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers that visit our feeders every day.  Even though we have two suet feeders available for them, they still prefer to feed from our regular bird feeders!  While they normally hang off the edge and feed as other birds do, the odd time I have found them below the feeder and drilling into the bottom!!  I wasn't sure whether to be angry that it was damaging my feeders or incredibly impressed at its problem solving skills!
Hairy Woodpecker drilling at feeder bottom

That's all I have to update for now! If you are interested in joining FeederWatch for this year, it still isn't too late to sign up! Visit this link to learn more or sign up:

Barred Owl overlooking our feeders