Backyard Birds – End of Year Sightings

Backyard Birds - End of Year Sightings

December brought an abundance of backyard birds, though some species are notably absent this year. Here are your sightings, as reported to Hugh Kingery.

Cindy Kristensen in Castle Rock is seeing a large number of Steller’s Jays gathering in the ponderosa pines:

“I’ll see 20+ even in a short walk through the ponderosas and scrub oak. We have always had some in the fall and winter, but this year they are especially numerous — and noisy.”

Nearby, Cindy Valentine reported that “Steller’s Jays and Pygmy Nuthatches have recovered from last year’s down year.”

Hugh, himself, and his wife Urling are also seeing high (for them) numbers of Steller’s Jays—up to seven at the feeders at once. Combined with the Scrub-Jays and magpies, they do make a ruckus.

In Lakewood, Ellie Brown saw a Steller’s Jay—a first for her yard—along with several other mountain birds that she doesn’t ordinarily encounter. They include:

“Mountain Chickadees that have stayed for about six weeks, an occasional Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, a Brown Creeper that frequented the pine tree for several days, and a one-day wonder, a Cassin’s Finch.”

Ellie commented, “Thing most noticeable to me is the amount of bird food all the birds are going through; they are emptying two quarts a day. I think there must be less food to forage in the wild. The usual suspects are continual, finches, sparrows, juncos, goldfinches, chickadees, Bushtits, Mourning Doves, Blue Jays, flickers, downys, and Pine Siskins, and a regular now pair of Spotted Towhees. I just don’t remember having them eat so much. I live just east of the hogback and not far from Red Rocks.”

Steller's Jay
Scrub Jay
Bushtit on suet feeder

Nearby, in Wheat Ridge, Patty Echelmeyer counted 16 species in her yard on December 16. They included regulars such as Blue Jays, flickers, juncos, and House Finches. Some oddballs include a Hairy Woodpecker that has come to her yard off and on all year and a rather tame Red-breasted Nuthatch. Mountain Chickadees arrived earlier that week, and she also saw Pine Siskins and a Spotted Towhee.

She periodically sees both Eurasian Collared-Doves and Mourning Doves, Bushtits, Downy Woodpeckers, and flickers, however, she does not see House Sparrows!

Katie Morrison reports a new yard bird, though her bird probably will end up in the Bird Collection at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. “We found a dead Spotted Towhee in our Park Hill yard a few weeks ago. I remember being surprised to hear them in our Park Hill neighborhood this summer.”

If you find a dead bird, the Museum welcomes specimens. Seal it in a zip-lock bag; write a slip that says the date you found it, your name, and your location, and put both into a second zip-lock. Seal that, put them in the freezer, and deliver to Jeff Stephenson at the Museum (303-370-8319) when it’s convenient.

Last month, Celia Greenman (Lakewood) described the Great Horned Owls that she heard duetting. This week she sent a recording of them. They go back and forth, one low-pitched, one pitched higher. Unfortunately, our Audubon blog isn’t compatible with Wav recordings so you can imagine but not hear the courtship.

Down south, in Larkspur, Curt Frankenfeld puzzled over a sapsucker that showed up in early December. Its immature plumage pegs it as a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. (Red-naped immatures achieve adult plumage in the fall, Yellow-bellieds not until spring.)

Curt also has also seen “a Brown Creeper in the backyard lately. We’ve seen him infrequently for the last two weeks, but I have not gotten a usable photo, yet. We usually see them a few times in the winter and very rarely in the summer. Just a single bird, doing his thing of hopping up a tree then then moving on to the next. I wonder if he might be picking up some of the Nuthatch or Chickadee stashed tidbits. He likes the Juniper tree but ignores the suet.”

“We have a large Juniper growing just off the deck. This tree has grown up under the Ponderosas and is at least 25 feet tall, but pretty leggy. The suet feeder hangs on the trunk of this tree. This tree is female and is where we see the Townsend’s Solitaire (unusual for my yard). Many Junipers grow near the front or Perry Park in the small open space along Plum Creek and the pond as well as on both Sandstone and Haystack Ranches. We also see solitaires uphill from our house on the trail toward Bear Creek, which has more Junipers on its hillsides. There are many solitaires in the area, just not usually at our house.  It is nice to have them around!”

Solitaires arrive from the high country in mid-fall and set up winter territories around berry-laden trees, particularly Rocky Mountain Junipers. Their territorial behavior includes that fluty song, a piercing whistle, and lots of chasing of other solitaires. Hugh and Urling have counted as many as half a dozen on the hillsides near them. Their songs seem now to have given way to the whistles, which they hear regularly. Often solitaires move into the city, probably when they can’t find enough berries on the wild junipers.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
Townsend's Solitaire on tree branch

On Nov. 13, Tom and Dominique Loucks “watched the Leopold story last night with Audubon on Zoom—what a story and how well told it was!

Tom added, “We have Bushtits for the first time this Fall, today at the feeder.” He also sent us a photo of a Pine Siskin.

Pine Siskin on feeder

Then, some missing species. Bea Weaver says that “For the 10 years that I have been feeding backyard birds, a huge flock (over 100) of Red-winged Blackbirds has gorged themselves at my hopper feeder in the winter. They perch in the trees surrounding it, making a loud racket with their calls. This winter—NOTHING!

“The nearby wetland is pretty dry, with the water being down about 3 feet, I suspect this is the reason. They have gone somewhere else for a better habitat.  I thought they were pests, but now I miss them!”

Flavia Hoefler, in Denver, asked, “Have other people in the Front Range observed finch die offs this year?  Symptoms do not match mycoplasmal conjunctivitis and most closely match symptoms of trichomoniasis, which I have read affects other varieties of wild finches (goldfinches, purple finches). I have several times removed all food for 2-3 week periods and sterilized feeders, but the same symptoms have returned as soon as the finches figure out food is back. Might there be a culprit carrier in the Eurasian collared doves that are in their second year in my area?”

No one else has sent such reports to Denver Audubon, although eBird or FeederWatch may have some. FeederWatch (from National Audubon) asks specifically about whether people see eye disease among birds. If you’re not familiar with FeederWatch, check it out. People report birds at their feeders from November to April, once a week or less often. It provides some good scientific data about bird populations — at least those birds that come to feeders.

Your contributions write this column. Thanks to all who send in these intriguing reports. Send a note or post card to P.O. Box 584, Franktown 80116, or Email Hugh Kingery at