Backyard Birds – Late October Report

Backyard Birds - Late October Report

Weather this year caused complications with late fledglings. A flock of Grackles and sightings of Sandhill Cranes too!

Alan Ziff (Colorado Springs) shared this extraordinary photo of a female Northern Flicker he watched on Oct. 24. She “had eaten some seeds and insects, then had a drink of fresh water from the bird bath, then flew onto this perch and did what I can only describe as a “happy dance.” I realize there may be a couple dozen other explanations for this behavior, and that it is probably inappropriate to anthropomorphize what we see a wild animal do, but in my gut, I firmly believe she was simply loving life at the moment and demonstrated it with a brief, contagiously enthusiastic display. Watching her gave me a full body smile, and I hope this image does the same for you…”

Northern Flicker by Alan Ziff

On Oct. 24, Peter Ruprecht and a small birding party in southeast Boulder County “were somewhat surprised to see recently fledged Lesser Goldfinches still being fed by their parents. It struck us as unusually late in the season. “I’ll note that both species of goldfinches seemed late to start nesting in this area. I personally did not see any nesting behavior until after July 15. Granted, goldfinches are not the earliest species to start breeding … but to me this seems like one more little example of how songbirds’ status is a bit ‘off’ this year.”

Dave Leatherman responded to his report with this dissertation: “I, too, saw a female type Lesser Goldfinch feeding two fledglings regurgitated Maximillian sunflower seed mash on Oct. 21 at City Park in Fort Collins. It seemed a bit late but as Peter points out, goldfinches are, indeed, the latest songbird nesters. I have always thought that goldfinches nest late because they rely on thistle seed/fluff for nesting material. The timing of when the dominant native and introduced thistle species go to seed determines the timing of goldfinch nesting.

“Because of some extreme weather events last spring, a lot of plants were late getting started this past spring/summer. The other complications in this attempt to determine what is ‘normal’ is the fact Lesser Goldfinches have only recently become common breeders in northern Colorado and also, they could be double-brooding more often at present than they did historically.

“Breeding Bird Atlas I recorded dependent fledglings as late as Aug. 25. BBA II found them as late as Oct. 27. A breeding season extension of two months seems significant even if sampling intensity and other factors make the true story of when fledging last occurs off by a week or two.”

Lesser Goldfinch female by Hugh Kingery

Jared del Rosso (Centennial) on Sept. 24, noted that “Lately, an incredible flock of Common Grackles has been hanging around my neighbors’ and my yards in Centennial. They like one neighbor’s apple trees, and their effort in the tree sends the overripe fruits thudding to the ground. Between the sound of that and the creak of 150+ grackles, my chickens end up hiding away, mistaking the racket for a genuine threat. I was surprised to see this, as the birds can be brave around other noisy birds, such as magpies.

“I’m grateful for the presence of this flock. The sound is wonderful enough — strange and uncommon in my neighborhood, as the birds prefer to stay around the open spaces during summer. And the activity is exciting, a constant whir between the fruiting trees and shrubs. When they decide to leave, all at once, the suburban tree line briefly fills with birds.

Common Grackle by Dick Vogel

“Elsewhere, today at the University of Denver, several of us did an informal survey of birds on campus. Our morning began with a Merlin with a small songbird. It was my first campus Merlin and, eBird tells me, my 50th species of bird at DU in nearly a decade. My last few encounters with Merlins have been like this — this amazing hunter with a small songbird coming undone in its talons and beak. Previously, it was during the Jan. 1, 2020, Christmas Bird Count with Joe Roller. That Merlin had taken a junco.”

A few other snippets: Sandhill Cranes over Franktown and Roxborough Sept. 29-Oct. 6 (Karen Metz, Jill Holden, Urling Kingery). A first White-crowned Sparrow Sept. 15 in our yard, Sept. 25 at Roxborough (Jill). Spotted Towhee and Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco in Kevin Corwin’s Centennial yard Oct. 16.

Merlin by Jeannie Mitchell

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