Backyard Birds - January/February Report
Extreme cold weather showcases some interesting bird behaviors in this edition of Backyard Birds.
The cold weather initiated two interesting reports. On Feb. 24, Willem Van Vliet sent pictures and a message that “a small flock of Bushtits visited our yard yesterday. It was just 5 females. When not feeding, they huddled closely together to keep warm, at times in regular head-tail-head-tail order. The size of the huddle varied a bit. The smallest huddle was 3; the biggest was 11 or 12.
“I could not detect if there was a pecking order and wonder if they rotate through the position on the outside, taking turns. If so, is it the weakest who are on the outside, losing the competition for the warmest spots on the inside? Or is it the strongest on the outside, protecting weaker ones on the inside? Older birds outcompeting younger ones? Families or pairs in the enter and left-over singles on the outside? Females seemed to be more often on the outside. Or is it all just random, first come, first served?
“The Bushtits’ strategy reminded me of a similar arrangement of violet-green and cliff swallows, snuggling at Walden Ponds, Boulder, about 5 years ago after a May snowstorm. However, in that case, the birds were sitting not nearly as close to each other, possibly because it was less cold?”
Charlie Chase responded, “I have a similar little ‘gang’ here in Denver. Two of them have distinct markings so I can discern them from the rest. The stacking just seems to be who hits the branch first and facing direction seems to be really variable. Similarly when the gang hits my suet feeder, there doesn’t seem to be any pecking order except one who seems to get pushed around by the others. Normally they share the feeder with no squabbling. There are six different holes in a hanging log and they cover them all.”
Jackie Dunn called from Elbert on Feb. 23, with the temperature six below zero, to describe a House Finch, “sitting on the edge of a feeder, shivering like a leaf.” Her finch may have shivered from the cold, or perhaps because it had some sort of ailment.
On Feb. 3, Jill Holden emailed from Roxborough Park, “The snow brought a Gray-crowned Rosy Finch to my deck. It was pretty shy and returned several times during the day, but would fly when it saw that it was being watched, and I haven’t seen it come back in the days since. I had one come to my house years ago, but I think this is only the second time that I have seen one here.”
Two days late Bill Eden, in south Denver, had “Many birds in the yard today! A large flock of Cedar Waxwings (35-40) came to drink and bathe. Additionally, Downy Woodpeckers, Juncos, Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jays, Northern Flickers, House Finch, Spotted Towhees, and a European Starling were at the feeders. A combined total may have been 85-90 birds.”
Scott Hunt noted that he (with wife Lynne Duman) in Parker surrounded by ponderosa pines, “are doing the backyard bird count and I’m trying to be accurate with Goldfinch IDs. It is hard for me to discern the females. The male American’s stand out of course. We too, have a lot of Pine Siskins. Between them and the finches all competing at the feeders it’s hard to pin down. The reason I thought they may be Lessers, was because it seemed some of the birds did have yellow all the way down the tail and a small white rectangular spot under a faint white wing bar.” His description fits Lessers, a handful of which will spend the winter in the Denver area.
Willem had a definite Lesser in mid-February, buttressed by a photo. “For more than a month, 4 or 5 of them have been visiting our yard in Boulder.”