Watching birds in the winter can be an unending source of entertainment. There are so many insights you can gain by simply observing with a sense of curiosity. Try these birding activities and you’ll be hooked.
What’s the pecking order?
Black-capped chickadees are common visitors to northern bird feeders. In the winter, they form loose flocks of 4 to12 individuals and cover a territory of 24 acres or more. This winter flock has a distinct social order.
Try to determine who has more social standing. If a chickadee is at the feeder and another arrives, what happens? Does the newcomer alight nearby and move in only after the first has departed? The newcomer has less social standing in this case. Or does the newcomer swoop in and displace the other at the feeder? This newcomer is ranked higher in the social order of the flock.
Where did it Go?
Chickadees, nuthatches and titmice all cache seeds under bark or in lichen for later retrieval.
Watch a bird after it has picked a seed from your feeder. Does it eat the seed right away? Does it take the seed and cache it somewhere? How many hiding places can you identify? What kinds of trees to they tuck the seeds into?
Male or Female?
White-breasted nuthatches join foraging flocks of chickadees and titmice in winter as they can watch out for predators and find food more effectively together. Nuthatches get their name from their habit of taking acorns and other seeds and wedging them into tree bark crevices to hold them while they hammer or “hatch” the nutmeat out. They also store seeds under bark for later consumption.
If a white-breasted nuthatch moves in on another that is feeding, does the first move away or stand its ground? If it moves away, chances are it is a female, as males tend to displace them at feeding stations.
Train Birds to Come to You
Do you have a leftover scarecrow from Halloween? If you have some straw and some old clothes, it may be worth your while to make one. Perhaps just laying a mitten on the railing will do. Experiment with “your” birds.
Take the scarecrow and set it on a chair or bench by your feeder with sunflower seeds, or pieces of nutmeat from peanuts, walnuts, cashews or pecans in its mitten or on the hat. After a few days, curious (and hungry) titmice and chickadees will soon get used to it and come pick the food right off. When the birds have no fear of the stranger anymore and realize it is a ready source of food, remove the scarecrow and replace it with yourself. Put the shirt, hat and mittens on and sit quietly with food in your hand right where the scarecrow sat. Soon, birds will be coming over to eat from your hand.
Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count
For a more intense winter bird activity, get involved in the Christmas Bird Count. This bird census organized by the Audubon Society helps us keep track of bird populations and therefore influence conservation efforts. For some spirited competition grab your binoculars, bird guides, and fellow birders, leave the comfort of your home and chock up as many birds as you can within a 15-mile radius in a 24-hour period. Dates are from December 14th through January 5th, so the census period has already begun. Go here http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count for more information.
Make up your own winter birding activities and let me know your winter bird games. There is so much fun to be had right outside that window.
AllAboutBirds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology
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