BIRD WATCH: Birds swoop into action as cold lingers but days lengthen

THE BEST PART of clear, cold winter weather is the bright sunshine and the lack of clouds or rain.

That’s a given, but there is one more reward when temperatures drop.

Birds collect at our feeders as if a giant magnet were drawing them in. The magnet is easy food.

Several weeks have passed since winter became official. During that time, natural food sources have been plummeting.

It happens every December and January. The severity of the drop depends on how good the food supply was to begin with.

It always gives me concern when the tiny fruit on the old-fashioned flowering apple tree disappears in early December. That happened this year.

Now, the robins and other birds who strip it every winter are looking for any other fruit they can find.

Holly berries appear to be one of their least favorite foods, but a large bush that was loaded the first week in December has been almost stripped of its red fruit.

There also appears to be robins on the wing almost anywhere you travel. They are looking for food.

Other birds are doing the same, and that increases action around the feeders. The varied thrush I’m waiting for still haven’t arrived in my yard, but according to several readers, they are in the area.

Sparrow numbers are high. Groups of golden-crowned and white-crowned sparrows are scratching about under the feeders like a flock of chickens.

On the really cold days, they congregate around the bird bath waiting for it to be thawed. Song sparrows have been joined by the handsome fox sparrows, and both towhee and junco numbers are good.

During this time when everyone is looking for food, surprises are almost guaranteed. A female Townsend’s warbler has joined the chickadees, nuthatches and bushtits at the lard/oatmeal feeder.

Both the ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets are also after this favorite food.

All of this action congregated in a small area is attracting hunting hawks. A visit from the sharp-shinned hawk as well as the Cooper’s is to be expected.

Many times, these hunters are juveniles who aren’t as proficient at hunting as the adults. Juveniles of these two accipiters look very different from the adult birds.

I was reminded of hunting hawks when driving to the post office. Robins were flying everywhere, as they were the day before.

Fruiting trees or vines are probably attracting them. Robins, when they are chasing food, often chase each other. They are very vocal and their loud, scolding voices were heard by someone.

A large hawk landed in a tall tree just ahead of my car. That’s a distraction and frustrating when you need to keep your eyes on the road.

I tried to get a good look, but it only added to my frustration. The bird looked as large as a red-tailed hawk, but I could see that it wasn’t one.

Besides, redtails seldom chase song birds. The habitat of a street near the water wasn’t right. An open field would have been better.

Was it an adult sharp-shinned or Cooper’s? No, too small. Perhaps a peregrine falcon. Thought it showed a dark hood on its head.

Most likely, the books suggest this hunter was a Northern goshawk. We’ll see — hopefully. I travel the road every day. If the robins stay, maybe the hunter will, too.

Deep winter is upon us, but the days are getting longer. No one is more aware of this and the seasonal change than the birds. Here’s to more interesting sightings.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email:

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