Tag Archives: Snowbirds

WHERE EVER TRAVELS A FLOCK OF SONGBIRDS, SO FOLLOWS THE COOPER’S HAWK

Throughout the summer and autumn, juvenile Cooper’s Hawk(s) have been observed hunting on Eastern Point. We see them zooming low and stealthily down roadways and soaring high amongst the treetops. There is no way of knowing if they are one and the same although one bird in particular appears to have developed a keen interest in the flock of Dark-eyed Juncos currently foraging in the neighborhood. Nearly every evening at dusk he hungrily swoops in, but never seems to capture one.

Well-camouflaged Dark-eyed Juncos, also known as Snowbirds

The Snowbirds have a neat set of tricks. They all scatter to the surrounding trees and shrubs. The slate gray and brown Dark-eyed Juncos are well camouflaged but that is not their only secret to survival.  Rather than singing their typical lovely bird song, from their hiding places, they all begin making an odd chirping-clicking sound. From every bush and shrub within the nearby vicinity, you can hear the clicks. I think the clicking is meant to confuse the Cooper’s Hawk!

He’ll first dive into a bush hunting a Junco, come up unsuccessfully, then swoop over to a nearby tree, perched and well hidden in the branches while on the lookout for dinner. The Snowbirds click non-stop until the Cooper’s departs. After the hunter flies away, they all come out of their hiding places, some from branches mere feet from where the Cooper’s was perched. After a short time, they resume their lovely varied birdsong.  I recorded audio of the Junco’s clicking and hope to find out more about this fascinating behavior.

Although we hope the young Cooper’s is finding food, I am rather glad he’s not that good at catching Snowbirds.

Cooper’s Hawks are a conservation success story. You can read more about the reason why in a post form several years ago: SPLENDID COOPER’S HAWK – A CONSERVATION SUCCESS STORY GIVES HOPE. Note the difference in the plumage in the two stories. The Cooper’s Hawk in that post is an adult. The Cooper’s chasing the Snowbirds is a juvenile. Both are about crow-sized, with the typical flat topped head.

Adult Cooper’s Hawk

Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk

INVASION OF THE GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS AND SNOWBIRDS!

Dark-eyed Junco (Snowbird)

A beautiful multitudinous flock of choristers has been chattering from every vantage point. The mixed flock of Dark-eyed Juncos and Golden-crowned Kinglets arrived to Cape Ann’s eastern edge on the same day. I don’t know if they are traveling together but they can be seen foraging in close proximity, from leaf litter to treetops.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglets are one of the teeny-tiniest of songbirds;  a bit larger than the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but not quite as large as the Black-capped Chickadee. They zoom in and out of the trees (mostly evergreens), hovering and hanging every which way when probing for insect prey.

The Dark-eyed Juncos (also know as Snowbirds) are mostly foraging close to the ground in grass and fallen leaves. They hop from place to place and flip up leaves looking for seeds. The Snowbirds fly up to the trees and shrubs when disturbed.

Note the array of shading in the individual Snowbird’s feathers, from slate gray to milk chocolate

Learn the birdsongs of these two beautiful species and you will easily be able to locate them. The Golden-crowned Kinglet sings a lovely ascending high pitched series of notes that end in a lower pitched warble. The Snowbird sings a series of kew, trills, whistles, and warbles that is also lovely and when the two are foraging in close proximity, it’s a joy to hear their mini symphony.

Golden-crowned Kinglet range map

Dark-eyed Junco range map

SNOW BUNTING SNOWBIRD SNOWFLAKES AND WHAT DOES BEACH HABITAT RESTORATION LOOK LIKE IN WINTER TIME?

One of the most beautiful creatures of the snowy landscape has to be the Snow Bunting.  Also known as Snowflakes, Snow Buntings light up winter scapes with swirls of flight and highly animated foraging habits.

During the breeding season in the high Arctic, Snow Buntings eat a protein rich insect diet but while here during the winter months in the relatively milder climate of Massachusetts, they forage on tiny grass seeds and must constantly eat. Although their feeding habits are highly entertaining to the human observer, it’s really a matter of life or death for these cold weather warriors.

Standing on tiptoes for breakfast

Snow Buntings have several methods for extracting seeds. Sometimes they vigorously shake a wildflower or stalk of grass at the base of the plant. Other times they alight on a single blade of dried beach grass and slide their beaks along, shredding the stalk and releasing teeny seeds. They may stay alit and eat their foraged treasure, but more often than not, they shake the blade while perched and release the seeds to the ground. The Snow Bunting’s fellow flock member will seize upon the shower of released seeds and try to gobble them up. Herein lies the the conflict and disputes occur non stop while a flock is feeding. Typically one will readily retreat while the other dines, but occasionally a nasty battle ensues.

The wonderfully rich beach grass habitat where the Snow Buntings flock was formerly a barren scape that persistently washed away after every storm. Beach grass was planted, temporary dune fencing installed, and small rocks were added. After only several seasons, this habitat restoration project began attracting butterflies, songbirds, and nesting shorebirds during the spring and summer months, along with glorious creatures such as the beautiful Snow Bunting during the winter months.

I plan to find out exactly what this species of beach grass is that the Snow Buntings find so appealing because there are several locations on Cape Ann where habitat restoration is badly needed and I think this precise species of grass would surely be at the top of the list for stabilizing shoreline conservation projects.

Snow Bunting tracks

See Snow Bunting previous posts:

WHEN SNOW BUNTINGS FILL THE SKIES

BEAUTIFUL SNOWSHOEING AND SNOW SLEDDING SNOW BUNTING SNOWFLAKES

FLIGHT OF THE SNOW BUNTINGS

 

Sharing More Letters from My Readers ~ “Snowbirds” and Locals Alike

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

From Jan in Palm City, Florida: You may know all about this site. I am going to a banding in Florida on Friday morning. Someone near here has a yard full and I have been invited to the banding. I haven’t seen a hummer for at least two months. Vagrant and Winter Hummingbird Banding Love your Emails. Thank you.

Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. 
Follow your heart.

From Jan in Dunedin, Florida: Love your site.  Normally tucked into Rockport but we escaped to Florida for a few months this year – Dunedin – north of Clearwater, West coast.  Rather than beautiful land birds we are surrounded with osprey, eagles, wading birds.  You probably are aware of this little factoid, but just in case…  Juncos do a better job of predicting a snow fall than the weather forecasters.  The more of them hopping about under/in/around bushes and eating seed, the worse the snowfall.  Check it out.

From Judith in Gloucester: Thanks Kim, for keeping me on the circut. These early mornings I am in my studio working on a commission and so enjoy watching Smith Cove come alive with birds of many feathers .  Your words today warm the heart! You are truly tuned in .  With gratitude, Judith or ‘ Snowed In ‘

From Sue in Newton: Thanks for sending your last about pine siskins – I did see one at my feeder in the last few weeks and tried to identify it, and now I know what it is thanks to you! Happily at home today – back to work tomorrow, then Florida next week to visit the “snowbirds”, I mean “in-laws.” David is away in Costa Rica this week – good timing! Hope all is well with you and family –

From Sally in Hamilton: Lots of junkos in Hamilton too this weekend. Such fun to watch the birds this time of the year, when everything else is so still and quiet. Still looking for a mini Slinky to hang on my feeder this June on Cape Cod!