Question: The American Robins recently have arrived in flocks to my yard. At the same time, Cedar Waxwings also came in mass. All summer, I saw only occasional Blue Jays but their color is now interspersed with the Robins and Waxwings. Why are these birds normally seen individually or not at all and suddenly they are here at the same time? Submitted by Judy Morr
It is not uncommon to see different species of birds flocking together in the fall and winter. At this time winter birds work together to find food that is sparse compared to the abundance available during the warmer months. The more eyes, the better for locating food sources. Recently, during one of the Early Morning Bird Walks at Caw Caw we noticed Cedar Waxwings and American Robins together in trees feeding on berries.
These two species are apparently common traveling partners in the fall and winter. Dozens of birds would fly up in mass to the next tree that looked promising for a better feed. There is no competing when there is a bounty of berries. It is interesting that Cedar Waxwings are social birds year round whereas American Robins know the benefits of grouping together during the cooler months, but become territorial in the spring during nesting season. For more information check out Robins and Waxwings in Winter and Summer Comparing Behaviors.Agricultural fields, which are abundant around John’s Island, are another area that you might see mixed flocks feeding on grain and seeds remaining after the harvest.
A single bird in a flock is also safer because there are many other birds to look out for predators, such as hawks or owls, as he eats or rests. A hawk cannot easily pick off a single bird crowded with others as they perch on power lines or in trees. I’m sure most people have noticed a hawk being chased away by a swarm of smaller birds. Interestingly you may also see a couple of Blue Jays together with Robins on a lawn during winter months. Blue Jays may raid a Robin’s nest for eggs or hatchlings during nesting season, but are more interested in acorns, seeds, and insects in fall and winter and are excellent alarms for incoming predators.
Frigid nights will also bring birds together. A tight knit flock roosting in trees at night offers a greater defense from the cold winter weather. BirdNote, a wonderful short daily podcast, recently released 61 Tons of Robins! about how many American Robins were counted in Florida roosting together at night.
So, it appears that birds engage in activities that are beneficial to their survival. Large numbers of birds and even different species will flock together in fall and winter when they are more vulnerable to the elements in order to locate food, keep warm, and stave off predators.
Question: For a few weeks each spring and again in the fall we hear Great Horned Owls calling back and forth out here on Jenkins Point. I’ve seen them on our roof ridge and chimney. The rest of the year we don’t hear them at all. Spring could be breeding season but why in the fall? Do these owls migrate? Submitted by Andy Allen
Answer: Great Horned Owls are resident birds who maintain some type of territory through the year. Singing in the fall probably identifies the resident’s ownership and tells new young to go somewhere else… Neat birds – I slept in a chicken coop next to two young owls for a summer in New England. We didn’t bother each other as long as I stayed on my side of the wall… The joys of working with Audubon! Response from Carl Helms
Thanks to Andy for the question, Carl for the response and Ed for the photo!
Once again, this winter there is a lot of discussion about American Robins. Below is a series of Q&A’s to share with all our readers.
Question: We’ve seen a flock of American Robins in the edge of scrub on the north side of Jenkins Point Road. Isn’t it early for them to be coming thru? We usually don’t see them until late February. (Submitted by: Andy Allen)Continue reading “Ask SIB … American Robins”
Nearly a dozen SIB members are participating in the 2017-2018 Project FeederWatch program. During a seminar held earlier this week, one of the members asked a great question:
Q: My backyard is legally ended by a tidal creek that flows in to a marsh behind my neighbor’s house. The neighbor has a dock. I know I don’t count birds in flight but if there are birds perched on the dock or in the marsh, should I include them in my counts? Also, if there are birds scavenging at low tide in the mud of the creek or swimming by on high tide, should they be included?
Since this is an important questions as many of us live on or near marsh, beach, rivers, etc, Judy Morr sent the question to Project Feeder. Below is their answer:
A: It gets a little tricky counting near water. If any of the birds are attracted to something you provide (feeder, birdbath, plants, stocked fish in a pond etc…), please include them in the count. If you think the birds would be at that location regardless of anything you provide, please exclude them. For example, if a bird is foraging at the tide line or resting at the dock, I would exclude it. However, if ducks come up into your yard to forage, I would include them. I hope that helps.
Thank you for FeederWatching,
Chelsea Benson Project Assistant Project FeederWatch Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Road Ithaca, NY 14850
If you are interested to learn more about Project FeederWatch, please read our BLOG or visit their website www.feederwatch.org and join today!
On September 3, 2017, SIB received an email from Richard Sidebottom.
“We live in Charleston and are out here often. My in-laws (the kids grandparents) are Jerry and Jenny Reves, who have had a house here since 1995. Jerry is the former Dean at MUSC and writes the wellness column in The Seabrooker.
We arrived out here from town yesterday and the kids saw a dead yellow and black/gray bird on the deck and also noticed the identification band around its leg. My kids enjoy looking at the nature guides (including Audubon / Peterson’s Field Guide) that their grandparents have at the house, so we tried to identify it. We think it may be a female Painted Bunting. It occurred to me this morning as we were trying to figure out how to bury it that we should ask whether someone should know about the band. The band says: OPEN 2721 ABRE, 24834
The two photos below were attached:
Deceased bird with leg bands found on Seabrook Island by the Sidebottom Family.
Closer look at band on deceased bird found on Seabrook Island by the Sidebottom Family.
Nancy also sent a note to Aaron Given, Wildlife Biologist on Kiawah Island, who manages a bird banding station on Kiawah. As she suspected, Aaron responded: “We banded it on 8/26/17 at the Captain Sam’s site on the west end of Kiawah. This is a hatch-year bird because of the buffy edging on the wing coverts therefore the sex is unknown. The most likely cause of death was by window strike.”
When you report a banded bird to the USGS, you will receive a certificate of appreciation, similar to the one below sent to the Sidebottom family.
If you missed any of SIB’s other blogs about banded birds, you can find them by searching on the “Banding” category, or click on this link.
Read the article below to learn more about finding birds with leg bands: