Nomadic Winter Bird Visitors

pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Redpolls in West Valley 12.09.21

Northern winters can be tough!! Arctic temperatures, deep snow and ice-covered roads can be enough to send some of us south. Sometimes birds that typically live north of here head south, too, but it’s food shortages that prompt that decision, and they set out in search of better ‘pickings’ . Read on to see pictures of Redpolls, Evening Grosbeaks, Bohemian Waxwings, and White-winged Crossbills that I have seen here in recent years.

Early in December, 2021, I spotted a big flock of birds swirling, landing, feeding, and flying. The lead photo shows a fraction of the flock; they were so active and so numerous, I couldn’t identify them until I stopped the action with my camera! On March 16, 2022, as I walked that same road, a small flock of birds flew into a thick little Ponderosa Pine nearby. Bird chatter led me to the tree – and around the tree. It was full of bird activity, but I couldn’t clearly see a single bird until I stood still for several minutes when a few moved near the ends of some branches.

Redpoll and Pine Siskin feeding on Niger (thistle) seed ; Two Redpolls in Maple tree; Redpoll at feeder with black oil sunflower seeds

Bohemian Waxwings are larger relatives of the Cedar Waxwings we see year ’round. Both are frugivores (fruit-eaters) and are known for visiting fruit trees in flocks. Bohemian Waxwings irrupt on years that crops are in short supply north of here. The word “waxwing” is from the red tip(s) on ends of wing feathers that increase in number as the bird ages; the bird here was a year old.

Cedar Waxwing on left has white under tail and is more pastel-colored. This one has five red “wax” droplets on its wing. The Bohemian Waxwing on right is more brightly-colored with russet coloring around face and its undertail; the white bars on wings also help to distinguish it. This was a mixed flock of Waxwings feeding on the cones of a Rocky Mountain Juniper.

Bohemian Waxwing. Note “wax” droplets at edges of wing feathers

Evening Grosbeaks irrupt when their favorite seeds are in short supply. Their numbers have diminished by a lot in recent years. The cause of their decline is under study.

White-winged Crossbill (male) 3.16.22 on Douglas Fir
White-winged Crossbill (female) 3.16.22

A mixed flock of White-winged Crossbills and Red Crossbills were busily feeding in this Douglas fir when I walked underneath it. I was unaware of them until I started getting pelted by falling cones!

Red Crossbills shown above. The female on left fed her young something she picked up under a Ponderosa Pine tree. The male was waiting his turn to get sunflower seeds from a feeder . Red Crossbills are permanent residents of this area. Perhaps they were hosting their visiting relatives when they were here last winter!

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