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Birds of the Great Backyard Bird Count (What Time is it in Nature)

February 21, 2015

Last weekend was the Great Backyard Bird Count, a four-day long citizen science celebration of birds that takes place during the beginning of the northward migration.  We held a birding open house at Prairie Ridge last Saturday and invited people to learn about birds, watch birds from our Outdoor Classroom deck, and do some citizen science.  It was cold and only a handful of hardy souls made it out to participate, but between everyone who participated, we amassed a pretty good list of birds!  For this week’s What Time is it in Nature, I’m going to highlight a few of the feeder birds we saw during the GBBC.

Some of the birds we see at the feeders in the winter are birds that are found on the grounds year-round.  The Northern Cardinals are commonly spotted at the feeders all year:

Northern Cardinal

Cardinals are the state bird of North Carolina, and given the number of them we see at Prairie Ridge, it’s no wonder!  They’re very common in our area.  You can’t miss them with their bright red plumage, black faces, and crests, especially in winter when their bright color really stands out against the drab landscape.

We also see many Tufted Titmice throughout the year:

Tufted titmouse

While they’re on the grounds year-round, we seem to see a lot more of them in the winter as they visit the feeders often.  Recently, they’ve been spotted feasting on suet and snagging seeds from the feeders that they carry off into the bushes to eat.  These are very active birds, almost always on the move!

Other birds have been taking advantage of the suet during the recent cold spell as well:

Chickadee and downy woodpecker

The smaller bird on the left is a Carolina Chickadee, one of our most common birds at Prairie Ridge.  They’re small birds that you’ll see near the feeders year-round.  Like the Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadees generally grab a seed and fly off to eat it alone in a tree or bush.

The larger bird on the right is a Downy Woodpecker, our most commonly observed woodpecker.  Even though they’re here all year, the Downies tend to take greater advantage of the feeders during the winter and spend more time in the woods in the summer.  It’s easier to spot them now than it will be in the warmer months because they’re right out in the open at the feeders.

Blue Jays have been very common recently!

Blue jay

It’s not unusual to see five to seven Blue Jays near the feeders at a time, squabbling over access to the peanut feeder or the best seeds on the ground.  Even if you don’t SEE the Blue Jays, you can often hear them up in the trees!  Their loud, squawking calls are easy to remember and often one of the first calls beginning birders learn.

The Pine Warbler is another showy species that brings a pop of color to the feeders:

Pine Warbler

The bright yellow plumage is hard to miss!  The Pine Warblers are often seen feeding on the suet cakes, so look for them clinging to the sides of the suet cages.  Now is a great time to see them!  During the summer, they spend most of their time in the tops of pine trees and can be hard to spot.

Not all of the species we have visiting our grounds are native!  The European Starlings have been out in droves at Prairie Ridge recently:

European starling

European Starlings are, as their name suggests, native to Europe, though they’ve been in the US for a long time.  Lore tells us that a group of bird lovers in the late 1800’s released a small flock of Starlings in an attempt to establish populations of every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays in the US.  That small flock grew and spread and now Starlings are found throughout the US and into Canada and Central America.  A lot of people consider them pests, but they are quite beautiful, especially in the winter when they sport their white spots.

By combining the bird lists of everyone who participated in our bird open house, we came up with a list of 33 birds that we contributed to the Great Backyard Bird Count (in no particular order):

Carolina Wren White-breasted Nuthatch Blue Jay
American Bittern Eastern Towhee Tufted Titmouse
American Robin European Starling American Crow
Carolina Chickadee Northern Cardinal Mourning Dove
House Finch White-throated Sparrow Downy Woodpecker
Dark-eyed Junco Turkey Vulture Eastern Bluebird
Red-bellied Woodpecker Brown-headed Nuthatch Hermit Thrush
Winter Wren Song Sparrow Field Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow Red-tailed Hawk Mockingbird
Rock Dove Brown Thrasher Red-winged Blackbird
Pine Warbler Yellow-rumped Warbler Blue Jay


Not bad given the cool temps and low visitation!

There’s still time to see a lot of our winter visitors before they head north for the summer and many more opportunities to get involved in bird citizen science!  Next week’s Citizen Science Saturday will feature birds, for example, so come out from 10:30-11:30 next Saturday (Feb 28) to get involved!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Museum’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation.Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Photos by Chris Goforth)

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