February 26, 2018 | For Love of the Coast | Ecology & Wildlife, Land Stewardship, Staff, Nature Bummin'
A participant on a recent tracking outing mentioned how in winter Maine forests can be quiet as far as songbirds are concerned. “Huh” was my creative reply (and it took me way too long to come up with that one).
I think I would go with “quieter” as opposed “quiet” (I know – nitpicky!). Sure, many species that nest in local woods headed for warmer climes months ago. However, during the calm between storms or wind bursts, you’ll hear overwintering songbirds communicate with each other and add much-appreciated chatter to the woods.
Folks with feeders (FWF) know that songbirds like Chickadees, Nuthatches, Titmice, Cardinals, Jays, Crows and Juncos (among others) will visit all winter as long as the feed keeps getting replaced. These same species can be found in the woods well away from any feeding stations where they are joined by songbirds that seldom go to humans for grub.
“Shivering to generate heat is a part of the Golden-crowned Kinglet’s winter survival strategy, and I observed two different individuals shivering hard while looking for food during a significant freeze earlier in winter.”
Joining the kinglets on peninsula this winter has been a small number of Brown Creepers, a songbird that readily hunts for insects in nooks and crannies in tree bark. On sunny days small flocks (10-15) of Cedar Waxwings have been seen in flight as well as larger flocks (30-50) of overwintering American Robins. What a winter for Robins and Juncos!
On most trips to a nearby decaying deer (I spend way too much time with that deer) I have been hearing and seeing a pair of finch species known as Crossbills. Earlier in the winter small flocks (up to 5) of White-winged Crossbills came through searching for bounties of spruce cones, but now it appears that Red Crossbill is the species that may hang around for a bit. Both species of Crossbills have upper and lower bills (or beaks or mandibles) that don’t line up when their bill is closed. This is an adaption to access seeds in conifer cones. Crossbills will stick their bills between scales of a cone and then close (or cross) their bills, which in turn pries the scales apart. The crossbills then use their sticky tongues to extract seeds that the cone holds.
“Not necessarily known for their harmonic ditties, Corvids (family Corvidae) such as Ravens, Crows, and Blue Jays are a family that (somewhat surprisingly) also falls into the category of songbirds.”
Another adaptation Crossbills have is a pocket-like structure midway down their throats called an esophageal diverticulum. This pouch is used to store seeds which then can be digested during severe weather episodes allowing the crossbills to feed without “going outside” in a sense. Crossbills are songbirds built for Maine winters!
Not necessarily known for their harmonic ditties, Corvids (family Corvidae) such as Ravens, Crows, and Blue Jays are a family that (somewhat surprisingly) also falls into the category of “songbirds. ” In other words, they have a syrinx to make vocalizations as all songbirds have. Corvids are known for their mobbing behavior where they gang up on any predator, often owls, that they come across. Recently Blue Jays have drawn my attention to Northern Goshawks, which hunt songbirds. Good use of your syrinx, Jays!
More Nature Bummin'
Parasites are selfish, and so am I
For a nature bum like Kirk Gentalen, deciding what to write about can sometimes be challenging. Kirk sees cool things every day and there’s so much to choose from! In the latest Nature Bummin’ article, Kirks explores something that’s been hidden in plain sight!
Blood in the Tracks
The mother Fisher delivers a litter with one to six (average two – three) youngsters called “Kits”, born blind, helpless, and are partially covered with fine hair.
Winter Mid-Season Grade: So Far, So Good
This winter hasn’t been the coldest, or the snowiest, and it definitely hasn’t been the iciest, but even so, Kirk knows there’ve been no shortage of lessons to be learned!
Late Season Peeping
We know why Peepers peep in spring, it’s to mate. At that time, their common name makes perfect sense. But why do Spring Peepers peep in the fall? In this Nature Bummin’ column, MCHT steward Kirk Gentalen sets out to solve the mystery of the Fall Peeper.
Mornings Are For Otters
When is the best time to see an otter? Nature Bum, Kirk Gentalen gets this question a lot and has thought long and hard about when and where you’re most likely to find an otter. Read on to learn more!