Monday, February 11, 2008

Interesting Winter Birds

This is one of those times when I'm both thrilled and sad at the same time. It's been an "irruption year," which means a year when large numbers of northern bird species are seen further south than normal.

Of course, as a birder, seeing birds at my feeders that aren't there during most winters is a lot of fun. That's the thrill.

On the other hand, the reason these birds have to forage so far south is generally assumed to be because their food supplies up north are so poor this year. This means that their habitat is compromised this year, which almost certainly means that their mortality will be higher than normal. That's the sadness.

First I saw red-breasted nuthatches early in the fall. Shortly thereafter I saw a couple purple finches, then pine siskins. Pine siskins aren't too unusual here during the winter, but the red-breasted nuthatches and purple finches are much less common. The nuthatches and pine siskins have been coming daily. I've seen the purple finches just a few times.

Then today I saw the most unusual irruption species I've seen so far: a red crossbill. That may be the first one I've personally seen in Kansas.

At first I noticed a very orangy-red bird that I thought might be an unusally colored purple finch, based on the amount of color. Then I noticed that it wasn't very streaky, and that the wings were almost a solid tannish brown, with a strong brown eye streak on its face. At this point I grabbed the binoculars for a closer look...and, low and behold, I noticed the longer-than-normal bill with the oddly offset tips. I checked against the guide book - sure enough, a red crossbill.

I wish it well. Hopefully it will fatten up on all the sunflower seeds I'm providing and be able to head back north, healthy and ready to breed this summer. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying all of my unusual visitors.

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