Yesterday, there were 12 robins on the roof of my garage. This may be “big deal” to many of you, but in February in Minnesota, especially when it’s 2 degrees below zero, 12 robins are notable.
Any robin in winter will bring a smile to my face. Most of them migrate, but about 10% stay, and they hang out in flocks. I am lucky enough to have a flock this winter. My guess is they roost near the river. Many mornings when I go out to get the paper, I hear them before I see them. My neighbor has a tree they adore. My other neighbor, across the alley, has a crabapple they adore. I’m a nice crossroads twixt the two, plus I usually have water in my heated birdbath. But it tends to freeze over below zero, so I was surprised to see the robins. First it was just one, but it caught my attention. I realized it was drinking water, that was somehow melting (dark shingles and sun angle?), catching it just before it drips off the roof. Soon joined by other robins, and then house sparrows.
I have never seen birds do this before. Have I just not been paying attention? Today, the goldfinches were doing it as well.
The birds have been a godsend this winter. We are home so much. No restaurants, no bookstores, no games days or birding with friends. In mid-December, a birding column in the Star Tribune (the major newspaper here) suggested, as a COVID distraction, picking a bird and then seeing how many days in a row you could spot it. I spend plenty of time looking out the window, and I thought this a fun daily checkmark. I chose the black-capped chickadee, because it is common in my yard and invariably makes me smile.
I have had good luck with the chickadees and am still counting. But as I watched for the chickadee, I noticed so many other birds. In January I decided to begin a daily log. Oh, what a fun little sparkle this puts in the day!
I started in mid-January and now have three weeks of data. I know—a micro research project. What could be better? Here are my interim results.
Birds fall into two categories: common (seen at least 50% of the time) and uncommon (seen less than 25% of the time). Birds that appear on the same day are listed in the order they are seen.
- Black-capped chickadee, downy woodpecker, house sparrow, junco (100%)
- Cardinal (95%)
- American goldfinch (86%)
- American crow (76%)
- Blue jay (67%)
- Robin (62%)
Less Common Birds
- White-breasted nuthatch, red-bellied woodpecker (24%)
- Northern flicker, hairy woodpecker, house finch (19%)
- Canada goose, bald eagle (both seen flying overhead) (14%)
- Starling (10%)
- Pileated woodpecker (5%)
Interesting that huge gap between 62% and 24%. I wonder how that will hold through February.
I’ve been having the most amazing woodpecker action in the backyard this year. One day, I saw four different kinds of woodpecker (pileated, hairy, downy, red-bellied). I’ve been visited by flickers several times this winter, and once I had two in the yard (which has never happened before)—one at the water and one at the suet.
I credit the suet with my good luck with the woodpeckers this year. I actually had a pileated at one of those tiny suet cages (about 4” x 4”), pecking away. I didn’t have my glasses on, and thought it was a crow, but then glasses, and, wow! I got the suet on a whim when we passed the meat department at the grocery store. It is cheap (cheaper than even the cheapest suet cakes, but this is only a good deal in winter)–$1 will fill two of those little cages.
They mostly attract woodpeckers, but also chickadees. Two of my most common visitors, the downy woodpecker and the chickadee, come mostly for the suet (though the chickadee also likes golden safflower and sunflower chips). The downy is only in it for the suet, but it’s a big-time attraction. I’ve never had as many downys as I do this year—two at the suet, two on the walnut, one on the dogwoods, and who knows how many in the woodpecker tree?
In these strange days, we find our joy where we can. I choose the birds.