Saturday, April 13, 2013

Winter in April and Juncos Galore (with video)

The weather has been on our minds and in our face in Minnesota this week. Just ask this squirrel.

Much-needed rain followed by sleet, snow and more snow have dragged weather more typical of early March into mid-April, and most people are pretty sick of it. There's another weather advisory out for more snow, sleet and freezing rain for tonight and tomorrow morning, and temperatures will remain below normal for some days to come. Sigh.

It's been hard on the animals and birds, as well. We've had plenty of views of robins in the snow, and rabbits came to feed on seed we'd put out by our front steps yesterday.

People in Minnesota have also been commenting on the huge numbers of dark-eyed juncos seen in the last few days. At our house in Northfield, throughout most of the winter we tend to see just a few juncos at a time -- typically just three or four, though occasionally more (we would have more, I'm sure, if we routinely scattered seed on the ground) -- but suddenly this week we were seeing first a dozen, then two dozen, then 30+ at a time.

Below is a short video clip of juncos I took yesterday feeding on seed we scattered for them under our hanging feeders. And yes, that is the juncos you hear in the video. They sound like a video game with "pyew, pyew" shooting noises, don't they? While this was going on, twice as many juncos were feeding under some of our other feeders. We have also seen them trying to eat from the hanging feeders, which -- being ground-feeding birds -- they don't generally do. I previously wrote about the dark-eyed junco in December 2012.

Northfield-based bird bander Dan Tallman reported on Tuesday that he banded 197 juncos this week, including several of the lighter "Oregon race" which are not often seen here. In an earlier post he offers a quick tutorial on the differences between the Oregon junco and our familiar "slate-colored" junco.

Central Minnesota nature blogger Richard of "At the Water" commented on seeing large numbers of juncos this week as well.

We were at Minnesota's annual Bluebird Expo here in Northfield today, and the well-known Minnesota phenologist (one who observes and studies seasonal patterns of animals and plant life) Jim Gilbert, one of the featured speakers, remarked on the large numbers of juncos. Many in the audience raised their hands to indicate that they too had been noticing flocks of juncos in the past few days. In conversation with him later, I asked him if he has seen juncos flocking in such huge numbers in previous years. He said that he has not, and he speculated that the cold front associated with the wet and then wintry weather that hit us this week may have had a "fall-out" effect on migrating birds. When the weather improves, it's likely they will be gone again very quickly.

Speaking of bluebirds, a few have been reported in the state in the past few days. By this time last year (which was truly exceptional), many bluebirds had already nested and laid eggs. This year they face a cold, rather miserable start to their breeding season.


Anonymous said...

We also have seen large numbers of juncos at our feeder. They drew the attention of a sharp-shinned hawk, who has taken two of them (maybe more) in the last couple of days. That's the first sharp-shinned hawk I've ever seen!

Penelopedia said...

Jim - Yes, I would imagine this junco buffet would be of great interest to a sharp-shinned or Cooper's hawk!