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Posts Tagged ‘Carduelis flammea’

Common Redpolls (Carduelis flammea)

Common Redpolls (Carduelis flammea)

The Boreal forest, the great expanse that stretches across the northern frontier of Canada from Alaska, 6,000 kilometers east to Newfoundland, is the largest wilderness left in North America. It is named after Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind. Covering 2.3 million square miles, the Boreal ecosystem is larger than the remaining Amazon Rainforest. Over 300 species of North American birds nest there and for many, the Boreal ecosystem is their only nesting ground. It is truly North America’s bird nursery. An estimated 47% of redpolls, pictured above, breed within the Boreal forest. About 37% of Pine Siskins, pictured below, depend on the Boreal forest for their nesting grounds. You can learn more about the Boreal ecosystem at the SaveOurBorealBirds.org website.

More and more, development and resource extraction are encroaching upon this ecosystem and threatening all the species that live there, including caribou, wolves and grizzly bears. About two hectares of Canada’s boreal forest are clearcut every minute. Many of North America’s fastest declining bird populations are among those most dependent on the Boreal forest. Only 12% of the forest is protected, while the balance remains a free-for-all open for development. Help promote responsible decision making for future Boreal land use by signing the petition.

Pine Siskins (Carduelis pinus)

Pine Siskins (Carduelis pinus)

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Common redpolls beneath the niger feeder

Common redpolls (Carduelis flammea) beneath the niger feeder

Although Common Redpolls (Carduelis flammea) , winter visitors here in sunny eastern Ontario, are beginning their return to the far north for the breeding season, there is still a large flock of redpolls patronizing the niger feeder. It is usual to see a few Pine Siskins (Carduelis pinus) hanging out with the redpolls. Siskins, dressed in a demure brown-streaked feather coat, have a small patch of pale yellow on their wings at the base of their flight feathers. The yellow is generally muted and inconspicuous. Recently, siskins with a much more eye-catching yellow have been showing up at the feeder.

siskin1

The yellower siskins may be migrants passing through, heading north from a winter range farther south. These siskins are termed “green-morph” and only about 1% of adult males show this coloration. More information about these uncommon birds is available over at the Stokes website.

siskin2

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March arriving like a lamb

March arriving like a lamb

There is a well-loved verse by Oliver Herford that reads “”I heard a bird sing In the dark of December A magical thing And sweet to remember. ‘We are nearer to Spring Than we were in September!’.” It’s true. But the fact remains, there is still a whole lot of winter to be dealt with when one is in December. Now March, March is another story! Whatever winter still has in store for us, we can cope with it knowing that Old Man Winter is losing his grip and soon spring will prevail.

March arrived as a clear, sunny day, crisp at -14 C as I write this at 10 AM, but nevertheless beautiful. I took a walk to look for signs of the changing days. One obvious difference is the length of the days. While at the December solstice the sun rose at 7.40, today I had to be up by 6.41 to catch the sunrise. On December 21st, the sun set at 4.23 PM, while today sunset will be 5.50 PM. Our hours of sunlight have increased from 8 hours and 42 minutes to 11 hours and 9 minutes. Hooray!

river

The river, opened by the February thaw, hasn’t completely frozen over, in spite of -15 daytime and -20 C overnight temperatures. The greater warmth of the sun melts the snow into muddy puddles, even on cold days.

catkin

The buds of the aspen trees are beginning to open into the first catkins of spring.

redpollfeeder

The male redpolls visiting the feeder are sporting bright raspberry breasts as the breeding season draws nearer. Adult redpolls undergo a complete molt once a year after the breeding season, and start the winter in fresh plumage. As the year progresses, the buffy or greyish feather edges gradually wear off, resulting in the males taking on a redder appearance in the spring without a second molt. Another happy sign that we have survived another winter. Welcome March!

redpoll2

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I have stocked bird feeders for winter visitors for many years and set up several feeding stations around Willow House this fall.   It took a while for the birds to discover my feeders, but the usual suspects now include my stations in their rounds.  Mourning doves, juncos, chickadees, goldfinches, and woodpeckers are all regular visitors.  However, the Common Redpolls (Carduelis flammea) are my favorites.  This owes, in part, to the fact that redpolls, as an irruptive species, can’t be counted on arriving every year.  Irruptions usually occur biannually.  In these years, a set of northern species, including redpolls,  move south for the winter, probably driven by food shortages.   I set two tube feeders for niger seed within viewing range of the living room window in the hope that redpolls would find my supply, and indeed they have.

windowviewRedpolls, as their name implies, are readily identified by their red caps.  Their distinctive black bibs are also helpful identifying features.  They are querulous little birds and seem to spend as much time squabbling and chattering as they do eating.

squabblesEnergy reserves for birds roosting at night may consist of relatively large amounts of seed in their crops, but the primary energy reserve for most species is body fat.  However, redpolls have evolved a special pouch located within the neck called an esophageal diverticulum.  Extra food can be stored here towards nightfall and regurgitated as needed.  This helps to make these tiny birds one of the most cold-hardy species.

redpollMales can be distinguished from females by the flashy rose colouring on their breasts, which becomes more vivid as spring approaches.

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