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Posts Tagged ‘Common Grackle’

rwb

First Red-winged Blackbird, 2013

Outside my bedroom window is a curly willow tree. Most mornings, all winter long, I can see a bluster of blue jays decorating the tree top as they wait for me to shake off my lazybone ways and hurry outside with my daily offering of peanuts.

This morning when I opened my eyes, the birds waiting in the tree were black, not blue. Common Grackles! A warm wind last night carried a flock of blackbirds in from the south. The new arrivals included starlings and grackles and, most importantly, Red-winged Blackbirds, our favorite harbinger of spring. When I restocked the birdfeeders, I recorded a Red-wing in a tree near the house.

flock

Mixed flock of grackles, starlings and red-winged blackbirds.

It’s more usual for the Red-wings to arrive a few days or a week in advance of the other spring migrants, but this year a mixed flock was foraging under the birdfeeder. The photos above and below were taken from the kitchen window.

The Red-wings are about on schedule, or maybe a day or two late. In 2012, I spotted the first Red-wing on March 3rd. His arrival is documented here.

In 2011, it was March 9th.

grackle

Common Grackle

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bird1

Northern Cardinal

This beautiful cardinal can be heard every morning now, singing out his song from a treetop perch. He’s been here all winter, but he has just started giving full voice to his chorus of “Birdie, Birdie, Birdie! Whit, whit, whit!” in the last week or so. What female could resist him?

It’s hard to believe that it was only last weekend that I spotted the first Red-winged Blackbird. Now they are everywhere, chucking and oak-a-leeing in the branches and foraging beneath the bird feeders. Over the course of the week, other migrants have joined them. There are quite a number of Common Grackles joining their numbers. Look at the beautiful iridescent colours on this fellow, helping himself to a seed at the feeder.

bird5

Common Grackle

As I was walking past a pine tree, I noticed a Brown-headed Cowbird keeping a cautious eye on me. There have been a few American Robins around for a few weeks, but now they are back in plentiful numbers. And this morning, I spotted a pair of Hooded Mergansers on the river. They skillfully avoided my attempts to capture them with my camera, taking off for a site farther upstream.

The birds are early, ready to put The Winter That Wasn’t behind them and move on to spring. This winter was the 3rd warmest on record here. Three of the warmest winters ever have been recorded in the last six years. What was additionally notable about this winter was the lack of precipitation. It was also the second driest winter on record.

How are these shifts in winter weather patterns affecting migrating birds?

bird3

Brown-headed Cowbird

A special report titled The Winter that Wasn’t: Bird Migration aired on CBC’s morning show The Current on March 7th. Biologist Allen Hurlbert from the University of North Carolina, B.C. biologist Dick Cannings and eBird editor Mike Burrell from Bancroft all addressed this question.

They note that the timing of migration is vitally important to the success of the upcoming breeding season. If a bird arrives back too early, he may encounter the bad weather and lack of food he flew south to avoid. If he arrives back too late, he may fail to find a good breeding territory and prospective mate.

One of the most important elements about timing is hitting the height of the insect season just right. Birds need a big supply of bugs to feed their demanding young. Without them, chicks may starve. If a warm spell disrupts normal insect patterns, causing bug populations to peak earlier, parent birds may not be able to adequately supply their young with food if they have started nesting according to their normal schedule.

We often have a poor appreciation of just how interconnected the natural world is. Failure or changes to one sector can have a ripple effect right through an ecosystem. Some bird species, such as Red-eyed Vireos seem to be adapting to changing weather patterns. Other species, such as Barn Swallows have been devastated. While Barn Swallows were once common birds, their numbers have plummeted by 75% over the last few decades.

You can learn more by listening to the full broadcast linked here.

bird2

American Robin

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snow

The vernal equinox, marking the official beginning of spring, happened yesterday, Sunday at 7:21 P.M. EDT. In the northern hemisphere, the point when the hours of day and night, as recorded by the sunrise and sunset, are equal occurs a couple of days earlier. On March 18th, the sun rose at 7:10 AM and set at 7:12 PM for a total of 12 hours, 2 minutes and 5 seconds of sunlight.

The first day of spring here was snowy. The weekend was pleasant and sunny, if a bit chilly, and the ground was mostly free of snow. But by mid-morning today, the landscape was back to white. It doesn’t matter though. This minor setback will soon be history and it takes more than a dusting of snow to discourage the newly arrived migrants.

songsparrow

On the weekend, I tracked down one of the Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia) that I could hear singing from the hedgerow. He flitted about the shrubbery in an avoidance tactic but I finally managed to catch him in a photograph.

This morning, Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) joined the Red-winged blackbirds and Starlings at the feeder. Their voices joined those of Blue Jays and Cardinals and Robins, producing a grand cacophony of spring song.

starling

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As spring gently unfolds her warmth, the species of birds that frequent the backyard feeder are changing with the weather. Certainly, the feeder is still a major attraction. However, the Blue Jays that dominated the daily arrivals just a few weeks ago have now given way to Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles. That’s not to say that the Blue Jays have disappeared, but fewer seem to be visiting. The American Goldfinches, on the other hand, are present in even greater numbers. The males are just starting to show signs of their spring spruce-up as their bright yellow breeding colours begin to replace their muted winter gold. A few days ago, the Goldfinches were joined by a few raspberry-bright Purple Finches. The Purple Finches weren’t regular winter visitors, so perhaps these few are just stopping by on their migration north. The wintering American Tree Sparrows are still here too. They will be leaving for their northern breeding grounds one day soon. I find that they tend to just disappear one day, replaced by similarly-coloured Chipping Sparrows as if by magic. The Chipping Sparrows breed here in the summer and winter farther south.

A few male Brown-headed Cowbirds have been joining the Grackles and Red-wings. I did see a few stray Cowbirds that visited a few times in the winter, but I think these individuals are probably here for the summer.

I like to watch the Grackles pointing. This “head-up” display is sometimes performed by females, but it is predominately a male posture, used both to attract females and as an aggressive signal to warn off other males.

In the photograph below, I caught a Grackle displaying with puffed-up feathers. It’s not clear whether his audience is impressed. The second Grackle looks a bit bemused by this performance, as if thinking “What the heck??” The display is another sign of spring and the new breeding season that is quickly approaching.

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barnswallow

I’ve been in horse stables where Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) were nesting above the horses’ heads, barely out of arms-reach of people coming and going and everyone got on fine. The several pairs of swallows nesting in the barn here, however, are upset whenever I enter the barn, even though they are far overhead on the roof rafters. They seem to feel they should have the barn to themselves and set up a cacophony of distressed chittering when I arrive.

tree swallows

Meanwhile, just down the field the Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are carrying nesting materials to their box.

robinstree

When I was walking past this small pine tree, putting hay out for the horses’ breakfast, I noticed a dark shape near the trunk of the tree. A closer look revealed this female American Robin (Turdus migratorius) sitting on her nest.

pinerobin

Robins are numerous around here. When I was walking along the river, I noticed another mother robin, incubating her eggs.

riverrobin

Robins usually sit tight. That is, even when disturbed by a person close at hand, they stick to their nest and stay still. One season when Birdgirl was working on a nest monitoring study, she came across one robin who wouldn’t budge until she was actually putting her fingers in the nest to check for eggs. Now that’s a dedicated mom. In contrast to robins, Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) are quite easily disturbed. When I walked past a small spruce tree, a grackle made a hasty exit and I knew to look for a nest. Here it is!

gracklenest2

The mother retreated to the top of a nearby tree and complained loudly about my presence from the safety of her high perch. With both robins and grackles, the female incubates the eggs, keeping the eggs warm with her body. In order to warm the eggs efficiently, the female develops a brood patch, an area of skin on the belly that loses its feathers toward the end of the egg-laying period. Most birds shed the feathers automatically, though geese and ducks pluck the feathers and add the to the nest. The brood patch also develops extra blood vessels to bring hot blood close to the surface of the skin. When birds return to the nest after a break to resume incubating, they make settling-in movements while they position the brood patch so it is in contact with the eggs. In species where the male also incubates, males may also develop a brood patch. The feathers gradually grow back in after brooding is done.

gracklemom

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Hooded Merganser pair

Hooded Merganser pair

The south branch of the South Nation river runs by the back door of Willow House. In the morning, I can lean on the kitchen counter and gaze out the window as I wait for my coffee to brew. The river is always interesting, but since the ice melted off, an assortment of waterfowl have been stopping by, causing me to rush for my camera. The above pair of Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus), shown near the beaver lodge, were very camera shy, swimming rapidly away or taking flight as soon as they caught sight of me.

Canada geese

Canada geese

This pair of Canada geese (Branta canadensis), who spent the afternoon enjoying the sun at the edge of the river, were more co-operative, though still wary.

Wood Ducks

Wood ducks

Three pairs of Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) floated by and then paddled back up stream.

Mallard pair

Mallard pair

A Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and his missus spent a few hours grooming themselves on the shore.

grackles

Common Grackles

Passerines (songbirds) such as these Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) also use the river to bathe and drink.

At the end of the day, the river and its occupants settle down … or start their busy night’s activity … as the sun sets.
*Creedence Clearwater Revival: Lookin’ Out My Back Door

riversunset

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