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Changing bird habits

As an avid birdwatcher, I am always interested to learn about the birds that other people see. In winter, besides checking my own birdfeeders, and keeping a lookout whenever I drive or walk somewhere, I frequently check a local website called “birding on the Net” that gives details of birds seen by others — and one thing I’ve noticed is the number of birds staying in our province that are not usually expected to stay here. A robin and a red-winged blackbird at a feeder in Thompson in early January cannot be normal!

Of course, there are always a few birds that miss migration. I’ve had a single robin a couple of different years, once in January and another year in February, though I don’t think either survived the winter. Perhaps such birds were injured when it came time to leave, or perhaps somehow they didn’t possess the instinct that leads most birds to fly south. But the number staying here over winter, and the number of species doing so, seems to have increased in the last few years. Is this another indication of global warming?

In Winnipeg, for example, one birdwatcher has recorded a flock of crows, numbering more than 50. Single crows have increasingly wintered in Manitoba, but not flocks of them.

My husband and I have a feeding station and have had a mourning dove for the last five winters — presumably the same bird. Last winter we had two. This winter I have noticed several other birdwatchers also mention mourning doves, as well as a number of Eurasian collared doves — a non-native variety that has been slowly spreading northward from Florida since 1982.

Goldfinches are another species that increasingly spend winters here, though in the past they always migrated. If you’re not a regular birder, you might not recognize these birds in winter, for they’re not nearly as brightly coloured now as they are in summer. We’ve had a few goldfinches eating niger seed for each of the last four or five winters. This January, so far, I’ve counted six at our feeders. There are also a couple of juncos, another species which should have migrated farther south.

In late December our feeder briefly fed a brown-headed cowbird — apparently quite unusual for Manitoba — and a blackbird has been spending the winter in Minnedosa. Several Townsend’s solitaires have been sighted — at least two in Winnipeg, as well as three in the Spruce Woods-Cypress River Christmas Bird Count. Oakville birders saw a varied thrush, usually found on the West Coast or in mountainous regions. One of the most unusual birds so far seems to be a northern mockingbird that was seen and photographed in a horse barn near Minnedosa during the Christmas Bird Count. Mockingbirds are rarely here even in summer.

Perhaps it’s just the mild weather we’ve had in the early part of the winter, but there does seem to be a gradual change. Carrie Braden, a co-ordinator of the Portage la Prairie Christmas Bird Count, noted that the Portage count saw four robins. “We are finding the wintering range of robins is slowly moving northward,” she says. “This could be a sign of global warming.” Whether they prove climate change or not, the statistics can be interesting to compare.

If, like me, you’re interested in knowing what other birders see, log on to the Internet to see what other Manitobans are watching. Checkout: http://birdingonthe.net/mail inglists/MANI.html#1325962523.

Several communities also have the results of their Christmas bird counts on the Internet. Statistics are also available for Project Feeder Watch, and for the Great Annual Backyard Bird Count, held annually in February. If you’re interesting in participating in that, check out the website before February 17 to 20, when this year’s count is scheduled. Websites for these are:

Project Feeder Watch at www.bsc-eoc.org/pfw.html.

Backyard Bird Count at http://www.bird source.org/gbbc/.

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