Birds might still need help weathering the storm

Northwoods Notebook

A male purple finch lingers in a willow that is just starting to bud at Six Mile Lake. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

While Thursday’s late-season snow and ice might have been a bit of a shock for some early migrating birds already back in the region, they should be able to make do as long as the snow cover doesn’t linger for too long.

Much of it already seemed to be fading Friday and Monday promises to see more thawing as temperatures reach into the 50s.

But residents in areas where the snow has been stubbornly holding on can take some steps to help out those birds that perhaps came back a little too early, said Ryan Brady, a conservation biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in Ashland.

Brady earlier this week offered a list of suggestions to better ensure new avian arrivals — last weekend saw perhaps the biggest wave so far of the season, he said — weather the storm.

“Although spring snowstorms are common in Wisconsin, the impacts on early migrants can be significant if the snow is deep and persists for more than a couple days,” Brady posted in his weekly birding report, https://dnr.wi.gov/news/or/.

Those tips include:

— Clear snow to expose patches of bare ground. This will give ground-feeding birds such as robins, hermit thrushes, woodcock, flickers and sparrows critical access to natural foods.

— Offer suet and peanut chunks, in addition to sunflower seed, nyjer seed for small finches and white millet for sparrows and doves. These fatty foods also may attract sapsuckers, robins, yellow-rumped warblers, and other species that don’t often frequent feeders.

— Offer mealworms, raisins and/or frozen fruit. Live mealworms are best but can be hard to find. Dried mealworms often work. Fruits should be soaked and chopped if possible. Robins, bluebirds and some insect-eating species may take advantage.

— Keep feeders full, free of snow and as dry as possible. Clear snow periodically during the storm and switch out seed if fully saturated.

— Provide birds with shelter from snow and wind. Place feeders or seed where snow is least likely to pile up. Put a picnic table on its side or create a brush pile to shield birds from the feeding area.

Last week’s surge might have ushered in the first song, fox, chipping and white-throated sparrows to the far north, Brady said. Other species picking up in numbers include dark-eyed juncos and purple finches.

Next in the progression, if not already in the lower Upper Peninsula, should be northern flickers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, common loons and eastern phoebes, along with the first yellow-rumped warblers. All have been seen just to the south, Brady said, with some loons as far north as Barron County in Wisconsin.

In Dickinson County, species of migratory birds seen or heard include common mergansers, wood ducks and much higher numbers of common grackles and red-winged blackbirds.

At Six Mile Lake, purple finches, common redpolls and juncos all have been frequent visitors at feeders, mallard ducks are chasing each other in the widening open water and the common and hooded mergansers are loafing on the ice again. No sparrows yet, but that could change this weekend.

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One surprise this past week was seeing a female common goldeneye hanging out at Six Mile Lake with a pair of hooded mergansers.

These cold-water ducks named for their bright yellow eyes tend to breed much farther north but can reliably be seen here on open water during winter, including on the Menominee River.

Like wood ducks and hooded mergansers, common goldeneye nest in boxes and tree cavities, and may even share a nest site with another female goldeneye or other duck species that have the same habits, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds web site, www.allaboutbirds.org.

A Google search turned up another interesting fact: common goldeneyes have regularly hybridized with hooded mergansers, thought to be closely related, leading to offspring with varying amounts of crest on their head and bills that are more needle-like, similar to the merganser.

Maybe the female goldeneye was just in the neighborhood and not seeking a cross-species hookup with the admittedly handsome hooded merganser. But it’ll be interesting to see what winds up paddling around the lake later this summer.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 40, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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