Wide array of birds on winter guest list

Northwoods Notebook

Small fruits and berries typically attract pine grosbeaks. They may come to feeders as the available fruit crop diminishes. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

The bountiful influx of winter finches continues in the region, with a few surprises.

A report went out last week of a Cassin’s finch visiting a Copper Harbor home in Keweenaw County. This bird looks a lot like the purple and house finches that can be seen in the Upper Peninsula but actually is from the western mountains and rarely occurs east of the Rockies. This was a first record for the species in Michigan, though several experts noted most who feed birds at home might simply mistake it for the other two more well-known red-tinged finches. It drew a number of birders from throughout the Midwest to get a glimpse or photo, as it stuck around for several days but has not been seen since Saturday afternoon.

It does point up one bonus of the stay-at-home recommendations for the pandemic: People have had more time to watch what comes to their feeders. Perhaps nature is rewarding an otherwise rough year by providing a wide array of winter species throughout much of the region: evening and pine grosbeaks, common and hoary redpolls, pine siskins, Bohemian waxwings, red- and white-breasted nuthatches, white-winged and red crossbills.

One veteran birder termed the irruption “best thing about 2020.”

Even some non-“winter finch” northern birds have turned up, such as Canada jays in parts of Dickinson County and boreal chickadees, which have a brown rather than black cap, farther south than usual.

What surprisingly has not been in the mix so far are purple finches. While some came through during fall migration, none for now appear to have stuck around, though perhaps they will come later in the winter.

With what already has shown up, we certainly can’t complain.

At Six Mile Lake, the evening grosbeaks continue to be frequent daily visitors, drawn to the ample supply of black oil sunflower seeds set out both on feeders and in the grass. They tend to prefer flat surfaces that can allow the entire group to join in rather than having to land on a narrow bar at a hopper-style feeders.

Only one pine grosbeak has been seen, either a female or immature male, as it lacked the red on head and breast of an adult male. Since these large-sized versions of the purple finch tend to favor fruit over seeds, the best place to look for them is in crabapple, chokecherry or trees that have berries. In good years, however, they can end up coming to feeders, especially as the fruit crop is diminished.

Bohemian waxwings feed exclusively on fruit, so look for them as well in the fruit trees and bushes rather than seed sources. They have a rusty patch under the tail, while the more common cedar waxwing has a yellow wash up its belly. Once the fruit is gone, though, they likely will move on.

If it seems like the Notebook has been bird-heavy this fall, it’s because years with this many species spotted don’t happen that often and it comes after nary a finch could be found last winter.


One “rarity” for Six Mile Lake that made an appearance Nov. 19 was a male northern cardinal in full red glory. While common enough in urban and suburban areas, cardinals tend to be scarce farther out in the woods. After a few years of hosting perhaps one in the winter months, the past three winters have had none at our home. This one showed up on what would have been my grandmother Fern Tingwald’s 97th birthday — she lived with my mother at Six Mile Lake from 2012 to 2014 and, according to my mom, the cardinal was her favorite bird. She passed in January 2018. My mom wondered whether the date was the reason for the unexpected visit; she was on the telephone with her sister when the cardinal dropped in on the feeder. The bird has not been back since then.


Another reminder that volunteers would be appreciated to help with the annual Christmas Bird Count set for Saturday, Dec. 19.

Phyllis Carlson of Quinnesec again will coordinate the local effort, part of the National Audubon Society’s 121st annual 24-hour “bird census” within designated areas in the U.S., Canada, and many countries in the Western Hemisphere. Data gathered is analyzed to gauge how avian populations might be expanding their numbers and range, or losing ground.

All information must be filed through the local coordinator, so to volunteer or offer other assistance, contact Carlson at pcarlson279@gmail.com or 906-774-5868.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 240, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews@com.


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