Did Early Cold Spell Make Some Birds Fly the Coop?

Image courtesy of the News Tribune
While feeding birds behind his bungalow in a tree-filled neighborhood in La Salle, Bill Bowers noticed something was missing.

He talked to some other people who feed the wild birds and heard a similar story.

“There’s hardly any cardinals,” he said, adding that he’s seeing “fewer birds than previous winters.”

He’s not the only one in the Illinois Valley who has uttered those words this December, said John McKee, Illinois Audubon Society board member and secretary-treasurer of Audubon’s Starved Rock chapter.

“It has been a slow year for bird-feeding,” McKee said. “I don’t know why, but everybody is reporting not much activity at their feeders.”

McKee figures some species of birds that normally descend on the Illinois Valley in late fall may have landed briefly and moved on south when the extremely cold late-November and early-December temperatures and snow cover took hold.

On Christmas bird counts at Illini State Park and within a 15-mile radius of Hennepin and the Hennepin Wetlands, birders noted extremely low numbers of white-crowned and white-throated sparrows. Both of the types of sparrow usually are abundant this time of year in brushy areas on the ground, McKee said.

He said people who feed birds also have remarked about seeing fewer cardinals than usual. He said cardinals often flock to feeders when there’s snow cover. He wonders if fewer people are feeding birds and the cardinals are finding food elsewhere, or if they made a short migration to get out of the harsh conditions.

In addition, he has noticed a lot of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs were barely touched by the birds this year. Again, he hopes it was just a case of birds finding milder late-fall weather.
He hopes it’s not a case of crashing populations of some species of birds.

As for the bird count in the Hennepin area earlier this month, the birders saw a lot of different types of birds. They found 72 species. That was short of a record 80 species on the count, but McKee found it remarkable since most of the backwaters were frozen over and fewer species of ducks were found than some years.

They also found high numbers of Lapland longspurs around fields and red-shouldered hawks.

McKee said the birders had a rough day at the count this past Saturday in the Marseilles area, but they did find one unusual bird.

Birders flocked to the rushing, open tail water downstream from the dam near the Middle East Conflicts soldiers’ memorial, because they wanted to get a glimpse and photos of a black-legged kittiwake.

McKee said it’s usually an ocean species of gull, but occasionally they are found far from their homes. The gull is smaller than the gulls native to this area. It’s white with a black collar found its neck, black markings on its shoulders and wing tips. When it flies, the small gull looks like it has a black “M” on its back.

He said it’s the third time he has seen one in La Salle County.

Source: News Tribune