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Where Are They?!

Posted on Dec 3, 2015

We have now entered December, and though we lack the truly cold air that the month and the beginning of meteorological winter can sometimes bring, we are cooling down and birds are still moving south. Regular arrivals spanning the spectrum from the American Tree Sparrows of our backyards to the Tundra Swans of Chautauqua Lake are joining us now. Where are we with the irruptive avian species so far this season across the Northeast and Midwest? I went through eBird maps this morning to find that out, and let’s start with the big name…

Snowy Owl eBird Map Oct-Dec 12-03-15

Snowy Owl eBird Sightings October 1 through December 3, 2015

The Snowy Owls started their annual southbound incursion a little early this year, making significant headway into the upper Great Lakes region and spreading east to west along waterways. However, they have slowed for now, though I would expect a few more to begin to move soon simply based on the date. Remember, their flights are annual, only differing in abundance and geographic spread. This one looks to be about average.

Rough-legged Hawk eBird Map Oct-Dec 12-03-15

Rough-legged Hawk eBird Sightings October 1 through December 3, 2015

Another winter raptor that birders love to spot is the Rough-legged Hawk, and either morph will do! They have had a more significant flight south thus far. A lot of those points are birds seen at hawk watch sites from brave counters pushing their tallies late into November. I feel more will be moving south soon with how many of them are around the Great Lakes, especially if we do begin to get more freezing temperatures and snow cover, and they begin to eliminate small mammal populations.

Common Redpoll eBird Map Oct-Dec 12-03-15

Common Redpoll eBird Sightings October 1 through December 3, 2015

Hopes were and still are high for a big Common Redpoll push after staggering numbers into the tens and hundreds of thousands were seen moving along the St. Lawrence River last month. The Common Redpoll is often a later irruptive bird, sometimes only arriving around Christmas Bird Count season in my experience, and peaking long after if food supplies have dwindled and they push further south. Once again the same regions seem to have a high number of birds without too many pushing into the U.S. yet.

Pine Siskin eBird Map Oct-Dec 12-03-15

Pine Siskin eBird Sightings October 1 through December 3, 2015

I kept the map at the same resolution for all of my screen captures, and there have been too many Pine Siskins in the area for eBird to properly display all of the points. That gives you a sense of their abundance, but their counts have not been as high or numerous as they can be some years. Personally I saw some Pine Siskins around the peak of fall migration and none since as the nomadic species has mostly moved on to the south and west, and I think a lot of those sightings are of traveling birds.

Evening Grosbeak eBird Map Oct-Dec 12-03-15

Evening Grosbeak eBird Sightings October 1 through December 3, 2015

The Evening Grosbeak is hopefully increasingly in terms of overall population thanks to an increase in spruce budworms, but they are still eluding most of the hungry birders. Most of what is on the map are sightings in expected or almost year-round areas, though a few flew by in fall migration at globally-renowned sites like Lighthouse Point in New Haven, Connecticut. They will be a feeder surprise for a handful of very lucky people.

Red Crossbill eBird Map Oct-Dec 12-03-15

Red Crossbill eBird Sightings October 1 through December 3, 2015

I was once one of those lucky people when it came to the Red Crossbill as I had one visit my home feeder on our clothesline when I was a young boy in Connecticut. I looked at it, and looked at my Peterson Field Guide and back at it…and repeated. It was obvious what the bird was, but the experience of seeing such a thing out my window was astounding. That incredible adaptation of theirs makes for an easy identification and a stunning sight. Only a few of them seem to be flying around this winter.

White-winged Crossbill eBird Map Oct-Dec 12-03-15

White-winged Crossbill eBird Sightings October 1 through December 3, 2015

The White-winged Crossbill seems to be very content in their typical living quarters, huh? They have barely moved anywhere, not even being picked up at any of the major hawk watch sites south of the Milwaukee latitude or so. You may have a better chance winning the lottery than picking one up in your yard if this keeps up.

Pine Grosbeak eBird Map Oct-Dec 12-03-15

Pine Grosbeak eBird Sightings October 1 through December 3, 2015

Now we are really getting out there, and unfortunately that is where all the Pine Grosbeaks are right now…really out there and far from us. I do not see a lot of action happening here any time soon. They are such beautiful birds, and I hope we do get a strong invasion again one of these years.

Bohemian Waxwing eBird Map Oct-Dec 12-03-15

Bohemian Waxwing eBird Sightings October 1 through December 3, 2015

Last but not least, here is the slightly more encouraging map of the Bohemian Waxwing. While it does not look like we will have any sizable movement, at least there have been a few random sightings of birds pushing into Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Undoubtedly a few more will be picked up around these latitudes, so keep watching your Cedar Waxwing flocks to be certain that is what they really are. Look for larger birds with dark gray bellies, a reddish undertail, and white/yellow stripes on their closed wings.

Overall it looks to be a more quiet winter than we may like for some of these special species, but there are at least signs that a couple should make a big push into our region soon enough, and a few more may be spotted in lighter numbers. Thankfully there are dozens of other species to enjoy in our yards and local patches, and this is birding – you never know what you may find! A single bird can make your entire season, year or life when you least expect it, so bundle up and enjoy the beginning of winter.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator