Monday, January 28, 2013

Redpolls: aka Little Snowbirds

Redpolll Watercolor by Sally Wickham © 2013

As January draws to a close, I can feel the patterns of the dark and cold season settling in on me.  Today, snow has fallen softly and steadily all day.  The town snow plow went roaring and scraping by.  The UPS guy called to say that he couldn’t make it up the hill.  The mail man made it but I agreed that it was okay to deliver the package tomorrow.  Each day is new but the  repetition of winter activities duplicating day after day could easily become ennui.  My winter schedule, however,  fits me well;  up late in the morning, breakfast of steel cut oats with fruit and nuts;  feed and water the hens, collect the eggs;  bring in wood; sweep the snow and wood crumbs off the porch; go for a ski, a walk or a snowshoe depending on the conditions,  and oh, yes, feed the wild birds.

Every year I stock my feeders with black oil sunflower seeds in order to keep the chickadees, finches and blue jays near the house. Last winter followed an incredible season for wild apples and Bohemian Waxwings came in large numbers.  They were not interested in sunflower seeds but scattered under the apple trees to devour the rotting harvest.  The mast year for apples was followed by a meager crop and it was disappointing to realize that the roving waxwings would not grace our backyard this year.

A charm of Common Redpolls

But then, erratic migrants from the arctic, the Common Redpolls appeared.  They arrived in a swarm-- frosty finch-like birds that seemed to be everywhere.   Whenever I open the door, it signals a mass exodus into the apple and the birch trees which quiver with their chirping.  

This was a new bird that I had not seen here before. At first I thought they were finches, but no, their streakiness reminded me more of sparrows.  Their bills are small and pointed and there is a black spot on the necks.   I saw the red spot on the heads of all the birds.   Some of the group (the males) have streaks of red on their breasts.  They were definitely Redpolls. 

I guess that is one of the things I like best about the season of snow and dark and cold.  During the peaceful monotony of winter days in Vermont, there are always surprises like the irregular winter visitors—the Redpolls—who descend into my backyard in Vermont to escape the colder climes of the arctic.  

We hope that you will also visit for more nature notes and sketches on this and similar topics.  

I love the way that Neltjie Blanchan describes the arrival of the Redpolls and it is included here for your enjoyment.     LL

"When the arctic cold becomes too cruel for even the snowbirds and crossbills to withstand, flocks of the sociable little redpolls flying southward are the merest specks in the sullen, gray sky, when they can be seen at all.  So high do they keep that often they must pass above our heads without our knowing it.  First we see a quantity of tiny dots, like a shake of pepper, in the cloud above, then the specks grow larger and larger, and finally the birds seem to drop from the sky upon some tall tree that they completely covera veritable cloudburst of birds.  Without pausing to rest after the long journey, down they flutter into the weedy pastures with much cheerful twittering, to feed upon whatever seeds may be protruding through the snow.  Every action of a flock seems to be concerted, as if some rigid disciplinarian had drilled them, and yet no leader can be distinguished in the merry company.  When one flies, all fly; where one feeds, all feed, and by some subtle telepathy all rise at the identical instant from their feeding ground and cheerfully twitter in concert where they all alight at once." 

Quote from BIRD NEIGHBORS. An introductory acquaintance with one hundred and fifty birds commonly found in the gardens, meadows, and woods about our homes.  By Neltjie Blanchan New York, Doubleday, Page & Co.  1902   pp222-223. 


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