Notes, birds, nature, meanderings.

Musings about birds, nature, and our meanderings on the Central Oregon Coast

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Baby Flicker at My Window

Looked up from my book the other day to a face at my window - a little startling since we're 3 stories up...

But what a cute face!

The baby NORTHERN FLICKER had followed dad to the suet feeder -- 

Baby Northern Flicker with Dad
 but he couldn't figure out how to get over to it!

Baby Northern Flicker with Dad
He never did figure it out -- hope dad shared!  (That's my work stuff in the foreground - couldn't clear it away without scaring them off!)

The Story of my Red Crossbills, Part 3

They showed up on May 5, 2012 (see part one of my story here), and stayed, had babies, and brought them to my feeders.  Then, not long after I published the sequel, on July 17th to be exact, they took flight and are gone...


That was the day I saw them "swarming" - at least 30, maybe more, came flying by the house - hovering over the feeder area but not landing.  

They briefly touched down in the tops of our coastal pines.

Flock of Red Crossbills
Then the whole flock lifted off and headed north along the beach.  And I wondered again, is this the last day?

But no, there were at least 2 of them in the feeders - they'd been there the whole time this thing was happening.  

The male showed off some tongue-action on the niger feeder.

As I learned earlier, Red Crossbills are nomadic, following their preferred food availability.  Someone on the Oregon birders email list (OBOL) noted that the area Spruce trees seem heavily laden this year.  I snapped a photo today while out and about - the Spruce trees at Cutler City had huge amounts of cones...  but no Crossbills.
Spruce top-heavy with cones
It sure would be interesting to know more about them.  In the meantime, back at the deck...

Since the day of the swarm, I've had one male at my feeder - he comes every day, several times throughout the day.  

Feeding his spouse as she sits on their nest?  I hope so.

Stay tuned...

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Story of My Red Crossbills, Part 2

June 21, 2012 - first day of summer.  And yes, my Red Crossbills were still here - almost seven weeks and I've had Crossbills almost every day.  Only now I realized that lately they've been appearing individually, rather than in pairs.  Males and females taking turns at the feeder - was it silly to think there might be a nest or two nearby? 

Male Red Crossbill - look at the interesting colors
Still curious about them, I fired off a question to the local Lincoln County birding list:
"Got home from work and there were four RED CROSSBILLS sitting on my very empty feeders looking at the house.  I walked out onto the deck, one flew off, but the other 3 stayed.  The seed is in a large container next to the feeders - I walked over, opened the bins, scooped some food (by now I'm less than 3' from the birds).  And still they sat.  Not willing to get my hand between a hungry crossbill and a scoop of seed, I looked at them and said "So, are you going to move?" and they flew. They were right back by the time I got back in the house.

"Doesn't this seem unusual?"
Several folks responded that they were observing the same behavior.  Hmmm, this is VERY interesting.  So once again I emailed the Oregon Birding list (OBOL), this time with a specific request for information:
"A number of us here on the Oregon coast are experiencing RED CROSSBILLS at our feeders this spring.  After asking around, it seems that a few of us are noticing these birds are extremely "tame", that is, they don't spook at all and remain at the feeders even if you approach within a few feet.

"One person reported (not this year, but previous years when the same phenom occurred) one landing on her head when she went out to refill feeders.

"Someone posted recently that these birds are probably Type 3 (if I remember correctly).  Does anyone know where these birds come from and why they might be so willing to let people within easy range of them?

"The ones we normally have here stay well away from people and are highly skittish (I have little experience with this but am told this is so by local experts)."
I got a few opinions, but perhaps most interesting was a return request -- could I record the sounds they made?  Well, maybe - could I figure out that setting on my camera?  After many failed attempts, I finally got it - here's my first YouTube video with audio.

Sonogram of my Red Crossbills' flight calls
The next day one of the birding experts sent me this sonogram - his deductions, Type-3 Red Crossbills.  Fascinating - but wait, someone else listened to the same recording and deduced the "new" Type-10.  I tried studying the comparisons in the link he sent, but I honestly can't tell.  I did one more recording, but still can't tell the difference (youtube video).

In the meantime, one of the female Red Crossbills smacked up against the deck glass and met her demise.  I offered her to the scientific community on OBOL for study, and someone from OSU took me up on the offer (he picked the bird up recently, and promised to let me know his results).

A birding photographer emailed me and asked if he could come by on July 4th and take pictures of the birds.  He spent 3 hours with my birds, snapping pictures as they came and went, enjoying the fact that he could stand on the deck with the birds just feet away.  As he observed them, he said, "There's a male feeding a youngster."

Young Red Crossbill

A youngster, as in a baby, as in maybe they really did nest nearby?!?  After he left, I watched and saw the baby with the dad close by.

How long have I had them while not noticing?  I knew my numbers had increased (had up to 18 trying to get at the feeders one morning), and had been wondering about all the variety in color and pattern. Were the ones with stripes the youngsters?
Immature Red Crossbill

More googling - Red Crossbills are nomadic (yes, I knew this) and often stop and nest wherever they find a food source.  They can have multiple broods each year, and the adults will continue to feed the youngsters as they move around!

So I continued observing, and over the next several days I counted 3 definite babies, and others that appeared to be immature (see above photo).  The other varying colors and patterns were apparently all different ages of Crossbills.  The males with yellow feathers still showing through the bright red, all the way to the babies with their bills barely crossing. 

Male Red Crossbill feeding baby

On July 10, 2012 I finally got a photo of a male feeding a baby -- he ate several seeds, then regurgitated them into the baby's mouth.

And I realized something else very interesting - I had never seen a female feeding the young.  Is this unusual?  I haven't googled it yet - I asked a few folks, but no one knew.

So today is Friday, July 13, 2012.  And I'm browsing online, glancing out occasionally to watch the Red Crossbills at the feeders.  Ten weeks.  They seem a bit more skittish lately, and I wonder how long they'll stay.

The Story of my Red Crossbills, Part 1

My story starts on May 5th of this year, a sunny Saturday on the Oregon coast.  I was propped in my recliner, browsing online, glancing occasionally out the window at the feeders on my deck...  Hmmm, actually, I guess my story starts there - with my "I wonder if I could put feeders on my deck" experiment....  But this is about the Red Crossbills, so I'll leave that story to another day.   

Anyway, looking out the window, I could see that somebody in the feeder looked different.  Amazed and afraid to move, I fired off an email to OBOL (Oregon birder's email list). 
"I just glanced out my window at my feeders that have been swarming with busy finches this morning and thought hmm, those finches look odd.  Wowie zowie, my first ever yard RED CROSSBILLS and my closest look at them ever.  I'm afraid to move to get my camera!

Two beautiful bright red males."
It was 11:13 am.  And the camera, thankfully, was on the couch next to my feet.  
Red Crossbill pair

One of the males moved and I saw there were two females as well.

Over the next several days they came every day.  Always in pairs, usually no more than 2 pairs at a time.  I found myself wondering -- are these the same birds? - are they just passing through? - where do they come from?

So I googled Red Crossbills and found out that they are not truly migratory, but widely nomadic.  Ok, that doesn't tell me much, but it's more than I had before...

Male Red Crossbill

In the meantime, spring was happening.  Grey whales with calves were passing by in the surf, the North American Migration Count was happening, a Brown-headed Cowbird female was trying to get into the house (she fell in love with my Philodendron).  I wasn't keeping good notes, but on May 16th I emailed OBOL:
"Have had a pair of RED CROSSBILLS at my feeder for 3 days in a row.  Also spotted two PINE SISKINS today."
More googling and more reading.  Hmmm, one article says Red Crossbills will come to feeders for sunflower seeds but not niger.  Really?  "My" Red Crossbills love niger!  Curious about how they could actually eat the niger from my thistle feeder, on May 27th I snapped a few more photos - and emailed OBOL:
"We continue to host a pair of Red Crossbills at our feeders - Friday the male was busy on the little thistle (niger) feeder -- I wondered how he was getting the seed out through the narrow mesh - the answer?  His tongue.
Female Red Crossbill eating niger seeds
Note that although my emails refer to "a pair", I actually had no idea how many birds there were at this point -- just that I was only seeing one pair at a time.  

On June 10th, one of the birding experts on the North Coast posted information about unusually heavy movements of Red Crossbills on the coast.  In his discussion, he mentioned that they appeared to be a different "Type" than the ones we usually get here, "Type-4" rather than "Type-3". I responded:
"This is really interesting.  The Red Crossbills continue daily at my feeders, sometimes 8-10, other times just one pair.  They almost always appear in pairs.  Most of them are brilliantly red, the females just as brilliantly gold.  They are not at all shy - the other birds scatter when I step onto the deck but the Crossbills only leave if I approach the feeders, and even then only when I'm within 6' or so.

"I didn't realize it was unusual - I'll be less complacent about their presence!  Thanks!"
So I got better about paying attention to their presence - I really wanted to know more about these beautiful birds.

How many are there here?  Will they stay?  Continued in part 2...