In 1987, my column predecessor and College biology professor, Allen Benton, started an annual bird feeder survey. The purpose of this survey was to determine the winter movement of birds in our county, and, nearby western New York areas. When Allen stopped writing this column I was invited to replace him. I continued this tremendous study since that time, as this was an easy task for me as I served as Allen's data recorder all the years he did the hard work. Since we are experiencing one of our more difficult winters in many years, it should be interesting to see what species of birds are currently appearing at our bird feeders. To give a little history from Allen's data, in 1987, the first year of the count, we had 37 species recorded by 60 contributors and the data peaked in 2003 with 195 contributors reporting 50 species. The largest number of species that was reported was 64 in 1999.
I would like to expound a little on some of the most abundant and more unusual birds reported, and then continue with the process of reporting on the results of this year's information submitted from you, the readers. The top three birds recorded consistently over the course of this data collection were the Black-capped Chickadee that was sighted at 90 percent of the feeders visited, the Blue Jay at 86 percent, and finally the Dark-eyed Junco at 83 percent of feeders. Historically, there have been two species of chickadees recorded in our county. A search of county historical data uncovered a sighting of a Boreal Chickadee (formerly known as Brown-capped Chickadee) that occurred several years ago during the mid-winter season in the Adirondack mountain region; unfortunately the exact location could not be found. Information on the sighting is limited, but what I did uncover was that there have been several New York irruptions of this bird over the years including Chautauqua County, normally during midwinters. Other interesting reports from Allen's work include as follows:
The top five feeder visitors reported since the beginning of this data collection include the following in order of their reported appearance at all feeders::
Clockwise from the left: A Red Crossbill, a and a x
Black-capped Chickadee - 89.6 percent
Blue Jay - 86 percent
Dark-eyed Junco - 84 percent
Mourning Dove - 78.4 percent
Downy Woodpecker - 78.1 percent
In addition to the top five visitors, I am including five of the more locally uncommon birds sighted at or near feeders over the same period of time.
Dickcissel - 0.9 percent
Eastern Wood Pewee - 0.5 percent
Hermit Thrush - 0.5 percent
Red Crossbill - 0.5 percent
Ruby Crowned Kinglet - 0.5 percent
This event is a non-scientific study that you the readers are invited to participate in. The task is simple: as you watch birds at your feeders in early February, simply make a list of the kinds that come to feed or are in the area at the time (such as a Crow or Hawk). Compile the list and send it to me at 38 Elm St., Fredonia N.Y. by Feb. 28. Please do not send your submission to the OBSERVER or the Post-Journal. They will report the results when the data is submitted.
While compiling this article this year, I thought it would be a novel feature to describe two of the birds from the viewpoint of a great naturalist of the past. As I often do, I chose the late Frank M. Chapman as my example. Mr. Chapman had an interesting way of describing birds, as you will see. Briefly, Frank Chapman (1864-1945) was not formally educated beyond high school. He started his career as a volunteer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City from where he became the leader in the Department of Birds where he amassed the world's largest collection of specimens. Chapman described both the Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees as follows. "When most birds were strangers to me I often thought what a blessing it would be if everyone spoke his name as plainly as these two."
The Crossbills were described years ago as a parrot-like finch due to the odd shape of their bill which was utilized for opening seeds. Crossbills are nomadic wanderers. They usually nest south of their normal range. Red Crossbills are observed during those irruptive years in our county staring about mid-November to around the third week in June with some occasional appearances in Mid-Summer. Finally, the Red Crossbills are partial to pines usually being vocal in flight,. While the White-winged is unpredictable in its wanderings, it is more apt to be found in the western United States.