Winter Flocks

On Friday I mentioned that other birds besides crows form what’s known as “winter flocks.” What are some of these birds and why do they do this?

Well of course the crows are one of them–they form a type of single bird flock. Cedar waxwings will also form large, sometimes huge, single species flocks, as will some of the shore birds like gulls, terns and of course we’ve all seen migratory and non-migratory flocks of Canada Geese in large flocks.

And single species flocks have a purpose–many eyes to watch out for predators (whether those predators be of the human kind, as in the case of automobiles and Canada Geese, or non-human, such as larger birds of prey or other animals like coyotes or foxes).

These flocks also generate warmth for their members–but that is true whether the flocks are single species or mixed species.

In my part of the country, I have a couple of mixed flock groupings. They may all form one large flock at night–I can’t say I’ve ever observed this–but when it gets to be sub zero, who knows where these poor little birds hunker down?

One group is the finches. I have a reliable group of gold finches, house finches, the occasional pine siskin in years that they irrupt (visit on an irregular basis) and juncos. These birds will regularly flock together and feed together. They may or may not be joined by the house sparrow.

The house sparrow is a bit of an outlier. It will flock with the finches, or it may flock with this next group of birds. It is an invasive species, having come to us from England. When I was a child and first learning my birds, it was known as the English sparrow.

Then again, the junco, now known in my region as the dark eyed junco, was known as the slate colored junco. Birds are getting almost as bad as plants with the name changes!

For an excellent reference on any of the birds I mention here, I recommend the web site of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Just tap the name of the bird into the search box and you will have everything you ever wanted, including several of its songs.

My other mixed flock consists of chickadees, titmice, white breasted nuthatches, and occasionally a downy or hairy woodpecker or two. I tend to think of these as my “winter” birds although they are all resident in my area year round. I’m not quite sure why I think of them this way. Perhaps it’s just that they are so gregarious at the feeders.

Since winters have become a little less predictable (warmer days springing up too often sometimes) I have stopped feeding the birds with feeders. My town has the highest population of bear of any in my county and the last thing I want to do is to encourage bears in my yard with small dogs. You may think that bears hibernate but they really don’t–but that’s the subject for another post!

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