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It’s time for bird feeders – and the observations they produce  – to return

  • A northern cardinal perches on a branch during a light winter snow. Courtesy

  • A Red Tail Hawk with its prey near exit 14 of I-93 in Concord in 2015. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Friday, November 23, 2018

The arrival of winter is exciting to snow sports enthusiasts, but it’s good news for another group, too: backyard bird watchers.

Dec. 1 is the official date when New Hampshire Fish and Game says it’s okay to put out bird feeders because bears, which love to raid bird feeders for fat- and oil-rich seeds, are likely to have settled down for a long winter’s snooze, especially given the cold blast we’re living through.

That means this is also the time of year to see whether any avian surprises are in store.

“One species we haven’t seen in a while are evening grosbeaks and we are starting to see them. The males are gorgeous, yellow and black with white,” said Becky Suomala, wildlife biologist for New Hampshire Audubon. “Back in the ’70s and ’80s there were big flocks coming to feeders but the numbers tapered off.

“I get people reporting them saying, ‘I haven’t had them in years,’ ” Suomala said.

The reason for this return has nothing to do with us. “I think it’s due to the spruce budworm outbreak in Quebec,” Suomala said. The grosbeaks have been lured back east by the tasty budworms, a favorite food.

Bird watchers have a long history of keeping an eye out for surprises and trends in the nation’s bird population. This ability is becoming more important as climate change fueled by manmade activities alters long-term and short-term weather patterns. Keeping tabs on the movement of birds is one way to understand and cope with those changes.

Hundreds of New Hampshire bird watchers are likely to participate in the Christmas Bird Count, a national citizen-science project that has been going on for 118 years.

This program counts birds in a number of select areas during the month of December, providing long-term records that are of value to scientists.

There are 21 Christmas Bird Count locations in New Hampshire, with the one in Concord being one of the earliest. It is set for Dec. 15. To participate or learn more about the Concord count, contact Robert Quinn by by emailing RAQbirds@aol.com.

Other central New Hampshire counts include one around Laconia at the end of December, and one around Lake Sunapee on Dec. 15. Details can be found at New Hampshire Audubon’s site, nhaudubon.org.

A similar program happens in February with the Backyard Bird Count. It covers the entire state, not just select areas, and involves people counting the number and species of birds that arrive at their feeders.

This year, they probably will include the pine siskin and common redpoll.

“These are visitors from the north. Some years we have none and in other years we have lots, it’s hard to predict,” Suomala said.