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Cool weather alters winter migration patterns

Red-breasted nuthatches are fairly uncommon visitors to birdfeeders in the coastal plain during winter.
Red-breasted nuthatches are fairly uncommon visitors to birdfeeders in the coastal plain during winter.

The passage of recent cool fronts along with a major storm system appears to be increasing the number of winter birds arriving in our area. White-throated sparrows have been arriving for the past couple of weeks, and their numbers have escalated considerably over the past few days. Their “seet” calls and brief snatches of sweetly whistled song are once again becoming frequently heard sounds in the neighborhood whee I live. Chipping and dark-eyed junco sparrows should be arriving any day to complete the normal winter sparrow flock here.

Several red-breasted nuthatches have been reported from North Carolina recently, and at least one backyard birder in our area has been happy to report a red-breasted nuthatch among their feeder visitors. A number of these tiny visitors are found annually in winter across the Carolinas piedmont and mountain regions, but this year several appear to be finding their way into the coastal plain as well. While white-breasted and brown-headed nuthatches are fairly common year-round residents, red-breasted are uncommon winter visitors to our area. These handsome little birds are most attracted to black-oil sunflower seed, sometimes nut meats and suet.

The first report of a snow goose for this season came in late last week. While tens of thousands of these far northern breeding birds annually spend winter in the area of Lake Mattamuskeet and NC's outer banks, relatively few make it to the SC coast for the season. Those that do are most often single birds that join with local flocks of Canada geese for their winter stays.

A few folks across the Carolinas, mainly in the piedmont and mountain regions, have reported finding pine siskins at their feeders recently. Their early arrival and numbers may indicate we're in for a winter finch “irruption”into the South year. An irruption occurs when larger than normal numbers of winter finches such as pine siskin, American goldfinch and purple finch appear across as well as outside their customary winter ranges. These finches are quite fond of Nyjer (aka black thistle) seed, although most will also readily take black oil sunflower and sunflower hearts.

Hummingbirds continue to visit flowers and feeders in our area. A few reports have come in of Western hummingbirds appearing at feeders across North Carolina. Our tiniest feathered friends can handle the winter weather in our area fine as long as they have appropriate food and shelter. A feeder kept clean and maintained with a solution of one part sugar to four parts water will provide a necessary resource not only for hummingbirds, but many other winter bird species as well.