Rose Breasted Grosbeak update - year 2

by Ken Quass
(Pine River, Minnesota, USA)

Last year, May 5th 2012, we posted our story with Rose Breasted Grosbeaks when 3 males came to our bird feeders. The following day the females appeared. Today, May 6th 2013, a pair of Rose Breasted Grosbeaks came to our feeders for the first time to signal spring is here again.

Last year, the Grosbeaks did not do well here. We suspect a Sharp-Shinned Hawk made our feeders part of its regular routine, if not our area. We would see Grosbeak feathers in the yard from time to time and saw only a few fledged Rose Breasted Grosbeaks last summer. We did, and continue to see, the Sharp-Shinned Hawk on numerous occasions in the yard. So we were pleased to see the pair of Grosbeaks return today. We hope they have more success than last year, are joined by more pairs, and not discouraged.

Last year we had an unusually early and warm spring and a relatively dry summer. That may have had an impact on the birds. It certainly affected our forest trees. This year winter hung on and we got a lot more snow in March and April than usual. We have undergone a long slow melt with today being the first day with temps over 62 degrees. As a result, our forest trees look the best they have in several years. Usually by May 2nd, the Aspen are in leaf-out. Not so this year as the leaf buds are just beginning to swell. Ir promises to be an interesting year for birds and wildlife.

This year marks our 3rd year into a Raccoon control program to help the songbirds. Last year we saw many more Wood and Chorus Frogs in the forest than usual. We saw Red Bellied Snakes and Woodcock again after an absence of several years. A couple of male Woodcocks have returned this spring. We cannot say whether this is coincidence or a result of our raccoon control program.

As an aside, in mid-June last year a Black Bear made its first visit to the bird feeders and for much of the summer it made regular visits, finally carting off one of our clear plastic tube feeders which we found late last fall just into the forest at the edge of the yard. The sun was just right to reflect the plastic. We had looked in that area but at different times of the day. It only had teeth marks and a puncture at the top of the tube, so it is in use again alongside its replacement. The droughty summer had caused the branch it hung on to sag into reach of the Bear.

We changed our feeding program in midwinter, abandoning our finely chipped sunflowers for Niger Thistle as the winter birds seemed to have lost interest in the fine sunflower chips. About two weeks ago the birds lost interest in the Thistle. With the recent higher cost of finely chipped sunflowers we are debating what to do. Sunday, a fellow private woodland owner suggested we put out a packaged seed mixture with walnuts and dried berries in it as it is cheaper than the fine chipped sunflowers and he has had success with it.

We continue with the coarse chipped sunflowers and suet cakes. We put shelled corn out on the logging 'trail' this year in response to the deep and late snowfall. It was more for the turkeys and deer than anything else, however the Crows and Squirrels benefited as well. We stopped that Sunday now that bare ground dominates the scene even though corn is far cheaper than 'birdseed' per se.

This spring we have 6 wild turkey hens, 3 Jakes, and 1 Tom turkey. They have been in the yard daily since aarly March. Last fall we had from 25 to 29 turkeys at a time walk thru the yard and chow down on the birdseed under the birdfeeders. The hens are now starting to separate as they begin nest area selection duties, now that most of the snow is gone and the forest floor is beginning to dry out.

We were recently surprised to learn we may have 3 varieties of Rose-colored Finches. The Purple Finch, House finch, and what caught us unawares, a Cassin's Finch, a paler and somewhat stubbier version of the Purple Finch. Its song is similar to the Purple Finch. We'll have to check this site for the Rose-colored Finches.

The local male Goldfinches have recently changed to bright yellow. We now have two breeding pair of Mourning Doves at the feeders. Last year we only had one pair. We are awaiting the return of the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds. They usually follow the Common Sapsucker, which are returning now. The Phoebe's are constructing a nest in their usual location under our roof eave. They began the nest Sunday. The Red Polls left only a few days ago, but the Juncos are still around.

It has been rewarding to see the number of breeding pairs of birds increase this year. Our predator control program might be part of it. Skunks and Grey Fox may have to 'enter the program' as well. We are seeing Grey Fox in daylight, an indication to us there are too many. Their juveniles don't normally disperse very far from their natal area. Last year, we caught 2 Wolves, a Red Fox and a Feral cat 'out back' on our game cameras, so they are around too.

Sorry for the ramble away from Rose Breasted Grosbeaks. They are but one variety of birds we enjoy feeding and seeing on our homestead in the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province of north central Minnesota. We should probably mention we have at least seven DNR identified habitat types on our acreage. That invites/attracts a lot of bird (and wildlife) varieties. The state of Minnesota has identified 95 specific habitat types.

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