March 2, 2009 [LINK / comment]

"Snow birds" adapt to weather

March certainly came in like a lion this year, with five or so inches of snow overnight here in Staunton, and temperatures falling into the single-digits this evening. We have had plenty of Goldfinches and Juncos all winter here, while the number of White-throated sparrows is less than in past years. Today, we had all three of those species out back, along with others desperately scratching the snow to find food underneath. What exactly are "snow birds"? Canadian singer Anne Murray became famous with her song "Snow Bird," which usually refers to Snow buntings up in Canada. In the Lower 48 states, the term most often refers to Juncos.

I was also surprised to see a Grackle in one of the bushes out back today, the first I have seen in Staunton all winter. I have occasional seen flocks of them in the countryside, and Brenda Tekin reported a large flock near Stuarts Draft.

Goldfinch, snow

Dark-eyed Junco, eating sunflower seeds in the snow. Roll mouse over this image to see a Goldfinch (in its winter plumage, of course) at the thistle feeder, and click on it to see the latter's close relative, the Pine Siskin, at the same place about two weeks ago.

Passenger Pigeon

The American Passenger Pigeon became extinct near the end of the 19th Century, a tragic story that is recounted at Amazingly, that species used to be so abundant that huge swarms of them would darken the skies in the Eastern United States at certain times of year.