Saturday, February 2, 2013

The invasion of the redpolls is on!


ANOTHER UPDATE: Articles addresses superflights and causes for alterations in irruptive migration by birds including redpolls. 2/13

BIG UPDATE:  Last week as mentioned below I asked people on the Audubon website if anyone else was seeing unusually large numbers of redpolls this year. There have been several responses along with some good advice and a wonderful rescue story.  I added them below with the newer ones at the top.  Polling Hollywood now for invasion of the redpolls movie. (I boldfaced the advice)

Original blog post:

This has become fun, if expensive.  The birds, mostly common redpolls went through 40 pounds of sunflower seeds in a week.  That's not an exaggeration.  I opened one a week ago Thursday and Thursday this week I had to buy another one and open it immediately to keep up with them.  

They pretty much empty five feeders in about 24 hours. That's three of them in the picture.  Of the other two one is a duplicate of the one with the red top and the other holds more than twice what that red one holds.

At times if I could count them I bet there are more than 100 in the yard.

This is more than I have ever seen.  Over the years I've noticed there are lots one year and hardly any the next.  For a while I thought they alternated years,  but then went through three or four where there were very few.  Then this year they are overwhelming.

I wondered if I am alone and feeding every redpoll in Alaska, so I joined an Alaska Audubon bulletin board and asked if anyone was experiencing the same thing.  So far I heard from people in Soldotna, Talkeetna, Homer and south Anchorage and all report unusually large numbers of redpolls at feeders this year.  No one has offered a good theory so far as to why.

I had one thought.  Perhaps the crappy summer we had stunted the growth of whatever they usually eat in winter and so they are having trouble finding feed in the wild.  Another thought is the crappy summer somehow allowed for a greater survival rate among them and as more chicks survived, more are thus coming to the feeders.  Hmm, just checking on something.  Maybe it's global warming.  Maybe they migrate and because of new climate changes, they are staying all winter.  Hang on, going to look that up.

A partial answer from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Common Redpolls are active foragers that travel in busy flocks. Look for them feeding on catkins in birch trees or visiting feeders in winter. These small finches of the Arctic tundra and boreal forest migrate erratically, and they occasionally show up in large numbers as far south as the central U.S. During such irruption years, redpolls often congregate at bird feeders (particularly thistle or nyjer seed), allowing delightfully close looks.

So, there's the answer.  They migrate erratically.  Sometimes they fly south, sometimes they don't.  Now you have to wonder what triggers either action, and it does indicate warming could have an effect.  If it stays warmer here that may be what keeps them  It's good enough for me, perhaps a combination of high survival rate and one of those years when they erratically stay in the north. 

Now I wonder if I could somehow shift the expense of these sunflower seeds to someone who usually feeds them in the Lower 48. Probably not, but donations are welcomed.

A news story February 13.

The answer might be in this article about superflights from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Redpolls from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

HERE ARE SOME OF THE AUDUBON RESPONSES:

QUICK UPDATE: Forty pound bags of black oil sunflower seeds are $4 cheaper at 3 Bears than they are at Walmart.  Same Alaska brand.  $33 and change.

I believe this is a Leucistic Redpoll. It was amongst the Common Redpolls that frequent my bird feeders on a daily basis.  Here's the link.  
--South Anchorage, mid hillside 2/8

The redpolls here in Nikiski seem to be increasing in numbers. Plus I'm still getting lots of chickadees (black capped and boreal) and nuthatches. Not as many Grosbeaks and gray jays, but I'm sure they will come back soon.
-- Nikiski 2/8



Thanks for continuing the conversation about the Red Polls, as I find this very interesting, especially since the Red Polls are across such a large territory - Anchorage to Talkeetna.
 The Red Polls did come back to our south Anchorage feeders. They were gone for two days, then the snow hit and they are back at the feeders. However, there's not the same numbers as before when they were a mob. 
-- south Anchorage 2/8

I was gone for four days and of course the feeders were down to dust when I came back.  Filled them this morning and the redpolls are back in big numbers again.
-- Tim 2/8

Back in the 70's and 80's we used to have flocks of redpolls at our bird feeders and I literally haven't seen one since -- until this year. This past week we've had lots of them. I don't have a clue … but I'm glad you're on it. 
-- East Anchorage  2/3

The best price on Black-oiled Sunflower Seeds, currently, is @ 3 Bears. Also best to buy a large bag of mixed seed for redpolls, as they will eat the millet. Avoid mixes with those large, striped sunflower seeds- nobody eats those!
 -Talkeetna Robin  2/4

Two days ago I went out onto the porch to put out yet more seed in the afternoon & found a juvenile female redpoll laying on her back on the snow on top of the flat fuel tank at the end of the porch,which serves as a feeder. I thought she was dead but when I started to pick her up her legs kicked a little. I gently picked her up and brought her into the cabin. She was clearly dazed, though I had been inside for the prior 2 hours and had not heard a window hit. Plus I have black screens on the outsides of all my windows so even if the birds fly into a window, they see the screen and swing their feet up and hang from it for a second before flying away.

I gave the bird a few drops of water with an eyedropper, which she drank eagerly. I set her in a small animal cage in a  back room and left her quiet for an hour.

The sun was due to set in a 1/2 hour when I checked on her. She would need to acclimate to the cold again to be set loose for the night, so I set the cage on a table on the porch. I put a handful of seeds in the cage and stood watching. She hopped around the cage and when she came upon the seed she began to eat. I eased the lid off the cage and in a few moments she looked up and then flew out and off to the forest.

Since then she has been back with the flock, but whenever they all fly away, she stays, calmly eating seed while I am nearby. I know it's her because a few feathers on her head were bent out of shape by whatever she hit, and she has a gold-colored poll instead of red, which I learned a few years ago, when I did research on redpolls when writing a column about them for The Talkeetna Good Times, denotes a juvenile bird. This girl seems to have lost some of her fear of me.

There is a squirrel which jumps onto the feeders and leaps at the birds and I wonder if it leaped at the flock while they were feeding and this female flew into the wall and knocked herself out. I'm just glad she re-cooperated and seems to see me as a helper, perhaps. 
-- Talkeetna Robin 2/4

Thanks for the comment and the story.  I have those hawk sillouettes on my windows and they still hit it.  And I have seen squirrels do exactly what you described.
-- Tim

I've tried everything too, and the mesh screen on the outside of the window works best. Only thing is I can't take photos through it. I've put up streamers, hawk silhouettes, paint daubs, & plastic owls & the mesh finally stopped window fatalities. That's why I think this redpoll flew into the wall -- especially since I did not hear a window hit. She still greets me on a feeder each morning now and hangs around a little while after the others fly to the trees. My pal.
Cheers,
Robin Song  2/5

Is the feeding frenzy over for the Red Polls? We haven't seen any Red Polls since Sunday here in south Anchorage. The birds had been emptying the feeders about every two days. Yesterday there was only one or two birds at a time. I'm wondering where they went and who still has Red Polls at their feeders?  
-- South Anchorage 2/5

For a few days our numbers were down, but they started going back up today.  
-- Homer  2/5

They are still showing up at my feeders in Nikiski.  
-- Nikiski 2/5


We have about 50-100 daily, not an unusual amount but not every year amount.
 -- Anchorage  2/6

Last week, while driving north on Minnesota near Tudor in Anchorage, a large
 flock of redpolls flew over. While I know they are more common in town this
 year, this flock was unusually large.I am guessing about 200 birds. So,
there may be more in town than one thinks. 
-- Anchorage


We've had up to 65 or more Common Redpolls at our feeder, whereas in previous years we've had only one or two.  A bonanza year for redpolls at feeders. 
--- Homer 

  We just started with bird feeders about 4 weeks ago.  First some Arctic Blend and then a little thistle to bring those dang Pine Siskins in (it didn't work).  Started with two feeders, one about 8 inches high and one about 16 inches high.  
-- Anchorage


Yes-about 70 redpolls here in the Talkeetna area. Usually I have around 25 at my feeders and they don't come in to the feeders until mid Feb. This winter I started out with 8 redpolls coming in with 12 Pine Grosbeaks back in Nov. The flock slowly increased to its present size by mid Jan. The PG flock numbers around 20 birds. Just had a Shrike here 2 days ago and a Sharp-shinned Hawk does a fly-by every once in awhile. 
Black-capped Chickadee flock is down about 1/2 this winter, numbering around  25 birds.
I put out mixed seed for the redpolls to slow down their consumption of sunflower seeds. Happy little birds! 
-- Talkeetna

 Yes! I'm in the south end of Anchorage. We started out with about 20 birds, now it's a mob scene at the front and back yard feeders several times a day and ran through two 10 lb bags quickly.  My husband couldn't find plain sunflower seeds at two stores in town and ended up buying a mix of millet, cracked corn, peanuts and sunflower seeds. Corn and millet are scattered everywhere. Don't understand why stores here carry mixes like this. Is millet good for anything? Am I missing something? I've always wondered.
 
-- Anchorage


A NOTE:  If anyone else can't find sunflower seeds, while I hesitate to promote Walmart, they do carry 40-pound bags (and also smaller ones).  They have a variety of other feeds as well and they at least sell the Alaska brand.  Also note the message from Talkeetna above.  Putting out mixed feed slows down the consumption of sunflower seeds.

It took just slightly over two weeks for the birds (mostly Redpolls, but a few Nuthatches and BCCHs) to empty the feeders the first time I filled them.  It took about a week for the birds to empty the feeders the second time I filled them.  Then about four days...now it's done to about two days. 
-- Anchorage



The Blacked-capped Chickadees still are around a bit, but the Nuthatches seem to have "been driven off" perhaps.

I won't complain though...it's a wonderful Sunday morning sipping coffee and watching the Redpolls mob the feeders.

I bet the word "Redpoll" is mentioned 25 times a day in my house these days. 
-- Anchorage

I have 100-200 in my yard feeders in Soldotna.  This is one of the higher years (I have had 300 at one time) and they just showed up a week or two ago,  
-- Soldotna



2 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post! I did a search on Redpolls Alaska today because not only are there so many of them, they have stayed so long! I am enjoying it and they are even learning to share the feeders with my beloved chickadees. We are in Big Lake. I was hoping this would predict an unusually early spring and warm summer?
    Thank you, again, for a great post. I'm happy to know I'm not feeding ALL of them!
    ~Tan

    ReplyDelete
  2. They showed up en masse at our cabin in Sunshine (by the Talkeetna Spur Road) about 3 weeks ago. (It's March 12th now) Prior to that we had lots of chickadees, pine grosbeaks, nuthatch, and grey jays. They have pretty much run off the chickadees, the few that are brave enough to come in, get run off. The nuthatch seems to be able to get some food but everyone else has quit trying to compete with them. We are going to switch to seed in the shell, that should cut the damage to our wallet back somewhat. I feel like I have adopted another child given the cost of feeding these guys... I'd love to post a picture of the little raptors, but I'm not sure how.

    ReplyDelete

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