February Birds 2015 Featured

A male downy woodpecker A male downy woodpecker
17 February 2015 Written by 
Published in Birds

Crows cawing woke me up about thirty minutes after sunrise on this bitterly cold Friday the 13th. At eight o’clock, the temperature was -7°F, with a wind chill of about -20°F. It was the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), an annual event that collects data on bird observations made by thousands of participants across the country and around the world.  

This has been an old-fashioned cold and snowy winter.  Utica has had fifteen days of sub-zero temperatures by mid-February. This is similar to last year, which was the coldest winter inabout twenty years.


This winter there is more snow.  In Utica, some snow banks are over four feet high. This is about the same amount of snow seen in Boonville a week ago, before two major storms left fifteen or more inches of snow across the area.

I began watching birds about eight o’clock.  A large female hairy woodpecker was soon joined by a pair of white-throated sparrows and a variety of sparrows and finches, among other birds.

Our yard is about 30 by 45 feet. It is enclosed with cedar hedges of varying heights with a wooden fence as a backdrop on one side. One corner has a seventy-foot tall butternut tree. Across the street is a large organic garden, with more cedar hedges, sunflowers, boxalders trees, and a wide variety of wild and cultivated flowers, lilacs, grapes, and raspberries.

All of this combines to provide quite a diverse habitat with lots of food and shelter for birds and small mammals. About twenty varieties of birds have visited our suet and seed feeders over the past dozen years.  

A female cardinal was on the ground under the feeders among a mixed flock of house sparrows, juncos, tree sparrows, and white-throated sparrows. Soon, a bright red male cardinal joined the scene.  Hovering in front of a suet and platform seed feeder, the bright red was brilliant against a backdrop of bright sun and dazzling white snow. Most commonly seen singly or in pairs, this morning there were three males and two female.    

A lone Carolina wren fed on a suet feeder. Since Christmas it has been a nearly daily visitor. This tiny bird, with an upright tale that was missing a major tail feather when we first saw it a few weeks ago likes the suet feeders, often staying for several minutes. The Mohawk Valley is on the northern fringe of its winter range. 

A pair of black-capped chickadees landed on a feeder, lingering only five to ten seconds, taking a seed, and quickly flying off to a near-by cedar hedge.  There is usually a pair of chickadees, occasionally three to five.  They are quite tame, and with patience, a chickadee can be trained to land on one’s hand.

By mid-morning it was only slightly warmer, bitterly cold all day. Blue jays and starlings came later in the day. Fourteen species of birds were seen on the first day of the GBBC. This is more species than seen on any one day in past years.

Black and white hairy and downy woodpeckers were both present. Their coloration is nearly identical. The downy, a daily visitor in winter, is the smallest woodpecker, about the size of a six-inch suet box feeder. It has a rather thin and pointed bill. The chest and belly are white, the back has a white patch, and the wings are black and white.

The hairy woodpecker is more reclusive and seen less frequently. It is one to two inches larger than the downy, stockier, and has a thicker, chisel-like bill. In both species, males have a small red patch on the back of the head, while in females this patch is black. Usually both woodpeckers are seen singly or in pairs, but we saw two female hairy woodpeckers a few days ago.

A Cooper's HawkA Cooper’s hawk came into view, landing briefly on the butternut tree, then flew  across the street, perching on an open patch of cedar hedges. Then it circled around above the yard, and out of our view, but we think it was successful in getting a bird next door.  For a few minutes after this, no birds were seen but an occasional crow flying by.

It was about twenty minutes before the birds returned to the feeders. This event was repeated an hour later, with another hawk scaring the birds into hiding for a few minutes. This hawk was smaller, and may have been a sharp-shinned hawk.

Crows seldom come to the feeder, though just after sunrise, a few may be on the ground under the feeders. Just prior to sunset, about 620 crows were flying to the southwest. These flocks sometimes number in the range of 4000 or more.  

On the first day of the bird count in 2015, fourteen species were seen in about three hours. Nuthatches, pine siskins and common redpolls might visit over the next few days. This has been one of the most successful days in over ten years of participating in the GBBC.

Read 1923 times Last modified on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 09:18
Rate this item
(0 votes)
Roger Chambers

Roger Chambers is a regsitered nurse, working in geriatric nursing for over 30 years. Since 1997 he has tended a large organic garden at his urban home. He has traveled widely in the US and Canada, Europe and Latin America.

He has had several articles in hobby publications on shortwave radio, and several poems in local arts journals and newspapers. An avid fan of birds and the Adirondack Mountains, at present he is largely focused on natural seasonal changes, holidays, and associated local fairs and festivals.

Roger resides in the beautiful Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York.

More in this category: « Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated. HTML code is not allowed.

About Us

The Mohawk Valley Almanac provides a wide variety of information on fairs and festivals, wildlife, and the natural world in this historic region of central New York State. Many annual regional fairs and festivals celebrate the seasons, agriculture, historical and religious holidays, the arts, sports, and ethnic heritage of the diverse population. The natural world of birds and other wildlife, weather, astronomy, and gardening in a climate with cold and snowy winters are also featured.

We hope to make the Mohawk Valley Almanac a gateway to this area of Central New York for anyone interested in the natural world and regional festivals of the greater Mohawk Valley. Come back and visit often for new information. Contact us on the link below for further information or to subscribe to our monthly almanac newsletter.

Connect With Us