2013 Focus on Feeders Results

  • As usual, Black-capped Chickadees were the most frequently reported species.
  • All but five of the 39 focal species had similar abundance rankings to previous years.  For instance, American Robins fell seven ranks between 2012 and 2013, due to other species that were scarce last winter moving up in the ranks. The number of robins reported per feeder, however, was greater than last year.
  • Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, and Red-breasted Nuthatches all increased in abundance this year. Common Redpolls experienced the most notable increase, with 48 times more redpolls reported than last year, whereas Pine Siskin and Red-breasted Nuthatch numbers were eight and five times greater than last year’s, respectively.

    Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins and Red-breasted Nuthatches are considered “irruptive” species, and their numbers tend to vary significantly between years. For instance, Common Redpolls do not breed in the United States, but during winter will sometimes appear in large numbers when food is scarce in Canadian wintering areas. Pine Siskins do occasionally breed in Massachusetts in small numbers, but the larger numbers of Pine Siskins reported this winter were also likely the result of reduced food availability in Canada. Red-breasted Nuthatches, on the other hand, breed regularly in Massachusetts, so the greater numbers reported this winter could reflect a growing resident population as well as reduced northern food sources—it will be very interesting to see what happens with these birds over the next few years. 

    The reason behind these fluctuations lies with the natural seed production cycle of trees in the boreal forest, wherein more seeds are produced one year and fewer the next. Observers in Canada reported poor hardwood and coniferous tree seed crops in the northeastern forests, and predictions were that Common Redpolls would move south due to a poor white birch seed crop, and Pine Siskins and Red-breasted Nuthatches would move due to a poor cone crop. Pine Siskins seem to prefer to move west or east rather than south in search of food, so their increased numbers in MA were not quite as expected. Overall, however, we of the lower-latitudes were expecting a great year for winter finches, and we were not disappointed!

  • European Starling numbers were almost twice what they were last year, but remained consistent with rankings from years prior to 2012. It is interesting to note that this species is currently declining in the U.K., where it is native, likely due to changes in agriculture.
  • Over 61,000 birds were reported this year, with each participant reporting an average of 55 birds. Last year only about 36,000 birds were reported. Increased snow cover this year likely forced more birds to visit feeders.
  • More Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks were observed this year, likely due to the increased number of seed-eating birds at feeders.
  • Last year no Ruby-crowned Kinglets were observed, but this year 11 were reported!

View the map of number of species by town. (As always care should be taken before drawing conclusions from what may be short-term and minor fluctuations in numbers.)

Thanks to your participation, our winter feeder database continues to grow. The current Focus on Feeders program dates from 1997, and the updated rank order of birds visiting feeders since 1997 can be found in this table.