2014 Focus on Feeders Results

We would like to thank more than 1,100 backyard bird-feeding enthusiasts from across Massachusetts who took part in the 2014 Focus on Feeders.

Once again, we received feedback from a great number of backyard birders. 

If you are interested in birds and birding, we encourage you to check out our State of the Birds 2013 report and Breeding Bird Atlas 2, two important tools that help raise public awareness and provide information to guide us as we move forward in our many exciting new bird conservation initiatives.

Highlights from the 2014 Focus on Feeders:

  • This year 87 species were reported.
  • The top five species that were observed in the greatest numbers this year were:
    • 6,609 Dark-eyed Junco
    • 5,600 Mourning Dove
    • 5,065 American Goldfinch
    • 4,684 House Sparrow
    • 4,241 Black-capped Chickadee
  • Black-capped Chickadees were the most frequently reported species.
  • The overall number of birds reported this year was 55,470, down from last year’s 61,000, though we had the same number of participants.  This lower number of reports is not cause for concern.  There are many reasons why there may be fewer birds at your feeder on a given day, such as the presence of a cat or hawk, or an abundance of natural food sources.

Winter Surprise

This year over 3,000 American Robins were reported at feeders – over twice the number reported in 2013!

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has been tracking the movements of migrating birds through their BirdCast program using eBird data.  On February 24, 2014 they reported a warming period in the southeast U.S. that began around February 16. Temperatures were substantially warmer in that week and the following week than they had been in past years. The warm-up triggered the movements of short-distance migrants, like the American Robin, into the Northeast much earlier than expected. Many American Robins remain year-round in the Northeast, but this year’s higher numbers at feeders were likely a result of the unusual warming period in the Southeast in February.

Irruptive Species

Every year birders in the Northeast U.S. wait to see if certain northern species will appear at their feeders in large numbers. These species are called “irruptive” species because their numbers tend to vary substantially between years. Some of them, like the Common Redpoll, breed only in the northern reaches of Canada, but sometimes appear in large numbers in the Northeast U.S. in winter when food is scarce in the Canadian wintering areas.  Others, such as the Pine Siskin and Red-breasted Nuthatch, have breeding populations in Massachusetts, but the winter populations are sometimes augmented by northern breeding birds moving south in search of more abundant food. 

Each year Ron Pittaway, a field ornithologist in Ontario, reports a “Winter Finch Forecast” that predicts where irruptive species might show up that year. The reason behind these fluctuations in bird appearances in winter lies with the natural seed production cycle of trees in the boreal forest, wherein more seeds are produced one year and fewer the next. 

2013 was considered an “irruption” year because there were poor deciduous and coniferous tree seed crops in Canada. As predicted, large numbers of Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, and Red-breasted Nuthatches were reported in Massachusetts. 

This year was not an “irruption” year because seed crops in Canada were good to excellent. Therefore numbers of these species were much lower this year in Massachusetts. While some Common Redpolls were seen this year (64 vs. last year’s 1,584) most of the Common Redpolls stayed in the north this winter because the birch, alder, and conifer seed crops were good this year in the boreal forests. The Pine Siskins seen this year are either year-round residents of Massachusetts or breed not far north of Massachusetts in New England. The Red-breasted Nuthatches seen this year (only 1/3 the number seen last year!) are most likely year-round residents as Red-breasted Nuthatches were not expected to move much out of the northern boreal forests this year due to heavy spruce cone crops there. 

The golden Evening Grosbeaks are also considered “irruptive” though they haven’t been reported in numbers as big as the other more common “irruptive” species in Massachusetts. This year Ron predicted that more Evening Grosbeaks would be appearing at sunflower seed feeders in the Northeast U.S. as their populations in the north are growing due to expanding spruce budworm outbreaks in the northern forest. Our Focus on Feeders participants reported 31 Evening Grosbeaks this year, whereas only 12 were reported in 2013.

Check out Ron’s full forecast for winter 2013-2014.

Increasers

This year some of the focal species continued to gradually increase their winter population numbers in Massachusetts.

Species

2012 numbers

2013 numbers

2014 numbers

Northern Flicker 165 258 373
Northern Mockingbird 66 72 92
Red-bellied Woodpecker 448 671 694
American Goldfinch 3332 4242 5065

 

Steady Performers

Many of the focal species were seen in similar numbers as they were last year:

  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Blue Jay
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • European Starling
  • House Finch
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Purple Finch
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Wild Turkey

The Unexplained

  • Dark-eyed Junco numbers were much lower than last year (6,609 vs. 8,052), though they remain the most common bird seen at feeders.
  • Fewer White-throated Sparrows were also reported this year.
  • About 200 more Carolina Wrens were reported this year.