Tag Archive | calgary backyard birds

Another Sharp-shinned Hawk

Recently both Pat and Dan have posted about Sharp-shinned Hawks in their yard.  Now it’s my turn.  Last week we had our first ever accipiter in our SE Calgary yard, a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk that stopped here briefly.

It took me a while to figure out whether it was a Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s Hawk, but it actually is almost identical to the one Pat posted about here and here, and which was identified as a juvenile Sharp-shinned.  The bird that Dan saw was an adult, and you can read about it here.

The hawk was followed by about forty Black-billed Magpies, but they didn’t mob it.  While it sat on our fence, they just kept their distance in a nearby poplar.  But when the hawk left, they followed.

About twenty of the magpies that were following the hawk.

Unlike Dan’s hawk, my bird didn’t take any of the hundred or so small birds that were around my feeders at the time.  It just rested on the fence for three or four minutes, then flew off, and I haven’t seen it again.

Gus Yaki saw these pictures and said that he believes he has seen this same individual several times this autumn and winter in Fish Creek Park and along the Bow River.  It is distinctive because of the prominent white tips to the back feathers, which is unusual in this species.

A view of the bird’s back, showing large white areas on the feather tips.

It was certainly exciting to see this bird, even if it was only for a few minutes, and it’s one more species for the yard list.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

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My not-so-Common Redpolls

This topic has come up a lot this winter; all the wintering finches here this year. I am going to add on to this topic once again.

My yard in southeast Calgary has gathered a fairly respectable list; about 90 species of birds have visited it in the last 10 years. The Common Redpoll is on this list, having been seen in my yard once in 2009 for all of about 10 seconds. For whatever reason, my community is not favored by redpolls. This year, though, they were everywhere, including my yard.

On December 23, I had a redpoll in my yard for almost half an hour. And not only was it in my yard, but it visited my feeders as well.

We have been seeing so many finches this winter likely because it is an irruption year; a year when food sources (such as catkins and cone crops for finches and lemmings for Snowy Owls) are hard come by on these birds’ normal wintering grounds.

It’s neat for me to be able to see birds I don’t usually see in my backyard, such as the not-so-Common ( in my neighborhood) Redpoll.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Wednesday Wings: Varied Thrush

On of my favourite Christmas presents this year was an adult male Varied Thrush that arrived in our front yard on Christmas Day, just as we were opening our gifts.

When it first flew across our front yard, I thought it was a robin, a bird it is closely related to.  I saw a robin in the neighbourhood as recently as December 17.  But the male Varied Thrush has unmistakable orange and black markings.

These beautiful birds are not too common in Calgary, with just a few reports every year on migration, and the occasional one overwintering here.  This one appears to be trying to overwinter in our neighbourhood, as it has now been seen feeding in our yard for three straight days.  This is the first time we’ve had one in our yard, and only the second one I’ve seen in Calgary.  We didn’t have one reported on the recent Christmas Bird Count, so I wonder where this bird was then?

Here is a video of the Varied Thrush feeding on niger and sunflower seed.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

It’s good to be back…

I flew in to Calgary from Houston last Friday night and was greeted by snow on the ground! Something that I haven’t seen since April. Never thought that I would be so excited to see snow. My first day back, Saturday, I took a walk around my neighborhood and was fortunate enough to see most of the locals; no not the neighbors, the birds.

First thing in the morning, I woke to see several Black-billed Magpies jumping and hollering about in the willow. Several Common Ravens flew overhead and 2 pairs of Chickadees visited the feeders. I was very happy to see the Black-capped Chickadees, nothing can compare with this species’ friendliness!

I have been following the reports from Albertabird still and I have seen all the reports of winter finches; I knew what a good year it was for these birds. I just didn’t know how good! In my hour or so walk, I saw more Crossbills then I did all last winter. I must have seen more than 100 crossbills!

Most of the crossbills were White-winged however there were a few Red Crossbills in the mix ( see photo above). I also observed many Pine Siskins that were flocking with the crossbills and feeding on the abundant cones.

My neighborhood, for some reason, never seems to be popular with Common Redpolls, however this year, within my first 24 hours of being back in Calgary, I had already seen 2 in my community. Also, we hosted a Pine Grosbeak, which is unusual for us. At one point, I was privileged to see several crossbills, a redpoll and many siskins on the ground just feet in front of me, licking up some sort of salt or rock from the ground.

Then, later on in the day, I discovered why my feeders were so empty. Three Sharp-shinned Hawks were all together in a tree. When 3 raptors start calling your neighborhood home, there are definitely going to be some songbird declines.

All in all, it’s good to be back!

Posted by Matthew Sim

Backyard Birds: Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Juncos are one of the last native sparrows to migrate through Calgary each fall, and many of them often overwinter here.  I have at least eight that have been coming to my yard regularly for the last three weeks.  They will come to feeders, but like other sparrows, they prefer to feed on the ground or on a flat, open surface like a tray.  They can often be seen scratching in the snow to expose seeds.

Juncos can be identified by their dark hoods, white bellies, and white outer tail feathers that flash when they fly.  There are two common subspecies in Calgary;  “Slate-colored” which are all grey and can look almost black, and “Oregon” which have rusty back and sides.  In the spring, males have a very distinct black hood.

I have a non-native apple tree in my yard that stays green and fully leafed out until the end of November, so I often only become aware of juncos in the yard when I hear their soft “chip” call coming from the tree.  The video below includes a soundtrack with this call, courtesy of the xeno-canto website.

Various Dark-eyed Juncos.  Calls courtesy Xeno-Canto.

Below you can see juncos feeding on niger seed on top of a stepladder…

Juncos feeding on niger seed.

Below is a video of juncos feeding on small sunflower heads…

Juncos feeding on sunflowers.

 

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Christmas Bird Count 2011 – Here’s Your Chance to Volunteer!

House Finch

The 60th annual Calgary Christmas Bird Count will take place this year on Sunday, December 18th.  There are two ways to get involved – as a birder in the field, or as a feeder-watcher in your yard.

There are over thirty territories in the count circle, so we need to get a lot of birders out in the field to identify and count all the birds.  In recent years the number of field volunteers has dropped below 100, and we’d like to get it back up over that number for this 60th count.

The Count Circle (click to enlarge).

If you’d like to help with this, please consider volunteering.  You don’t have to be an expert birder – there will be at least one experienced birder in each territory, so you will be assigned to help them out.  Most groups will be going out for the full day, but you can participate for a half-day if you wish.

Contact Phil Cram at crampj@telusplanet.net to volunteer, or for more information.  

American Wigeons

Feeder-watchers:

If you are unable to get out birding with us on December 18, you can still participate by spending some time counting the birds in your yard.  You needn’t spend all day at this, but should try to record the maximum numbers of each species in your yard, and the time spent watching.

To participate as a feeder-watcher, you must register to take part, and live within the above 24-km-diametre count circle.  If you are outside the circle, perhaps you have friends who feed birds and live within it – you could persuade them to take part, and assist them with their counting.

Contact Jean Moore at jmmoore@ucalgary.ca or phone 403-282-4162 for more information on the feeder-watch program, or to volunteer.

Downy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

There are several other Christmas Counts in the Calgary region every year.  Keep an eye on our “Free Nature Walks” tab at the top of this page for updates on these, or see the Bird Studies Canada page to find a list of all counts in Canada.

(Previous blog posts on this topic: 2009 Christmas Count2010 Christmas Count.)

Posted by Bob Lefebvre.  All photos by myself unless otherwise indicated.  Click on pictures to see a larger version.

Movie Monday: Bathing Crows

Here is a video of three young crows at our birdbath, taken in July.  This was shortly after they fledged, and it looks like it might have been the first time they ventured into the water.  It’s interesting to compare their behavior to that of the juvenile Black-billed Magpie in the video in this post.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre