Column: Birds of the backyard

Over the past two months, we have experienced a transformation in the types of birds that are present in the Central Highlands of Arizona. Gone are our summer residents such as hummingbirds, Bullock's orioles, black-headed grosbeaks and Western kingbirds.

Present are some of our new arrivals, including a host of dark-eyed juncos, swarms of white-crowned sparrows, a sprinkling of yellow-rumped warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets and red-naped sapsuckers, just to mention a few.

I have been impressed over past few weeks by the variety of species I am seeing in my yard. I have seen both sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks, common raven, ladder-backed woodpecker, Bewick's wren, Western scrub-jay, American robin, Western bluebirds, spotted and canyon towhees, hoards of lesser-goldfinches, and even one lone American goldfinch.

Earlier this week I had a pair of mountain chickadees in the yard - which is somewhat unusual for my neighborhood - so I was very pleased to see them. Of course, I am seeing all of the usual suspects such as mourning doves, house finches, white-crowned sparrows, dark-eyed juncos and chipping sparrows. bushtits and both juniper and bridled titmice are around as well.

What makes this time of year interesting is that you never know when you take a casual glance out the window whether you are going to see something unusual - perhaps even something new to your yard for the fall and winter season.

I have no idea how many times each day I pass by the same window and make a point to glance out the window at my feeding area just to see what is there. Over the course of a week, I probably look out the window hundreds of times and see pretty much the same old birds, but then there is that one time when I take a quick glance and spot something unusual or even new to my yard for the season.

Already this fall, several folks in the Prescott area have been treated to sightings of less common varieties of winter visitors such as fox sparrow and red-breasted nuthatch. Some years the Prescott area experiences an "invasion" of Cassin's finches, evening grosbeaks or pine siskins.

I have yet to see any of these species in my yard this fall, but our weather has been extremely mild. When these species occur, it usually is an indication of harsh winter weather conditions to the north of us. During winters with extreme cold or heavy snow cover, species are forced to move farther south in an effort to locate readily available food sources.

Last winter there were very few lesser goldfinches in the Prescott area, but we had large numbers of pine siskins. From what I am seeing in my yard, and from the feedback I am hearing from folks visiting the Bird Barn, so far this winter there are still a lot of lesser goldfinches, but very few pine siskins.

I have been fielding a lot of questions on when the lesser goldfinches will be leaving. As mild as our weather has been, it seems they are perfectly content to stay here for now. It is difficult to predict the movement of bird populations, as it is tied closely to what is happening with the weather.

One thing is for sure - wild birds are nature's barometer for an impending change in the weather. If you feed the birds, I am sure you have witnessed this in your yard. Prior to a storm front arriving, the birds swarm your feeders and feed voraciously. You can learn a lot by observing the behavior of wild birds! Maybe the weatherman should take note of bird behavior!

Until next week, happy birding!

Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott. Eric has been an avid birder for more than 40 years. If you have specific questions or issues related to wild birds, which you would like discussed in future articles, e-mail Eric at Eric@JaysBirdBarn.com.