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Sat, Jan. 18

Winter bird sightings can produce surprises

This week here at Jay's Bird Barn I have been seeing a hermit thrush! You might guess by its name that hermit thrushes are usually seen singularly, making them a challenge to find. They are similar in shape to robins, only smaller, and not nearly so colorful. Hermit thrushes are fruit and berry eaters, which explains why I see them on a fairly regular basis here at Jay's Bird Barn, because of the many berry-producing trees and shrubs on Watters property.

I have also seen American robins here at the nursery this week, along with a hairy woodpecker and a covey of Gambel's quail. Unusual? Somewhat, but then again, not necessarily. One idea to keep in mind during the winter months is the increased occurrence of birds 'turning up' outside of their traditional habitats, or range. It was a year ago this month when I saw a black and white warbler here at Jay's. That was an extremely unusual sighting, but it underscores the point that wild birds can show up anywhere, anytime!

There are many bird species that you can just expect to see on a daily basis (depending on where you live), such as ravens, house finches and mourning doves. It is those times when you discover an unusual species – one that you have never seen before – which creates that sense of wonder and fulfillment, and explains why you find bird watching so enjoyable and rewarding.

I liken this experience to seeing an old friend that maybe you haven't seen for a long time. Then, one day you unexpectedly run into him or her. I have this kind of feeling when out of the blue I see a bird species which I have not seen for a long time, and suddenly one is right outside my window. Experiences like this have a way of re-kindling the feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment that comes with the hobby of backyard bird feeding.

I know a lot of you have been missing some of your bird friends lately, as I have had many customers mention they are not seeing any lesser goldfinches at their feeders right now. Take heart, as other customers are telling me they are seeing more goldfinches than ever! While lesser goldfinches are considered a year-round species, a percentage of them do migrate.

In the "Birds of Prescott" checklist, lesser goldfinches are listed as being "common" in the summertime, and "fairly common" in the winter. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict which ones will migrate and which will stay. I venture to say that if you are still seeing large numbers of goldfinches at this point you will probably have them all winter long. In contrast, if you are not seeing any goldfinches right now then I suspect your finches chose to migrate and are gone for the winter. But, don't worry … they will come back in early spring!

If you are part of the "finchless" group, I recommend that you leave your nyjer/thistle feeder up, and keep it full. Remember, some of our winter visitors such as American goldfinches and pine siskins also like nyjer/thistle seed, so you might be able to attract other varieties of birds to your yard while the lesser goldfinches are gone.

By the way, the American goldfinch in winter plumage does not look anything like American goldfinches in their breeding plumage. You might have some visiting at your feeders even now, and not realize that it is a different species of goldfinch. One identifying feature of American goldfinches in winter plumage is dark wings with a wing bar. Be on the lookout!

A quick thank you to all of those who have so generously donated toward the Birdseed for Care Centers program. The collection will continue here at Jay's Bird Barn through December.

If you have specific questions, or issues related to wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, submit them to Jay's Bird Barn, P.O. Box 11471, Prescott, AZ 86304, or log on to and click on "Ask Eric" which will link you with my e-mail address: Until next week, happy birding!

Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn located at Watters Garden Center. He has been an avid birder for close to 40 years.

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