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Tue, Feb. 18

Bird feeder activity is picking up

In last week's column, I mentioned that goldfinch numbers are up dramatically from just a month ago. This uptick in numbers can be attributed to the successful fledging of young. As more and more babies leave the nest, they are joining their parents at thistle feeders.

During the month of June and the first part of July, adult wild birds were busily scurrying about finding insects to feed the babies in their nests. During this time, you may have been wondering, "Where are all the birds?" As fledglings leave the nest, the parents are freed up from finding insects, and they are returning to seed feeding - and they're bringing their offspring with them.

It is during this season of the year that you will notice a difference in the birds showing up at your feeders. You will not see new species of birds - it is just that they don't look quite "right." Juvenile plumage can be remarkably different than adult plumage.

Just this past week, we have had two juvenile spotted towhees in our yard, feeding down on the ground looking for white-proso millet. An inexperienced birder would be completely thrown off at the appearance of a juvenile spotted towhee, as its plumage does not look anything like the adult.

One of the reasons I like the "Sibley Guide to Birds" book is that the illustrator not only shows male and female plumage, but also juvenile plumage - something not typically found in "picture" bird books. Check out page 406 in the "Sibley Guide" to see what a juvenile spotted towhee looks like compared to the adult.

Another species where adult and juvenile plumage is strikingly different is the Cooper's hawk. Adult plumage in males and females is similar. They are a slate blue/gray color on their back and wings, and the breast is a reddish/golden color. Juveniles, on the other hand, are brown on the back and wings with flecks of white feathers. The breast is a buff-white color with vertical brown streaking. It is interesting to see the total transformation they go through as they change from juvenile to adult plumage.

In most species - and there are always exceptions - juveniles look like adult females as far as coloration and markings goes. Of course, you would assume that approximately 50 percent of juveniles are females. However, the other 50 percent, the males, initially lack adult breeding plumage and look pretty much the same as females. When they molt into adult plumage, they go through a complete transformation in coloration.

Right now is the time to be on the lookout for species showing up that maybe you haven't seen since spring migration. A good example of this is orioles. As nesting season winds down, the babies tend to disperse and gradually become independent of their parents. Even adults, freed from parental responsibilities begin to range beyond their "normal" territory.

During breeding season, birds stay close to home, guarding their nest site and territory from predators and other birds. However, once the young have fledged, there really isn't any thing that binds parents to the nest site or to their breeding territory. They are free to wander and move into new areas to forage for food.

Do not be surprised if you start to see things like orioles or bluebirds showing up, as this is typical post-breeding behavior. Fall migration is already underway for some species such as Rufous hummingbirds, so be on the lookout.

Until next week, happy birding!

Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, with two locations to serve you - 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott, and 2370 State Highway 89A in Sedona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 40 years. If you have questions related to wild birds which you would like discussed in future articles, e-mail Eric at

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