Michigan Birding 101 Session 3 - Winter Birding

March 14, 2021

Welcome to our Michigan Birding 101 series.

This is Session 3 of a four-part series provided by Michigan Sea Grant and MSU Extension featuring tips and tricks and lots of great information from Extension educator Elliot Nelson. In this video, we'll learn what birds you can expect to see year round and also only in the colder seasons in Michigan.

We hope you’ll enjoy all four of the sessions and be inspired to head outside to do some birding!

Session 1 video – Basic Birding Skills: https://youtu.be/brQj2YNQj_w

Session 2 video – Backyard Birds: https://youtu.be/0-9a-5Pt258

Session 3 video – Winter Birding: https://youtu.be/3J6DKgz5NGM

Session 4 video – Magnificent Migration: https://youtu.be/Pfhgeqa0PhU

A special thanks to Darrell Lawson for sharing his Birding 101 tips as well as Skye Hass (https://borealisbirding.net/), Duane Utech and John Diephouse for use of their photos.

Video Transcript

Well everyone, welcome to another edition of Birding 101, Michigan Birding 101 with Sea Grant. We are so excited to have you here again today. Hopefully, you've been practicing your skills from the first couple of sessions. And today we are really going to dive into a fascinating topic, which is the Winter Birds of Michigan. As you can see this stunning great gray owl is a great example of some of the most unique and interesting things that we have the privilege of being able to care for and observe in the winter months in Michigan. Before we get started, I do want to just remind everyone that we are program of Michigan State University Extension, and therefore we are open and accessible to all. We want our programs to be committed to diversity and civil rights. We also want to acknowledge that we exist on tribal lands and we will seek to promote and work with our tribal partners across the state. As we get going today, we are going to do a couple of different things. We are going to introduce polls today. So we'll run a few polls, which is pretty self-explanatory. It'll pop up and ask you a question and you just select an answer. No pressure, but if you want to interact and chat today, we highly encourage you to do so share resources. I may ask a few questions and you can share your answers in the chat. The chat is for that kind of social function. If you have questions for our Q and A, which we'll get to at the end of today's session, then I highly recommend you put them in the Q and A part of the zoom feature. Which is down at the bottom of your screen as shown there. If you want to get your questions answered, the best bet is to put them in Q and A, 'cause we probably won't notice them if they're in the chat. And we've really enjoyed reading the chats after everything is done, reviewing stuff. It's really great to see you all interacting. So with that like I said, we are Michigan Sea Grant we're a program of MSU Extension, the University of Michigan, and NOAA. We help to promote sustainable use of coastal resources across the state. And you might think, why are you dealing with birds if you're Great Lakes folks? Well we, again, help to promote the sustainable use of coastal resources and help coastal communities. And birding is a great way if you live in a coastal community to improve your physical and mental health. There's actually quite a few studies that show that if you are observing, actually a recent one right out of London, if you're observing birds in your backyard, there's lower rates of depression, lower rates of anxiety, and increased overall well-being. So birding is really one of those activities that can improve your overall mental health and your physical health when you're out and about. And that's partly why we as See Grant care about birding and birders and helping you learn to be a birder today. So with that, we are going to do a little recap today. So if you have your binoculars, I'd say, get out your binoculars and definitely your field guide. So don't just sit here and watch me actually go get your field guide and your binoculars. If you don't already have them on hand, if they're really far away, okay, I get it. But if you've got them nearby, please go out and grab them. I actually have a new pair of binoculars that I got as backups, 'cause I have to send my old ones in as you saw last time. By the way, these were $10 on Amazon. I couldn't believe it so cheap. I thought they weren't going to work. But lo and behold, although they're not as good as my more expensive ones, they are quite functional and definitely helped me see the birds. So again, if you don't have binoculars, this is the kind of linchpin to start birding. And in recent years, the price has come way down on some, you know, average quality binoculars, really quite impressive. So anyway, we're going to get going. And what I want you to do is I want you to take your binoculars and I'm going to play this video. Now, if you have the ability at home, I actually want you to stand 10, 15, maybe even 20, if you've got a really big room feet away from your monitor, okay? So back up, as far as you can from your monitor, I'll talk nice and loud. And I want you to observe this bird now. Please don't put in the chat what species this is, don't put in the chat what species this is. Don't give it away yet. I want you to observe this bird and take mental notes or actually physical notes about what are the key features you notice about this species. So let's start observing. So again, remember your binocular skills. If you have your binoculars, give them a go and what you want to do is you want to keep your eyes on the bird. Don't lift your binoculars up until you see that bird. This is what we covered in the first class. If this is your first time tuning in, this was Beginning Birding 101, keep your eyes on the bird. And as you see that bird, lift your binoculars up without looking away and focus in on that bird. Now, if you're not focused, you may have to adjust a little bit, go back down. But again, the key is see the birds with your naked eye, and then don't look away and lift right up until your binoculars are on the bird. Now, as you observe this bird with your binoculars, you might start to notice some interesting features. One of the key things, of course, you might notice is that this bird is vertical to the tree with its head tilt 90 degrees in the tree. Now there's not a lot of birds that crawl around like that and peck their heads into the wood or kind of flake the bark like this bird was doing. So now that you've observed that bird and you've been able to notice some features, you may have observed the behavior, you have may have observed the structure, the vertical structure with that tail pressed against there. You may have noticed some patterns like the speckled black and white on the back or the dark eye line and the red or dark cap on this bird. And if you have, you know, a field guide handy, you're probably going to be able to get yourself to the woodpecker section of your field guide. And so as you get to the woodpecker section, this is the woodpecker section of my Sibley Guide here on the left. You can look at the overview on the first page and you can start to key in, okay? That bird had the speckled back, which oh, that doesn't narrow it down that much, right? There's quite a few birds with speckled backs, but that dark eye line with the red cap is unique, right? If we look on there, we might see, okay, the Sapsuckers are the only ones that have that red cap. And we open our books to the Sapsuckers section. And now if you want, you can put in the chat if you know which one it is. Now, these two Sapsuckers are almost identical, which can be really tough, right? The Red-naped Sapsuckers has the red cap and sodas the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. So the question is which one is it? Hmm, well, again, remember location matters. So if you look at the range maps down below, you'll notice that the Red-naped Sapsuckers is a Western species and the Yellow-bellied is an Eastern species. So if you see this bird in the area of Michigan, you're probably going to key in it is a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, which is a real bird. You might think that's just a saying or a joke, but it's actually a real bird, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. And so that is what that bird is. And hopefully, you were able to follow along and get there in your guide. It is a little tough at first, but as you get going you will start to get a little bit better, and again, practice makes perfect. So hopefully you enjoyed that ability to practice our first session. And by the way, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are mostly a summer species in Michigan, pretty rare in the winter. But they're going to start making their way back here in the next few weeks, really by April we'll start to really see them. So good news spring is coming, but today we're still focused on those winter birds. And so here's another one to give you practice. So again, I'm going to play this and I want you to observe with your binoculars if you can, if you don't have your binoculars naked eyes is fine. And again, that was a quick and fleeting view, right? And this is what really happens when we're watching birds. We don't always get to see them static or there for more than a minute, but I'll give you one more chance, right? Tough features there. So put in the chat, what were some features you noticed on that bird? There may only have been a couple things that stuck out in those few seconds of views. Put in the chat what are some features that you noticed about that bird that might help you identify it? There was a key color that stuck out really in that bird. And this is one of those what we call the Little Brown birds, the real tough ones. But I see a lot of people are coming up with some great answers, short beats, but that yellow dot seemed really interesting. Set on a white background with black eye lines. Now you can use your field guide and go to the Sparrow Section. Because that is probably where most of our Little Brown birds, our streaky Brown birds are going to come in. Here's the Sparrow Section of my Sibley Guide, which isn't showing up 'cause of my virtual background. But and if you look at your Sparrow Guide Section, you might find that there are only a few birds with that bright yellow dot. As a little cheat sheet, I've got a little nice cheat sheet here from Greg Niece based off of another artist that I showed last week. And you'll see, this is a great guide to the sparrows, a nice little handy thing to stamp a picture of and keeping your phone or print out and have while you're out and about. And you'll look that there's only a few birds that actually few sparrows that have the yellow dot up at the near the front of the bill. And only one of those, of course, has it set on a white and black background. Which is the White-throated Sparrow. So hopefully you were able to get there. I know I went a little fast, but we've got a lot of other fun, exciting stuff to get to tonight. So I did just want to do that little recap for you. Hopefully, you enjoyed that. And why we're recapping too, I actually do want to ask you like I said, a few poll questions. So I want to know, I mean, you're going to get a poll that comes up now in front of you. Our first week we covered binoculars. So how many of you have used your binoculars in the past week? How many times have you been able to pick them up and practice using them. Maybe even practice using them on a real bird? So the poll should be up in front of you now and go ahead and click and answer at any point. There's a second poll that will also show up. And this is from our second week, which was Backyard Birding. So how many of you have been able to identify a bird in your own backyard this week? If you're attending these classes and you really like the idea of birding, it's a great idea to start practicing some of the things that we talked about in our first two classes. So the first class, again, we covered the Basics of Bird ID and How to Use Binoculars. And in the second week, we talked about what are the birds that you may expect to see in your own backyard? So as it comes in, it looks like we are having some great responses here. We've got a lot of people answered, actually almost everyone about 75% of the folks. But, you know, we're kind of all over the place. So I'm going to let this run just for about 10 more seconds. And then we'll just talk real quick about the results. So five, four, three, two, one, okay? So I did want to just share the results to show you wherever you are, you're not alone. So if you haven't had a chance yet to get out there, that's okay, this is just for fun. This is a hobby you're here to learn. And if you haven't had a chance to use binoculars or you haven't had a chance to acquire a pair yet. That's okay, you're not alone. But it does look like quite a few people have had a chance to start practicing. And then if we look at how many bird species people have been able to identify. Again, less than 10 is pretty typical for most backyards. I don't think I've had more than 10 species in my backyard in the last week. And so this is a really good time to start birding because if you only have a few species, it gets you a lot of chances to identify those couple of species that are coming to your backyard. So thanks for sharing your experiences the last few weeks, and thanks for being with us for the last few weeks. And I'm glad we had that chance to recap and do a little review before we dive into this week's topic, which is, of course, Winter Birding. Winter Birding is a wonderful thing, but our objectives for today are, one, we're going to have fun, right? We're going to get our questions answered. We're going to see some cool bird pictures. That's always our first objective for these classes. But objective two, we want you today to be able to recognize how Michigan winter birds use unique strategies for survival. We'll be talking about adaptations are really just cool facts because really a lot of birds leave in the winter and there's only the strong few. Or I should say the well adapted to winter few that stick around. And then our third idea for today is that we really hope you have some strategies and key locations on where to find winter birds. So the first is what are their strategies? And the second is where to find them. That's what we're going to kind of cover today. We're not going to cover every winter bird how to find them, but we're going to give you an overview of what Winter Birding is like in Michigan. And some of the exciting things you can see. So let's dive right in to today, okay? So the first thing, I just want to cover these really big high-level concepts to get you a little bit of background knowledge on Winter Birding. So in the spring and summer and fall in Michigan, if you go out birding like I said, there are 450 species of birds on the Michigan bird checklist. And, you know, well, around 300 more are going to be, you know, easily viewable breeding birds, you know, 250 or so somewhere in there. So in the spring-summer fall, if you go out into the woods and you look up in the tree, you will maybe see four or five or even more species of birds up in that tree. You go to the shrub next to your house, and there may be two, three species of birds. You go on a walk in the woods in the winter and you may spend seven hours and find three Chickadees, okay? The woods quiet down a lot in the winter. So the way that you bird in the winter is different than the rest of the year. The rest of the year, which we'll cover migrations next week. You can pretty much go to any location in Michigan with any sort of natural habitat and do a bird walk. Take your time, really move slowly through there, picking out each individual species. But in the winter, if you take your time and move slowly, slowly, slowly through the woods, you're going to have a very low species count. It's still an enjoyable activity. It's still great to do. And especially if you're new to birding this can actually be helpful, 'cause only about four or five species you might see in the woods. But most of our winter birding and birders that really go out and about to try to do some birding kind of key in on a few specific habitats that are going to house some really unique species. And that's because these species have unique adaptations to find food in those habitats. Really most of our birds leave in the winter because food is the limiting factor. There's just not the food source, which is for a lot of birds, insects, out and about like there is during spring, summer, and fall. So in the winter, birds are regulated to areas where they can find food, and mainly those are open waters. So we're going to cover open water habitat. And that would be a lot of our waterfowl. Our Great Lakes are full of teeming with life, even in the winter months. Open fields and that really connects back to small mammals, those little mice and shrews and voles that you may think are a little icky. Those are super important for a lot of winter species. And third is our boreal and pine forest area where there's cone crops that have a lot of seeds or fruiting trees. Those are another really important area. And then of course, lastly is backyard feeders, which thankfully we covered last week. So let's get into it a little bit. All right, it's time for a little bird trivia. So if you know the answer to these, I want you to write them in the chat. You can just go ahead and plop it right into the chat if you know what species of bird is on the screen right now. And these are unique and so it's a little harder. If you're a new birder, I would not expect you to know any of these, but I just wanted to share some cool winter birds. So fun fact, these dancy boys congregate to perform competitive courtship displays, where they dance battle like fools to impress the ladies. It's called a lek. One of the largest concentrations of this species in the Great lakes region is found right here in the Eastern Upper Peninsula where I am. And I see some guesses, Grouse, Grouse, Grouse. It is a type of Grouse. Hen Pheasant is a good guess 'cause they do look a lot like a female pheasant, but these are actually males right here. And these are as Jennifer got the Sharp Tail Grouse. So this is a Sharp Tail Grouse so we'll cover them a little bit more and they are some funky chickens that you can find in Michigan, especially in the winter months. This is another interesting one. This bad boy is the largest owl in North America by height and wingspan. But it's basically one big old fluff ball and weighs half as much as our more common Snowy and Great Horned Owls. So what species of bird is this? This fluff boy, it looks really impressive. And Barred Owls is a really good guest 'cause it looks a lot like a Barred Owl, but that white mustache underneath is a bit of a giveaway that this is a Great Gray. Also the Marshmallow owl I really liked that, John, thanks for chiming in there. Yes, this is a big old fluff boy, this is a Great Gray Owl. Another one we'll cover in a little bit here. All right, fun fact, this chunky fella travels in large flocks and likes to eat fruit that later in the winter is fermented. Resulting in a whole flock of drunk, silly birds. They are regular migrants moving through the state wherever there is food. And so this is not a bird you'll see every winter in Michigan, especially if you live downstate. But this big old chunky bird is not the typical Waxwing that you may normally see. This is actually called a Bohemian Waxwing, which I see a number of you got correct. So good job if you got Bohemian Waxwings again, I did not expect any of you to get these. Please don't feel bad if you didn't know what the heck I was even talking about. This is a beginning birding class but just wanted to show you some of the kind of fun stuff that you can see out in the winter. And this is a Bohemian Waxwing a relative of the Cedar Waxwings. So let's dive a little bit more in to these different areas that you can see cool, winter birds. And at first, is the open water. So open water is really going to hold waterfowl until the ice freezes over. Unlike our migrant songbirds that leave based on the time of year, Waterfowl mostly migrate based on weather and particularly migrate based on when the water ice is over. So a lot of waterfowl need open water to be able to take off and land. Some species like Grebes and Loons can't even take off or land if they're on solid land. They have to be in water, open water to be able to lift off and to land on. And, so open water is key. But as the winter goes along, you'll have less and less open water, which actually means that where you still have open water, you get really high concentrations of waterfowl, that you don't normally get to see the rest of the year when they're spread out. So, these are Diving ducks called the Aythya ducks and these are some really neat ones. A Ring-necked Duck on the left here is found more inland. The scaup is found both inland and on big waters. And the Redhead down there at the bottom is one that congregates in huge numbers in the winter. In fact, if you drive over the bridge, the Mackinac Bridge in the winter, especially before the ice over. So, maybe December and early January you may look down and you may notice these large black patches on the water and you might be thinking, "Ah, what is that I sure hope it's not oil or something?" But these large black patches, if you start to look at them, they're moving around. They're actually thousands and thousands of redheads that congregate in the Straits of Mackinac in the winter, early winter months. There's sometimes recorded over 10,000 of these ducks in one giant raft. That's just what we call a group of ducks on the water. So, it's really, really amazing if you get the chance to see these when you drive over the bridge, these redheads. And these are diving ducks they're diving down to the bottom and eating plant bits or macroinvertebrates, which are little insects that live in the water. Maybe some fish if they can get it. But really these Diving ducks are an amazing site. And you can see Diving ducks like Aythyas congregated and other places like Lake St. Clair, where there could be up to 10,000 canvasbacks at one time, or Lake Erie. These are really productive lakes, Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, and also near some river mouths. So, if you can find those patches of open water, you can end up seeing the staggering numbers of birds, which is a really a unique site, you can't get during any other time of the year. Another really cool set of birds are the Swans. So, the Tundra Swan and the Trumpeter Swan are two native species. The Swan you typically see in the summer is probably for most parts of the state going to be a Mute Swan. They have a pink bill and they are very invasive. They're very destructive to our native species. So, it's a bummer that we have those around. But we do have a breeding population, a Trumpeter. And we have migrant Tundra Swans that come through. Tundra Swans have been found in the fields during early winter where they feed on corn, that's leftover in numbers up to three or 4,000. And Trumpeter Swans are another amazing species. They are actually the largest waterfowl species in the world. They weigh over 23 pounds, which is a lot for a bird. Remember they have hollow bones and they have to fly. So, you know, most of our songbirds weigh half an ounce. This Trumpeter Swan weighs 23 pounds and has a wingspan of five feet long. But, I mean, that's just imagine that that's huge. And they are such a magnificent sight to see. In the winter months they stay together in family groups. And so, you may see them along rivers or near-shore areas of lakes in the winter months. I remember a few years ago when I was in Grad School at U of M, one of my favorite birding experiences, was going down to the Arboretum. And walking with a group of Grad School friends that were into birding together and coming around the corner of the Huron River. And all of a sudden starting to hear these loud bugle-like calls, these trumpet echoes across the river. And as we rounded that corner, we see this group of 30 huge, massive, beautiful swans as they fed along the river. So again, a unique thing, you don't get to see these grouped up in the same ways during a lot of the other times a years. And these swans are truly a sight to behold. Lake Erie Metropark is a great place to see the Tundra swans before Lake Erie fully ices over. Sometimes upwards of five, six, seven, or even 800. Actually, I've seen as high as 2000 reported there. So, they, just to see that many massive creatures of that type is a really cool experience. And winter birding can be really a great time to find rarities too. These are a couple of different rarities one, Eider. There's an Eider here in Michigan right now. These are Sea ducks, not expected to be found in the Great Lakes. But you know, these Great Lakes bring in birds that we don't really know about that are way out there in the water. That we don't get to see until that ice kind of pushes them into these channels. So, like Muskegon, the Muskegon River, Grand Haven, Holland. These are areas where there are rivers that flow out to the Great Lakes that stay open for most of the year. And you can sometimes find really cool rarities. I've been able to be lucky enough to see Eider and Barrow's Goldeneye, Black Scoters, things that you don't normally see in Michigan, that you definitely don't normally see close. Sometimes get concentrated into these channels, where these rivers come out to the Great Lakes. And purple Sandpiper is another very rare, but really cool species that you can occasionally get to see on these break walls that go out into the Great Lakes. This is one here from the Marquette break wall. These breakwaters that go out into the Great Lakes near river mouths. And these Purple Sandpipers really like them and they're a really rare species. So rarities can be another thing. And then finally, like I was talking about these deep water species, like the Long-tailed duck can come in close in the winter when the water is frozen. The Longtail duck is actually able to dive over 200 feet deep, just totally incredible. 200 feet deep, our deepest Diving duck in the Great Lakes. And they are able to convert their bodies and change their bodies, when they're diving that deep, to actually use less oxygen. They have the highest tolerance for asphyxia of any, you know, birds that we have in Michigan. And they're actually able to convert a lot more of the oxygen that is in their lungs or capture it and use it in their bodies. But they also, just basically, they slow down their hearts and they actually stop sending oxygen to areas that are going to be okay. And actually target specific areas of their body to send oxygen to while they're under the water, their most vital organs. Just truly incredible, the adaptations that these birds have to be able to survive. So, if you're in Michigan and you want to see waterfowl, anywhere there's open water. In the winter months is great. And as the winter progresses and more and more freezes. If you can still find those open water areas like dams, the downside or upside of a dam, those river mouths, like I have pinned here on the West side of the state. You know, those are gray areas for some open water birding. All right, so, I took way too long on that first category, but open water birding is really one of the true pleasures of Michigan winter birding. Another kind of group of birds that a lot of people target in Michigan in the winter, even though they're really hard to find, I got to preface that. And they're only in a very few select places are the Boreal species. So, Michigan is actually right at the Southern edge of the Boreal forest. And there are small pockets of true Boreal forest still remaining in the Upper Peninsula. These birds are not found in many, they're found in very few other places in the lower 48 States in the United States. But there are small pockets of Michigan where you can find these true Boreal species. These species do not ever go farther South than the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. And so, you do have to go to the UP to see them, and they can be very hard to track down, but they are extremely rewarding. This probably isn't so much a Birding 101, but I just wanted to throw this out here because I love the hunt for these Boreal species that are so hard to find. And if you are new to birding, you may not want to wait too long cause sadly, our Boreal forest is really declining as climate change continues to progress and push many of our Northern species farther North. So, the Canada Jay for example is one that we used to have all across the UP but is now pretty much in just a few pockets of the UP. Boreal Chickadee is right on the verge of being extirpated. But there's still a great place called the Peshekee Grade outside of Marquette, where birders have been seeing this Boreal Chickadee all winter. The Black-backed Woodpecker is another unique one that really likes to flake away bark and actually is attracted to forest burn areas. And so, we've had some forest burns on purpose up here in the UP to help manage the habitat for burns 'cause that's part of our natural cycle. And so, we do actually have a good number of Black-backed woodpeckers of late. And then Spruce grouse. This is just an extremely charismatic bird that's extremely hard to find. But when you do find it, it just sits there and looks at you. They're very tame. They're really not skittish, but they're really good at camouflaging and not moving. And part of that is because their diet consists completely of Jackpine needles or Black spruce needles. So, they pretty much, especially in the winter months, exclusively eat needles, right? It just blows my mind. There's like nothing that eats needles. There's like a few bugs that eats needles. And you know, maybe a few of the fresh needles might get munched on by a deer or something. But Jackpine needles are hard If you've ever seen a Jackpine tree. And these things just gorge themselves on needles. They'll sit up in early in the day, just gorging, gorging, gorging, till they fill their crops. I think almost a quarter of their own bodyweight gets consumed in needles in a day. And then they spend the rest of the day just sitting there digesting. They actually have symbiotic bacteria in their bodies that can help break the needles and get nutrients out of them. But they have to eat a lot cause there's not a lot of nutritional value in a needle. So, just another really amazing adaptation that allows these Boreal species to survive in our harsh winter months. Fun fact though, these actual species are here around year-round. But a lot of birders go find them in the winter, cause they're so hard to find, and there's not a lot of other species around in the winter. So, it's a good time to attract these down and get them on your life list. Another cool species we have the sharp-tailed grouse is one that I talked about earlier. And the sharp-tailed grouse has this really funny courtship display, which you can see this time of year now through May in the Eastern UP, and it's called a Lek. They basically group up and these chickens start to dance. And they do a competitive dance battle to try to win the mate. And so, they just pretty much just go like this. They just, they go like this, that's it. They just dance around like this with their arms out. And they will come up to another male and they will just dance, dance, dance. And they may actually start to get a little, so aggressive that they actually charge at each other and they may kick a little bit. And then they pretty much just go back to dancing. It's kind of anti-dramatic, but it's a lot of fun to watch. And if you ever get a chance to see the Sharp-tailed grouse in the Eastern UP on lek, it's a really, just really enjoyable experience to watch. So, the Boreal forest as I mentioned earlier is really only in the Northern parts of Michigan. So, these species are pretty much regulated to very select spots. I'd recommend using eBird to find where they've been seen recently. Some of the finches I'll talk about in a bit. Too the Crossbills can be found in the Boreal forest year-round in Michigan. But just a really unique habitat that is really endangered. And so, you know, working to slow down climate change is one of the best ways to help save that forest, that still remains in Michigan. All right, the Backyard birds we talked about before, but some of the Finches are another great winter species. And these really some years you can just get them at your feeders. These are eruptive species that launch off in big numbers some years from the Northern parts of the forest. I highly recommend checking out the Finch Network. It's a new nonprofit, that's trying to figure out why do we have these Finch species that some years come South and some years not? What are the factors that are controlling them? Is this a normal process? Is something going wrong in their habitats? But regardless of why, they do occasionally show up at bird feeders across the state. Pine Grosbeaks mostly in the Upper Peninsula. But these Waxwings species, you know, are sometimes found in really big numbers. Now there's two Waxwings down here on the bottom. Like I said before, one is the Bohemian, which has a gray breasts and a cinnamon undertail, and then a little more color in the wings. The Cedar Waxwing, which we have year-round in Michigan. And as much more common has a yellow wash to the underbelly, a brown breast, and quite a bit less color in the wings. So, just a little tip on how to identify those. So, Winter Finch Species, I could go into whole thing or Finch species, I could go into a whole long talk on, but I don't have the time. So, I'm going to move forward. But I do want to mention the Crossbills because these are a really cool winter species that you can see in the UP. And sometimes this year we had White-winged and Red Crossbills downstate in several locations. And what's so cool about these birds is the way that their bills cross. And their bills cross so that they can pick in between into pine cones and get the seeds in between the pine cones. And what's so crazy to me, not only that they do that, there's a million amazing things about Crossbills but you notice the orientation of their bills actually, isn't all the same. So, this is a Red Crossbill male, and his bill goes to the right. And this is a female Crossbill and her bill goes to the left. And males and females of the Red Crossbills can go left or right, but it dictates how they climb up the cone. So, they'll circle the column left if their bills oriented the left. And right if their bills oriented at the right and Red Crossbills made for light. And if you may not have figured out yet, they pair themselves up with a left and right-oriented. So that they can together completely clear out a cone and be able to maximize their productivity. So, it's just an amazing adaptation that they have to be able to orient themselves left and right. The male-female pairs group up, and completely are able to clear out a whole cone and leave nothing behind. So, just another amazing adaptation of these incredible winter birds. That allows them again to be able to find food in this month where most of the birds say, "Oh, there's nothing here" and they head South. All right, so, we talked about Backyard birds, and I talked a lot here. So, it's time to try out something a little new. Now, if you're Backyard birding and you're new to it, you're going to start identifying those species. And you may start to think, you know, are there other ways I can identify them? You may start to hear them calling, especially as we get closer to spring. The birds start to be more vocal. And what's unique about birds is that each species of bird has its own unique call. That's pretty regular across that species. And so, some birders actually get really good at identifying birds by sound. If you've identified a bird by sound before, then hats off to you. But it is a very challenging thing to do, however, once you get good at it. Some birders do more or even all of their birding by ear, as opposed by eyes. I've gotten to the point now where I can do about 50, 50 or so. About half of my birdings by ear and a half by eye. And it really has helped advance my birding. So, we're going to do a little song quiz. I'm going to play a song here and I'm going to start a poll and see if you can guess the species. So, they'll all, I think the polls are going to show up the same time. So just answer them as they go, but here we go. This is our first bird call, and then I'm going to have a poll and see if you can guess which bird it is. You may be surprised that you might actually know a few of these because they are quite iconic sounds. All right, so there's our first poll bird, and you can go ahead and answer the poll, the first poll question. Which of species do you think that was? A, black-capped Chickadee. B, Blue Jay. C, Evening Grosbeak or D Dark-eyed Junco. So, go ahead, and if you have the poll up in front of you give it guess. I do see a few people answered in the chat, yeah. Let's try to hold off next time, but I'm really glad that you're excited that you know them. So again, just answer number one. This is just number one. Which species of birds is this? I'll play it one more time. I can't submit without answering all. Sorry, I set them up wrong. Thank you for letting me know that. We'll go through them and answer them all. But if you... Yeah, there's only four. So, but this one here, I'll tell you the answer. Hopefully, you've got your answer already clicked. This one is a black-capped Chickadee. So, the iconic Chickadee call. All right, let's move on to number two. Again, leave that poll up and answer. What do you think this one? A, White-throated sparrow, B, Mourning dove, C, Dark-eyed Junko or D, Pine Grosbeak. One more time. And the answer is, the Mourning dove. Named for that mournful call that you just heard there. All right, and number three. Let's see if we know this one. All right, so that harsh call is either, A, Cardinal, B, Downy woodpecker, C, tufted Titmouse, or D, Blue Jay. One more time. Click which one you think it is. I know you can't submit yet. Well, If you have these at your feeders, you've probably heard this. They're a rather noisy bunch, that is the Blue jay. And last but not least, we have a true or false. This is the song of a Tufted Titmouse. Is that true or false? All right, you can click your answer and now you can submit your answers. I see them starting to come in. So, yeah, good job folks. So, these are some of our most common Backyard bird calls. This one here, last one is the Tufted Titmouse it does sound similar the Cardinal but, and Carolina wren is somewhat similar too. Know that again, the Tufted Titmouse is only for those in the Lower Peninsula. We don't really have them in the UP sadly. But I hope you had fun with that. And if you like bird calls and you want to get better at your Winter Backyard birding, I highly encourage trying out one of the apps that we talked about before. The Merlin Bird ID app has calls as do some of the paid apps like Sibley or Peterson. And those are great ways to have that whole library on your phone of course. There's also a wonderful new feature on eBird where you can record bird calls with your phone and upload them to their website and they will computer generate an answer for what species it is. And that's really helpful too. To record the bird calls and then confirm if what you heard, lines up with what the computer answer of that. And so, we'll send that out in the email, following up to that resource as well. But a really great way to kind of advance your birding skills is to start with calls, okay? So that's the Winter Finches, again, they're very irregular. They could be anywhere in the state. But some of them are around year-round like Grayling has Evening grosbeaks at the Hartwick Pines visitor center year-round, the Eastern UP, like Reico and Whitefish Point area has Red Crossbills as does a large portions of Marquette County and the Western UP. A lot of these Red Crossbills, White-winged Crossbills, and even Grosbeaks are there year-round even. But especially in the winter months, you can see those in the Northern parts. And like I said, in some years, you never know will show up your own backyard, bird feeder. All right, our last group of winter birds are those that you can find in the open fields. I should backtrack a little bit, Sharp-tail Grouse are not really a boreal species. They're more of an open field species, so I probably should have put them here, but we were talking about Grouse earlier, so I just threw them up there. Anyway, these are your winter open field species, and these are Raptors mostly. And these birds are so dependent on the voles and mice and shrews that live in all of the different open field and farmland areas across our state. These are all species again that are in decline and that struggle from a lot of different things. But one of the biggest things is that people using pesticides and particularly poisons to poison mice and rats and things like that, those end up in that animal, and it may go outside and die and then get eaten by a Raptor or by a Coyote or other prey animal and poison those animals. So really a great idea is to not use small animal poisons, use a manual trap if you need to get them out of a house. So certainly we don't want those things in our house, but avoid the poisons at all costs. Because those end up impacting some of our beautiful creatures, like the Rough-legged Hawk that has the ability to actually hover in place. And this is a really big hawk. So when you get to see these and they come in a couple of different color morphs, like the dark one here on the left and the kind of intermediate one there on the right and, you know, lighter-colored ones even than that. But they actually can hover and then dive bomb and drop right through the snow and punch through the snow with their rough fuzzy legs. 'Cause they actually have a lot of feathers on their leg. Here's some eagles now, and I'm curious if anybody can identify what species of eagle these are. So I'm going to label them one, two, three, four, five. And if you can, in the chat identify what species of eagles do we have here? So you may think, oh, we only have one species of eagle in Michigan, right? But these all look really different. We actually have two species of eagles in Michigan and they are the Bald Eagle and the Golden Eagle. And so I see in the chat some answers coming in one is Bald Eagle, and that is great. That is the iconic one, the white head and the whitetail, but that is not all of the Bald Eagles. There are actually three Bald Eagles on here and that's because younger, Bald Eagles do not have the stark white head and tail of the adults. They actually take about five years to get to that. And winter is a great time to see Eagles because they congregate in bigger numbers again, around open water. And actually, the place we have the most up here is the dafter landfill. So if you have a landfill that's publicly accessible that's where Eagles really like to congregate, Bald Eagles, I should say because they are scavengers. Bald Eagles actually eat a lot more dead stuff than they do live stuff. And so actually answer birds, one, two, and three are bald Eagles. Those are three different ages of Bald Eagles. The third-year birds can sometimes have all white breasts and weird kind of whiteheads with dark eyelines. Like number two there. The younger birds are just kind of a modeled mess. Birds four and five are Golden Eagles, which are really rare in Michigan, but there are some that overwinter. Jackson County is one area that seems to almost every winter have overwintering Golden Eagles. And the Eastern population of Golden Eagles is really small and understudied. But we're starting to learn that their winter habitat is very widespread and it does include parts of Michigan. So you never know the Golden Eagle is, has a smaller bill, a shorter tail, and a shorter head. And it also has, the young ones have white patches under their wings and at the back of their tail. And the adults have that golden mantle that really shines in the sun. A tough ID, but just another cool winter bird. And then last but not least, we have of course the owls. So these are all very, very rare and hard to find in Michigan, if you want to look for them I highly recommend some of like the Eastern UP birding trips from Michigan Audubon, or the Eastern UP birding map. But they are very tough to find. But you never know when you can find these little beautiful nuggets. Of course, though, there is one rare winter owl that is a lot more common than it used to be. And that is the Snowy Owl. And the Snowy Owl can be found in many parts of the state. And I wanted to just share with you, I know we're running low on time, but this video really moves me every time I see it. And it talks about research of Snowy Owls because this is a species that we don't understand very well, but we do know the population is declining. And is now listed as a threatened species by the IUC and Red List. And there's been a big effort to try to learn more about these owls so that we can help protect them. And this video will show you a little bit about that. And I also want to preface it by saying that although this one focuses on an East Coast Owl, this project that they reference in the video has taken place in Michigan and in the Eastern UP, our local owl banders, Chris Neri and Nova Mackentley were able to tag at least I think three or four snowy owls in the Pickford and Whitefish point area. So the whole thing you see take place here also is happening in Michigan. So enjoy this and then we'll get to our Q and A. Video link available in video description.

All right, well, hopefully, you enjoyed that video. It's one of my favorites, Skunk Bear productions, and they are out of NPR and they do a great job, a lot of different science topics. So I highly recommend checking out some more of their stuff. But with that, we're going to kind of wrap things up here and start to take your questions. I do want to really quickly preface that Snowy Owls can be found in a lot of different areas and you can actually use eBird to help identify where some of them are or birding trails. And these are great resources to plan out your winter birding travels when things are safe enough to do so. Hopefully next winter we'll have the opportunity to get out and about. But as you go see these birds, I do want to note that winter birding, ethics, and birding ethics is really important. Make sure that you give these animals their distance, do not harass them and flush them. I'm going to cover birding ethics a little bit more in our next class. But I do just want to throw out there that these animals can get harassed by people by birders and photographers who are a little overzealous. And that can really be detrimental to their health. It burns calories that they don't have the ability to extend. And so really take your time and keep your distance with these birds. Respect them, don't bait them and with that let's start taking questions. I know we're almost out of time, but I'll stick around for at least an extra 10 minutes and we'll get to some of your questions.
- [Cindy] Thanks, thanks, Elliot, great presentation again. Is capturing and tagging birds disruptive to them and are some more sensitive to that than others.
- So there have been a couple of different studies that look at the tagging and banding some birds. For the most part there are two different ways that you band birds. One is with metal bands, and those are just basically meant to tag that bird wherever you put that band on and then in hope that someday that bird might be captured again and could be read that band. But the more modern way is those backpacks. And they've actually been able to do a lot of really amazing technological advances to make those really tiny. And the overall consensus is that they don't have major detrimental effect on the birds. And so, you know, and for the most part, this is going to be keeping them safe. A lot of the Snowy Owls that were tagged or ones that needed to be moved anyway, like at the airport. And so those had to be captured anyway, to keep them from getting sucked into an airplanes. And so those have been really beneficial. There are often people that get really upset that birds are being studied. But the reality is if we don't capture these birds and study them, then we will have no idea how to help them and how to monitor their populations. Which is required to get them protection on the endangered species less than that. So even if there is a minimal negative effect without those kinds of studies, we don't have the tools that we need to be able to help and protect the birds.
- [Cindy] Great, hey, from Pam Berry, this is our first year to feed and watch the birds. Yay, Pam, so she says that they had a bunch of them through the winter, and until lately when the temperatures have risen numbers have dropped to almost zero. Why the big decrease in February?
- Yeah, so bird numbers will fluctuate at your feeders. And I get this question a lot on asking expert and on other places. And in general, it's hard to answer why your birds disappeared. You know, there may be a couple of different reasons, but the main one tends to be food availability. So we kept bringing today's talk back to food and how these animals find food. And as the winter ends and things warms up the snow dissipates and more food is exposed, bugs start to hatch and come out. And so more food is available and also birds migrate. So they may have moved farther North as the winter starts to warm up. Your Juncos are going to start disappearing. Your some of your other winter species, like Red Poles, if you have are going to start disappearing. And so there's just those natural cycles that mainly food availability. Yeah, and speaking of food availability, there's a question. "I have a Hawk in my Backyard that swoops in "and usually takes out a Morning dove. "Is that normal?"
- Yes, so, Hawks are smart, smart animals. And there have been a few species in particular that have started to really benefit from the feeding of Songbirds that a lot of people like to do. It is a hard thing for people to swallow no fun inttended there. But for people to swap because they like those songbirds, they like to see them. But it's actually kind of good news because we've actually been able to assist some of these Songbirds that have less food naturally with our feeding them with our bird feeders. And now some Hawks species like Cooper's hawk in particular, and in some places, Merlin, a small Falcon, and Peregrine Falcons as well. I have been able to really take advantage and become naturalized around people and able to feed off of those feeder birds. So, if it really disturbs you, you can always just stop feeding the birds for a few weeks and that hawk will move on. But it is a natural part of life cycles, and so it kind of an exciting thing to watch.
 
- [Cindy] Awesome, hey, it's straight-up eight o'clock. So, I do want to thank everybody. If you're able to stay on and you want to hear some more questions and answers, we're going to keep going. But we really do value your time. And so we will be sending out a follow-up email with some links. We'll send it out with the new video. And in that follow-up email, I will send the links to the first two videos as well in case you've missed any of them. So, we really do appreciate your being here. Thanks a lot for stopping in. Good question for you here, "Should I leave?" We've been talking about, about feeders. "Should I leave bird houses up all year long?"
 
- Yeah, so, another way you can assist birds is by providing them houses. Bluebirds is probably the most common. We talked about Purple martins though, a few weeks ago. And purple martins are dependent on human-built houses. They have kind of adapted and become dependent on these colony houses we build them. And yes, you can definitely leave them up year-round. In fact, it's probably better to leave them up year-round. Maybe you could take them down for a few months. But some birds actually start using those nest boxes well before they actually lay their eggs and they start prepping that nest. So, leaving them up year-round is completely fine. What you do want to do though, is clean them at the end of the nesting season. So, most bird species will most bird boxes. You need to clean the nest out, whether it's a Bluebird or a Wood duck you need to clean out that past year's material. And if you don't, that can start to become a place that harbors harmful bacteria or disease for the birds. So, clean them in the fall when the birds are done with them and you can leave them up the rest of the year. You may actually end up with a squirrel in them though.
- [Cindy] Hey, we had a couple of comments about Gray catbirds, which I happen to love a lot. And one is it unusual to see them in the Upper Peninsula at this time. And the other is that she saw it eating their grape jelly. You know I've never seen them eating grape jelly, but I've seen them eating my seeds.
- Yeah, so Gray catbirds for the most part disappear or head South, or rather in the winter months. They are, you know, unusual, but occasionally a few downstate in the winter. But to have one here in the UP in the winter is quite rare. And I think I may have seen this person's post on the Michigan birding and Facebook and Sue... Anyway, I thought that was quite interesting that we had a Grey catbird. So, that is a rare sighting. I highly encourage you to put that sighting into eBird, create an eBird account, and list that and you'll have to provide some documentation, whether it's a description or a photo of the bird. But yeah, that is very rare, Catbirds unusual in winter, anywhere in Michigan, and very rare in the farther North part. They do, they are omnivores and I believe they eat a variety of things like bugs but also some seeds in the winter months. So, seeing them eating your grape jelly is, you know, not totally unexpected since they do have a pretty wide variety in their natural diet. And since they aren't able to really get probably a lot of bugs, which is what they primarily consist on. They'll maybe be opportunistic and take advantage of some of those other feed sources.
- [Cindy] Well, I know we've talked about Orioles and now Catbirds eating grape jelly. Is there anything else that really likes grape jelly?
 
- Tanagers are another species that really like grape jelly or oranges If you put out oranges. And Scarlet tanager is a beautiful bird that will start to show up in May. And you know, it definitely could be a lot of fun to have those. They are a bright, bright Scarlet colour.
 
- [Cindy] And then a question on the birdbaths and water sources. Are they necessary or beneficial?
- Birdbaths can be a great additional feature to your backyard bird habitat. Running water, especially in the winter can really attract a lot of interesting and unique birds. And yeah, they are beneficial and they're helpful and birds especially need like slow kind of puddle-like water sources. And so, that can really replicate that for a lot of our Songbirds species that require that. The only thing again is clean it. Just don't leave it out there indefinitely. Clean it every once in a while. If you have flowing water, that's great. But if it's stagnant water, you want to replace that on a really regular basis every day or two. If it's flowing, you can let it go for a little bit longer, but clean it every once a while.
- [Cindy] In the winter we have a that heated element you saw in the slide show, in the beginning, is one that's in my Backyard. And that's is electric and we plug it in for the winter. And then in the summer we just don't plug it in and we just let water sit in it, but we do clean them regularly. And it's visited all the time through the winter by a lot of different critters. So it's kind of fun. Can you see kestrels in the winter?
- Yes, you can. Kestrels are another type of Falcon. So, they're very small falcon species, our smallest that we have in I think actually the smallest Falcon in all of North America. But they are migrants to a degree. They definitely are migrants. They definitely head South. But you downstate folks, especially South of Cadillac or so. You're going to be able to see Kestrels most winters unless it's really harsh. Us Northerners up here in the Gaylord and UP area and Traverse City. Kestrels are a lot less common, although they do start to show up much earlier than a lot of our other migrants. So, you may start to see them at the end of February or early March.
- [Cindy] I have one here that their mom lives on a pond and they lost a female Swan. The male stayed for the summer but never came back. Is that normal for them to leave? Do they seek a new mate?
 
- So, yeah, I think most mate for life. But my understanding is that for the majority of species that mate for life. If one of the mates dies, they may not find a new mate that breeding season, but they will move on and find a new mate. I am not aware, although there could be species that never re-couple up. But I'm pretty sure most species if they lose their partner, will go on to find a new one
- [Cindy] Hey, back to the jelly question, is the sugar in jelly harmful for birds though?
- If you are using a natural, you know, jelly source, even like your standard Welch's grape jelly that is totally fine for the birds. So those birds typically eat fruits or nectar in the summer months. And so that is replicating that natural source. It's the same thing with the hummingbird if you use sugar. And in fact, actually for a lot of these species you want to use that refined sugar, believe it or not. For example, with hummingbirds, you do not want to use honey 'cause it can mold and you don't want to use organic, like raw sugars or Brown sugars. 'Cause those are too complex for these bird species that are used to eating fruits or nectars that are raw sugars. Like not raw sugars, let's just say very simple sugars, like fructose and sucrose. And so yeah, those things are mimicking the natural refined sugars that you can get in nectar and fruits.
- [Cindy] Quick question here. Do birds use dog hair to line their nests or will they?
- Yeah, yeah, they'll use. Depends on the species, but I've definitely seen some people that put out, you know, little dog hair poofs in like a suet in like a suet cage they'll put out their dog hair in a suet cage. Yeah, so birds will take advantage of pretty much anything they find. The one thing I will say is don't put out, you know, any kind of synthetic material that is not biodegradable, that is just litter and can cause a lot of problems for environments. But yes, bird hair or dog hair can be used by birds. In fact, I've even seen pictures of birds landing on a live dog and plucking some of its hair to be used.
- [Cindy] Interesting, I wonder if they would be scared off by cat hair. Ooh, there's an interesting thought.
 
- I don't know.
- [Cindy] Well and on that interesting thought, I think we are going to have to wrap it up for tonight. Thanks again, Elliot for another fantastic class. We really appreciate it. And next week: spring migration. Oh my gosh, it's almost time. Such an exciting time to be birding.
- Yeah, the end is near of winter.
- [Cindy] Amen to that. All right, thanks everybody, take care.
- Bye.

You Might Also Be Interested In