Siskins, just in time!
(posted 1-4-08)

The backyard birding year could not have ended any better for me. On the last day of 2007, a small flock of Pine Siskins appeared at my thistle tube feeder—an event I'd been waiting for since early November. They were my first “yard siskins” in four years, and they pushed my annual species count to 88. My best previous yard year was 79 species in 2005.

I'll be trying, but I can't imagine topping 88 species in 2008. I had more than my fair share of birding luck in 2007, with the New Year's Eve siskins perhaps the best case in point. Five or six birds came to the thistle around noon, when I just happened to be in the kitchen. Looking out, my first thought was goldfinches. But they seemed a little larger, and then I noticed the streaking. So even before I reached my binoculars on the other side of the room, I knew this was a special moment. I enjoyed a nice long look at these uncommon yard visitors, fully appreciating my good fortune. They stayed for about 15 minutes and I didn't see them the rest of the day.

Now it's the first day of 2008, and a new annual yard list begins. The first entry: White-Breasted Nuthatch, heard and then seen while I was outside shoveling snow. Not a bad First Bird. Certainly better than starting the year with a House Sparrow. My third bird of 2008, following a Downy Woodpecker, was a Hermit Thrush—undoubtedly the same bird that for several weeks now has been visiting our heated bird bath. He flies in, takes a few sips and then flies away. I'm hoping the bird stays around all winter.

According to Sibley, southern Illinois is about as far north as you could expect to see a Hermit Thrush this time of year. So “my” bird is a bit out of range, and it's the first Hermit Thrush to visit my yard in the dead of winter. Clearly the fresh water source is what's keeping him here.

Maintaining a bird bath in winter takes a little effort, but times like these really make it worthwhile. Plus, all the backyard birds will use it. They need water, and a heated bird bath can be every bit as attractive to wild birds in winter as a well-stocked feeder.

Copyright 2008 by Jeff Reiter. All Rights Reserved.