Stacy Cole's Nature Talks: NH Audubon winter bird survey this weekend

STACY COLE February 08. 2013 5:56PM

New Hampshire Audubon will conduct its Year 2013 Annual Backyard Winter Bird & Squirrel Survey on Saturday and Sunday.

Participants should watch and record the number and species of every bird and squirrel seen on or about their property as well as the time spent observing during the two days.

At each time period record only the maximum number of each species. Do not add the totals. If so, you probably will have counted the same bird one or more times. To avoid this problem, your final report should include only the greatest number of a species seen at one time. Please record only the species that you can identify.

It is also important to remember that even if you do not see any birds or squirrels, mark the survey card accordingly. NH Audubon believes the rodents may have an impact on winter bird populations. Squirrel populations might change in response to food supply, perhaps in tandem with the bird species that eat the same foods.

Whether or not you have the society's special reporting form you may still participate by recording the maximum number of each species of birds or squirrels seen at one time. Once again, it is important to remember that you should not add to your total each time you see a bird or squirrel at your feeder. For example, at 10 a.m. you see six blue jays, at 2 p.m. you count seven and at 5 p.m. you count four, your survey total for blue jays is the largest number seen at one time, in this case, seven. Again, let it be stressed that even if you don't see any birds or squirrels you should mark the survey card accordingly and send it in just the same.

The following information may be helpful in answering the question of, "What bird is that?"

The sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks are extremely difficult to identify. If you know you had a hawk but could not tell what kind, please record it as "hawk species." If you can't decide, please do not guess but record it as "sharp-shinned/Cooper's Hawk."

The house finch and our state bird, the purple finch are frequently mistaken for one another. The adult male purple finch is raspberry colored above, brightest on the head and rump. It is also raspberry-red below and on its throat and breast. There is very little streaking on its breast. The wings and tail of the male are brown, and its face has a brown ear patch.

In contrast, the male house finch has red (sometimes orange-red) only on its eyebrow, breast and rump. Its belly and flanks are streaked and its back is solid brown. The female purple finch is brown above, whitish below with brown streaks, dark ear patch, light eyebrow and cheek stripe. On the other hand, the striped brown female house finch is heavily streaked below, has a smaller bill and lacks the dark ear patch as well as the eyebrow and cheek stripe of the female purple finch.

The American tree sparrow and the chipping sparrow can also be confusing as they both have chestnut or rusty caps, a brown back and a white breast. (Sexes alike.) Although most chipping sparrows have long-since left our state for warmer climes, eight were recorded without documentation in the 2012 survey. In contrast, 741 American tree sparrows were counted in 2012, compared to the 2011 survey of 1099. The American tree sparrow has a spot on the breast, a gray line above the eye and a rusty line through the eye. Chipping sparrows have no breast spot, a white line above the eye and a black line through the eye.

In addition to the inventory of "usual suspects," the survey has a list of species referred to as "unusual reports without descriptive documentation." These include: turkey vulture, rough-legged hawk, merlin, peregrine falcon, redheaded woodpecker, winter wren, ruby-crowned kinglet, hermit thrush, eastern towhee, chipping sparrow, pine grosbeak and hoary redpoll.

Documentation of unusual birds should include a written description, including the size compared to other birds, pattern and color of breast and back, length of tail, bill size and shape.

Completed survey results should be forwarded to: New Hampshire Audubon, 3 Silk Farm Road, Concord, 03301-8200. Telephone number is (603) 224-9909). You may also enter your results on the Web at Participant financial contributions make this survey possible.

According to Dr. Pamela Hunt, senior conservation biologist, of the 74 species reported last year, four were reported for the first time: two gulls, the Iceland and glaucous and eight common eider ducks. The fourth was a true "feeder bird," a yellow-headed blackbird.

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.

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