Winter visitors welcome
Although it’s always a little sad when some of our favorite summer birds head south in the fall, it’s also fun to see which species of birds will visit our birdfeeders in the winter. Besides the usual black-capped chickadees, blue jays, redbreasted and white-breasted nuthatches, juncos, hairy and downy woodpeckers, we’ve been seeing some of winter’s rarer visitors at our feeder for the past week: a band of pine grosbeaks. One of the largest of the ‘winter finches’, the breeding grounds of the pine grosbeak are coniferous forests in the extreme north where it feeds on seeds, tree buds, berries and insects. When food sources are scarce, these large grosbeaks, measuring between 20 and 25 centimeters long, migrate down to our region to spend the winter.
Another winter bird that we don’t see every year but that seems to have arrived in large numbers is the common redpoll. Not only has my home feeder been visited daily by these active and chatty little birds of late, but so have some of the many feeders and fruit or seed-bearing trees in the yard of one of Quebec’s foremost experts on birds: André Dion, the author of over twenty bird books who is also an active, even at 90 years of age, bird conservationist who helped bring back the Eastern bluebird to Quebec. “We’ve seen many common redpolls in the yard. They are like the children who are not brought up properly,” joked Mr. Dion, describing the behavior of the noisy, impatient feeders.
“It’s a most interesting time for bird-watching,” Mr. Dion continued. “We can watch chickadees eating just one foot away while we eat breakfast,” he said, pointing out a birdfeeder that was attached to a window. “The chickadees know how to behave better than the best brought up children. You never see them fight and they all wait their turn to eat. They live in groups of between five and about twenty birds; we have five or six groups living in the yard. Some groups are more important than other groups; those birds will eat first,” explained Mr. Dion. “When I walk in the woods I bring a pocket full of black sunflower seeds. They come and eat right out of my hands!” The bird expert explained how these incredible little birds often make their homes by finding niches or burrowing out holes in rotten trees; another example of how standing dead trees can be so important to wildlife.
Arctic redpolls and American tree sparrows are also spending the winter in the yard of André and France, his wife who is also an active bird conservationist and the co-author of many of their bird books. “We have nuthatches and mourning doves and, because we also have birds of prey in the area, the feeder at the back of the yard is covered with climbing bittersweet, to protect the birds. Of course, we’re obliged to have blue jays. Lastly, it seems like a family of partridge is thinking about moving in to our yard.”
One of France and André Dion’s most recent publications, Neige: l’oiseau dans l’hiver Quebecois, highlights 23 species of winter birds and can be ordered on their website. Two of their popular, earlier books, Les Jardins d’oiseaux and Batir pour les oiseaux, have also recently been re-published. “We used a photograph by a sixteen year-old boy, Olivier Buteau, for the cover of Les Jardins d’oiseaux. We have to start thinking about ‘la releve’,” he concluded.
Already the recipient of several awards such as the Medal of the Quebec National Assembly, Mr. Dion will be receiving a Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal later this month
Bird experts and authors André and France Dion pose with one of their newest publications, Neige: l’oiseau dans
l’hiver Quebecois, and two other popular bird books that they recently re-published.