I’m curious about certain birds this season, and whether you might be seeing them. It’s been a truly weird winter, with temperatures alternating between 50 above and 25 below zero. One need only look at the bumper crop of February potholes to know that something is up. I’ve been wondering how this might be affecting normal bird movements around Maine.
For instance, I haven’t found many fruit-eating birds in habitats where I expected them. Typically, cedar waxwings, Bohemian waxwings and pine grosbeaks would have devoured most of the ornamental berries and crabapples in eastern Maine by now. And what they didn’t eat, an influx of American robins would finish.
Some of the most berry-rich places are still loaded with berries. Every time I pull into BJ’s in Bangor to gas up, I examine the ornamental trees in the parking lot. They seem untouched.
I did an online check at eBird.org to look at reported sightings this year and I see that Bohemian waxwings are finally starting to hit one of their favorite places — the ornamental gardens on the University of Maine campus. There are a few other scattered reports in the greater Bangor area, but nothing to suggest the influx of big numbers that has happened in many years. In some years, pine grosbeaks come down from Canada even before Thanksgiving to feast. Not this year.
I’ve been surveying winter birds in the North Maine Woods for much of the last six weeks. For some reason, the northern part of the state is teeming with pine grosbeaks, but they’re not wandering south as much as usual. Likewise, the woods are full of common redpolls, pine siskins, white-winged crossbills, purple finches and evening grosbeaks … and they’re mostly staying north of Millinocket. I surmise that the forest is so productive this year, the finches have all the food they need. They don’t feel the need to travel any farther south.
I’m also watching several southern species that have been expanding their range northward in the face of climate change. Carolina wrens don’t typically migrate. As they colonize northward, the limiting factor seems to be harsh weather. A cold winter can knock them back a bit.
A quick check of eBird shows many wrens from Portland to Bangor, but only a single sighting north of Old Town in 2022. That sighting was reported by Aroostook County’s Bill Sheehan, who sees everything.
Red-bellied woodpeckers are also spreading northward. They are likewise nonmigratory and are likewise challenged by frigid temperatures. There has not been a sighting north of Bangor this year, according to eBird.
I dare say many casual birders aren’t familiar with eBird, the free online app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The wrens and woodpeckers may be present, even if they haven’t been reported. That’s where you come in.
Both the Carolina wren and the red-bellied woodpecker love to visit feeders, and I hear from puzzled readers regularly, wondering whether it’s possible that these “southern” birds could really be in their backyards. Yes, they can.
In fact, according to Project FeederWatch, red-bellied woodpecker comes in at No. 14 on the Top 25 list of birds visiting Maine feeders last winter. That’s mostly due to their greater abundance in southern Maine, but there are reports this winter of both species as far north as Québec City and Moncton, New Brunswick. There’s no reason they can’t be in northern Maine in very small numbers, and simply go unmentioned.
The turkey vulture is another bird I’ve been watching move farther north each winter. It wasn’t long ago that they weren’t seen north of Kittery. This year, there have been numerous sightings across southern Maine, with reports as far north as Bucksport and Bar Harbor. One was reported in Calais earlier this month. A bunch have been hanging around all winter in St. John, New Brunswick.
As for American robins, I have received several reports and photos from readers recently, wondering if robins can remain in Maine all winter. Yes. In fact, it shouldn’t be a surprise. They are very hardy and can subsist on berries for months. There are reports in Maine clear up to the Canadian border.
In fact, there is an eBird report of robins as far north as Happy Valley, Goose Bay, Labrador — a place I’d never heard of, until I saw the post on eBird. Now I want to go there. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to vacation in a place called Happy Valley, Goose Bay? Sure beats visiting Schenectady.