Northern Minnesota phenology report: December 2009

December 3, 2009 at 11:08 am Leave a comment

By John Latimer, KAXE Radio, Grand Rapids

This time of year we turn our attention to the critters that don’t
migrate or hibernate or if they do migrate they come here to spend the
winter in balmy northern Minnesota. For some like the robins it is a gamble
for if they do survive they have their pick of the territories in the
spring. That is a big “if” however because they can easily get trapped and
perish before they can travel far enough south to find food.
I heard of one intrepid robin that joined a flock of bohemian waxwings. The bohemian
waxwings are an example of a species that migrates to the area to spend the
winter. The robin and the waxwings survive the winter eating fruit and by
joining this flock the robin markedly increased its ability to locate food.Cardinals do not migrate. They are expanding their range ever farther north.
The note from 1988 was the first I had seen in the area. Now there are
regular sightings in the Grand Rapids area. In the spring and summer when
they are singing  they can be heard all along the Mississippi river in town.
Many people have reported seeing them at their feeders throughout the year.

If a cardinal shows up at your feeder this winter it may stay. They prefer
black oil sunflower seeds and a place to hide when they are not eating. A
few balsam or spruce near the feeder will give them the shelter they seek.
Cardinals often visit the feeder just around sunrise and again just before
sunset.  What they do the rest of the day remains a mystery.Chickadees are year around residents wherever they are found. They are
inquisitive and convivial guests at nearly all feeders. There is some
evidence that some chickadees do migrate, though not always in a north south
direction. Whatever the case there is almost always a flock near every
feeder. These flocks assemble shortly after the young birds are fledged in
mid-summer. They remain together on a territory throughout the winter. Often
you can hear them when they contact another flock as much singing will
occur. The territories tend to be 10 to 20 acres in size and are defended by
the entire flock.

In late December and early January the dominant males will begin to sing a
new song. It is a lovely two note “fee bee”. When you hear this it is a sign
that the males are starting to choose a mate and the flock will be breaking
up soon. Often two or more males within a flock will sing at the same time.
This can signal a struggle for territory.

As breeding pairs chickadees require about a ten acre territory and the males are trying to see who will
control the area. They seldom sing this fee bee song inside of ten yards of
one another. Once they have closed to that range a much quieter battle
ensues. The songs are different and may be accompanied by chases. Sometimes
the birds will appear to stop the skirmish to feed a bit. The real struggle
for territory occurs as they approach their nest building phase in April. In
the meantime watch and listen as the chickadees surround us with their
exuberant good cheer through the depths of winter.

John Latimer is well known throughout northern Minnesota for his phenology work. He appears weekly on KAXE radio in Grand Rapids, and audio and twitter archives are available here. His work is a frequent feature on MyMinnesotaWoods.  This article also appeared in the Duluth Senior Reporter.  It is printed with the author’s permission.

Entry filed under: phenology.

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