The news of the week has to be centered on snow. Twelve inches of it in my yard, and reports of 16 to 18 inches up-Island.

For those of you who have been commenting on the seeming scarcity of birds at your feeder, this fluffy white stuff may be the thing that brings more birds into your yard. The snow makes it harder for many birds to find their natural foods and so they are more likely to supplement their diet by frequenting bird feeders.

Tom Rivers reports that he has had no sparrows at his feeder all fall. But now they have shown up in droves. The white-throated, song and chipping sparrows arrived after the snow, as have his cardinals, red-bellied woodpeckers, dark-eyed juncos and even a hermit thrush.

Lanny McDowell reports a similar pattern. His feeders were almost empty before the snow, but he estimates that now there are four to five times as many birds frequenting his feeder. The snows brought in a species he had not observed at his feeder before — on Dec. 20 he had a savannah sparrow arrive at his feeder, joining the more expected swamp, song and white-throated sparrows. And on Dec. 21 he had five grackles. He also reports that the Cooper’s hawk still frequents his feeder.

On Dec. 21 I observed three female cardinals in my yard, an increase over the more usual one male and one female. I wonder where the male was.

Other than these sightings, the feeder reports are somewhat scarce this week. Maybe we were all too busy shoveling out from under the snow!

Another topic relating to bird feeders is the upcoming 50th annual Christmas Bird Count, which will be held on Sunday Jan. 3. It is amazing to me that this is the 50th consecutive year that the count has been conducted on the Island. Your participation is important, and all you need to do is to count the number of birds that are at your feeder! In recent years we have had between 35 and 40 people contribute their feeder counts, and many times you find species that were not observed by those of us out scouring the pondshores, woodlands and fields for birds. Some of the difficult to find species found only at feeders include eastern phoebe, northern bobwhite, vesper sparrow, and purple finch (easily confused with the more common house finch).

So, you ask, how do we count the birds at our feeder without double-counting them? It is really pretty straightforward: write down how many of each species you see at any one time and repeat your observations numerous times. For each species, the number of individuals to report is the highest number of individuals of that species seen at one time. Any other method is more likely to count an individual more than once (which we do not want to do). Then, please call the volunteers at Felix Neck (508-627-4850 on Jan. 3) and they will compile the results.

There are a few other — beyond bird feeder — sightings too.

Tom Rivers had a merlin speed past him in downtown Chilmark on Dec. 18. He also notes that he has had loads of flickers and a flock of 10 robins feeding near his house.

Matt Pelikan observed a flock of flickers at the Wakeman Center Dec.18. He commented that it is not that unusual to see that many flickers in one location at this time of the year. He also observed at least four eastern bluebirds eating those bright red winterberries.

I observed turkey vultures in two locations. About 10 to 12 of them are reliably present from about 3 p.m. near the Tisbury School as they soar around and eventually settle into their nocturnal roosting site nearby. And I also observed a flock of three soaring past the airport business park on Dec. 17.

Happy Holidays!

And please report your bird sightings to the hotline at 508-627-4922.


Robert Culbert leads guided birding tours and is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.