Posted by: atowhee | January 7, 2018


JAN. 7

I have been noting how birds gather.  In winter nesting is not breaking flocks into pairs. Many bird species form groups.  Yet not all flocks are alike.  Some are coherent and seem stable as to members: Bushtits, for example.  Other flocks seem fluid and always in flux: waxwings, robins, meadowlarks, killdeer and other shorebirds, juncos and other sparrows, waterfowl, corvids.  You might see a pair of crows, a handful, or—as I did one December day in one field—a gathering of 300.  At night large numbers of them will return to a communal roost to rest and compare foraging notes apparently.

Some flocks, like Sandhill Cranes, consist of family units that stay together through migrations and all winter if all members survive.  Thus the large flocks of dozens or hundreds may vary in individuals or numbers while the smaller units stay stable.  In winter many migratory ducks are beginning to form pairs which are combined into larger flocks: scoters to wigeon. These ducks often nest far to the north where summer is brief, and thus save time by doing their courtship and pair formation on wintering grounds. Other birds paired up already in January include kestrel, Great Horned Owls and Red-tailed Hawks. There are species that prefer to remain solitary in winter: Hermit Thrush, phoebe, Great Blue Heron, wrens, Merlin, harrier, Red-Breasted Sapsucker.

At my feeder I have been watching bird proximity.  Here are some preliminary observations:  siskins, House Finches, crossbills (which we never get in our garden), goldfinches, starlings, Bushtits are all comfortable feeding shoulder to shoulder. When we lived in Ashland we’d get Evening Grosbeak visits in May.  They are our largest finch and also like rubbing elbows. Other birds like our Audubon’s and Townsend’s Warbler, Bewick’s Wren, hummers, and Downy crave singularity and don’t like sharing a small space on the ground or a feeder in the air.  The Spotted Towhee will share feeders with smaller birds but not another towhee.  The collared doves seem to pay no mind to other birds but often seem to inadvertently frighten them off because of the doves’ size. When we lived around Band-tailed Pigeons they’d often crowd onto a feeder, their size emptying the garden of all other birds except an occasional cheeky Steller’s Jay come to gather the ground siftings.  Siskins can be aggressive if they feel pushed or crowded.  Not so the sparrows or even House Finches. When the RB Nuthatch was a daily visitor he was grab and run, like the chickadees even though the latter usually showed up in pairs or small groups.  The chickadees and nuthatch have been scarce in recent days so they must be feeding elsewhere.SPACEThe Audubon’s Warbler keeps the Bushtit on the other side of the feeder, but when it’s all Bushtits, it’s ALL Bushtits that fit:BT FLOKBewick, the loner:BW LONE2Two loners below, though Song Sparrows sometimes join a flock of other species and tolerate their own kind.  One thing I notice: when Juncos frighten and fly up from the ground they tend to move away in a common direction like robins, waxwings or shorebirds.  The Song Sparrows scatter in seemingly random ways at the same danger.

Flock of geese could be a single word in winter and even in breeding season the goose family is a tight-knit unit.CAGONEIn winter the Golden-crowned Kinglet is rarely seen alone, the Ruby-crowned often.  Both will join mixed flocks which in winter may include the locals (Bushtit, chickadees, nuthatch, Downy) as well as winter visitors like warblers and kinglets.RCKI


It was a lugubrious morn. The enervated winter sun was a pale LED-like glow through the dense scrim of gray clouds.WAN SUN The main theme of the day on our morning dog walk was mud.  Only a single starling made any birdy sound. There was nothing to sing about. Though meadowlarks and wrens are known to sing on a sunny January day.  This was not that.   The Joe Dancer Park marsh had the usual flocks of juncos with the auxiliary of Song Sparrows and a lone Bewick’s Wren, a camp follower.

Yesterday our evening walk took us past a large cedar that extends branches well out over the street.  Not far from the curb the pavement has a pizza-sized circle of bird poop, now several layers thick. As many times before, I looked straight up into the lower branches and saw the poopers.  It is a pair of collared-doves that cuddle side-by-side each evening on their sheltered roost to keep warm and out of any rain which cannot penetrate the dense cedar fronds over their heads.  This time I had brought my camera:

This couple often beds down early.  They are on their roost on damp days long before the sunset that passes invisibly.  No doubt they go to bed with a full stomach, become inert and save their calories for overnight heating purposes.

ROADENTSroadentI think of the rodents making these throughways in the grass as “roadents.”  Who are they, really?  I never see them, only their engineering feats.  They must be largely nocturnal?  And surely they must know the hawks are watching or the coyote sniffing. Their works can be found in private hay fields as well as Dancer Park and around the Yamhill Sewer Ponds.

I am suspecting these rodent roads are the work of generations of Townsend’s vole, named after our warbler man who spent a couple years along the lower Columbia River in the 1830s.  Any rodent experts out there (besides the Red-tailed Hawks and Kestrel)? You can read about these road builders here.  Apparently these guys can be so prolific with their eight month long breeding season that they crowd out all competitors. The only small mammals I have seen at Joe Dancer are chipmunks on the forest edge and the small brush rabbits. Neither of them are at home in the open meadows and playing fields.

It has now occurred to me that such a concentration, nay a conurbation, of voles needs a collective noun…how about volumes of voles?


  1. Roadents – too funny! Yes, it kinda bugs me that the spotted towhees won’t share with their kin, geez………..

  2. I have one Varied Thrush that comes everyday to eat cracked sunflower seeds. I thought they stayed in groups.

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