Finally! After months of not having the usual winter birds at the feeding stations the snow buntings appeared yesterday. When I see them they’re up the road in the huge field or in a clearing on Democrat Ridge. As I understand it, they prefer open space to forest.
A flash of white caught my eye as it seemingly fell to the ground. I looked up to see more flashes. Snow buntings were landing beneath the hydrangea bush where chickadees eat sunflower seeds, leaving the shells to fall below. I rushed to fill a container with seeds.
I’ve missed the winter birds. The nuthatches disappeared before the first ice storm. They don’t come to take sunflower seeds from my hand or peck at the suet and protein bars. I don’t even hear them in the woods. Of all my favorites, I miss them most. No purple finches and red polls, no grosbeaks, no pine siskins, not a single red or white-winged cross bill. I’ve seen American goldfinches twice. It was exciting! I know they’re skittish birds so I approached the window carefully but they saw me. Flying away before I barely saw them, maybe a dozen or so of the beautiful birds, they landed on the phone line. They don’t stay away long, returning as soon as whatever spooked them is gone. Every car that went by and each time one of the dogs barked at a red squirrel around the corner sent the birds into flight. They move together and resemble a cloud of snow because of their white underside.
I’ve learned that snow buntings are song birds, a fact I’d have realized quickly. They’re very vocal while feeding. According to All About Birds they are approximately six inches long, have a wingspan of 12 inches, and weigh about an ounce and a half. I’d been told that they are here year round, deep in the woods, without the white underside, and that we don’t notice them because they blend in so well. This is not true.
In late winter the male buntings will leave first to make their way back to the Arctic region. They’ll establish territory and wait for the females to arrive four to six weeks later. They nest on the ground, usually in rocks, and hatch two to seven eggs.
When they landed in the old ash tree across the road they were on their way out for a while. When they landed nearby they came back in a moment or two. They were here semi-bright and early this morning. I heard them before I opened the curtain. There is an inch or two of fresh snow this morning covering the seeds I put out yesterday. Being well-trained, I filled a half-gallon pitcher, opened the window and tossed it out. They returned within minutes.
I think they’re suddenly, unexpectedly here in my yard because of the deep snow. The weed seeds they’ve been able to feed on all winter are now covered. I wonder if they’ll stop visiting when it warms up and we lose some of the snow in the five days that will be above freezing. I hope not.
It’s easy to know when they’re here without hearing or seeing them. Small pillows of snow sink from the edge of the roof. They land there or on the wires before lighting in the soft snow to eat again.
Since their arrival yesterday I find myself looking out the windows more often, hoping to see the winter birds I’ve been missing.