At this time of year, many New Englanders head to warmer places. “Snow Birds”, as they are sometimes called, head south when the snow flies. Of course, here in Bethel, we attract more than our share of people who have come north in search of the snow. Maybe those are the true “snow birds”.
There is, however, a different group of north-bound birds which have steadily pushed into our area over the past few decades – but they are not coming for the snow. Scientists suspect milder winters and the popularity of bird feeders are two reasons which may allow some birds to expand their range and over-winter here in the north.
In Bethel, the Northern Cardinal is now routinely seen. It first arrived in southern Maine in the early 70s. Cardinals are ground-feeding birds that prefer yards and field edges. Most ground feeders migrate south to avoid deep snow. Yet, this bright red, crested bird is found year-round in town or at Valentine Farm. If you, like me, live farther from town and are surrounded by deep forest, you may not see this bird at your feeders.
Another north-bound bird is the Tufted Titmouse (photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClaurren). This small, crested bird mingles among chickadees and nuthatches and is a regular visitor to feeders. Different from cardinals, the titmouse sticks to mature forest as it has pushed northward.
This past fall, two titmice appeared for the first time at my feeders. One, a newly fledged chick, begged to its parent. Clearly, these titmice had successfully nested close to my house. I haven’t seen them all winter, but it will be interesting to see if these birds begin to appear more regularly in upcoming springs and summers – a sure sign that they have established a breeding population in my area.
These examples show why watching birds can be so exciting. In fact, by reporting the birds you see at your feeders to an online, citizen-scientist database, like Cornel Lab of Ornithology’swww.ebird.com, you can help document the changing range of birds like cardinals and titmice. By studying the data reported by birders, scientists can gain insights into the impact of a changing climate and evolving forests in our region.
James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.