Birds in a Blizzard: Backyard Visitors

The blizzard of 2017 arrived on March 14, bringing three feet of blowing snow, frigid temperatures and, eventually, a state of emergency that closed all roads. Not to be denied the opportunity to photograph, I shoveled snow away from the bird feeders every 2-3 hours, replenished the seed mixture and went back inside to observe the phenomenon. Up to 200 birds, half of them a mixed flock of blackbirds, converged on the sites and devoured everything but the spent hulls of sunflower seeds. This went on for three days.

I took many pictures of our common winter visitors during the event – cardinals, juncos, chickadees, doves, woodpeckers, etc.

Cardinal14Mar17#2684E5c4x6

However, blackbirds were the featured attraction and satisfied my need to capture something extraordinary that conveyed the intensity of the snowstorm and madness at the feeders.

Redwing15Mar17#3200E2c5x7

There were a lot of red-winged blackbirds in the mixed flock. Migrating birds had arrived prior to the storm and most food sources and nesting habitats were now buried. They bullied their way on to the feeding sites and hogged most of the food; needless to say, I was happy to see them leave when the weather broke.

Blackbirds16Mar17#3412E2c8x10

Grackles, starlings and rusty blackbirds were also present. After hearing stories from other bird watchers, I learned that the numbers and proportions of species in the mixed flocks varied with location.

GrackleSpp15Mar 17#3231E2c5x7

Wait for it……

Blackbirds16Mar17#3435E2c8x10

Blackbirds in a blizzard!!!

Blackbirds15Mar17#3120E2c8x10

Photos by NB Hunter on March 14, 15 and 16, 2017. ©All Rights Reserved.

 

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14 thoughts on “Birds in a Blizzard: Backyard Visitors

    • Ha! Appreciate the comments Hien. I enjoy winter, especially snow, but there comes a time each March when I draw a line in the snow and say enough already! That time occurred this morning: 3″ of new snow, 10′ F …and a 20 mph wind.

    • I had a lot of fun doing this and I’m happy to hear that you appreciate blackbirds in snow as much as I do! I believe we’re looking at immature males in photo #3 and there are a few females and IM males in the other group shots. Interesting that you point that out because I usually try to include at least one of those in a group portrait, in part because many people are only familiar with the mature male . My preference is the female with her brownish and streaked plumage.

  1. Red-Winged blackbirds are one of my all-time favorite birds. I always feel as though I’m in a country meadow when I hear their song.

    • I can relate to your feelings about red-wings. One experience in particular comes to mind. I enjoy fly fishing small streams for wild trout and my late spring excursions often lead me through thickets of willow and alder shrubs where red-wings nest. Their calls are a pleasant – and necessary – part of the overall experience!

    • That’s a very good question, one that is at the heart of the artificial feeding debate. In the absence of supplemental food, whether it’s spilled grain on a farm or sunflower seeds at a feeder, winter in the North is THE limiting factor for survival. I can walk miles in a blizzard and see virtually nothing, bird or mammal. They’re hunkering down and conserving energy. (Wild turkeys, fitted with transmitters, have been known to stay on their roost for several days in severe weather like snow and ice storms). After the blizzard hike I will return home to find dozens of critters swarming the feeders in panic mode. We create our own reality in the back yard.

  2. As for the ‘artificial feeding debate’… I like to think I do it for altruistic motives, but to be honest I suspect that it’s at least equally motivated by my enjoyment of watching the birds. I suspect that our Anna’s hummingbirds have acclimated to staying here year round, but I’d guess it’s because the feeders help them through our mild winters. This winter was a bit harsher and longer than most and I can’t help but wonder how my ‘Bubba’ will do once I move south. There are other feeders nearby, but the hummers are so territorial that I can’t help but wonder or worry.

  3. An avian delight, Nick. Our nesting pairs of red-winged BBs haven’t arrived yet but I’ll think of your photos when I catch my first glimpse of them. 🙂

    • Thanks Sally! I really enjoyed creating this post and using a swarming flock of chatty blackbirds to express our winter to spring transition. Your nesting pairs haven’t arrived yet? In what part of the world are you located?! Hope you have a great spring season, with plenty of photo opportunities.

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