George Morse Sports And Outdoors

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Winter Has Gone To The Birds!
Valley Daily Post
House Finch grabs a bite to eat. Photo by George Morse\
Not all birds fly south for the winter. Despite the chilly temperatures that we’ve had recently, there are several species that spend the entire year here in the Espanola Valley.
Although they are likely very adept at fending for themselves in the harsh conditions, it feels good to provide them with some supplemental feeding in the form of feeders and suet.
During the day, it’s kind of rewarding to watch them come  and go while you think about how tough the little birds are to spend all their time out in the freezing temperatures.
You’ll see some birds that you’d not normally see at other times of the year, as well as some that spend all seasons here in the Valley.
Chickadees, nuthatches and juncos normally spend their time at higher elevations. They migrate down to the Valley when the weather in the mountains becomes too harsh even for them.
Chickadees are small and active birds. They rarely linger at the feeders, flying in grabbing a seed and then flying out in a matter of seconds. They do this many times.
They like to stash seeds in the bark of trees that they will later find and eat. Nuthatches are fond of suet so one of these feeders will attract them. Woodpeckers are also fond of suet.
Finches and sparrows hang around the feeders all year long. It seems like white-crowned sparrows are a little more common in the winter. House finches are one of the more colorful birds around the feeders in winter. Finches are fond of thistle seed and having one of these feeders will attract them.
It seems like the brightly-colored birds are the ones that migrate south. One of the more-colorful birds that stays around in the winter is the rufous-sided towhee. It seems like these birds like to forage on the ground rather than at the feeder, so they tend to feed underneath the feeders on seeds that have spilled out. Sprinkling some seeds on the ground will also attract them.
There are flocks of feral pigeons here in the Valley. One large flock of about 20 birds has taken a liking to our backyard. Buying scratch feed for the pigeons rather than the more expensive wild bird seed will save you some money. Pigeons can clean out a feeder in a hurry. I like to set out a seed block for the pigeons.
Collared doves, which are an invasive species, also spend the winter here. Unlike mourning doves and white-winged doves, which are the native species of dove, collared doves do not migrate. They first appeared in Florida in the 1970’s and it hasn’t taken them long to spread from coast-to-coast.
The Rio Grande attracts migrating waterfowl. Some of them will spend the entire winter here, especially in open water. A couple of weeks ago, there was a big flock of sandhill cranes circling around the Ohkay Owingeh fishing lakes. They were likely headed south to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro. Bosque del Apache is a great place to visit as it attracts thousands of cranes and snow geese, as well as many other birds and other wildlife.
Hawks will often be seen circling the sky in winter. Several times this winter a sharp-shinned hawk has perched near our feeders, likely hoping to snatch a meal.
Eagles also frequent the Rio Grande in winter. A good place to try and see bald eagles is nearby Abiquiu Lake. They will host an Eagle Watch Jan. 7 at Abiquiu.
Winter bird-watching is a great outdoor pastime and if you set your feeders near your windows you can even do it from the warm interior of your home.
Rufous-sided towhee was recently sighted. Photo by George Morse/