Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley
Mississippi River at Pakenham

Nature Notebook

Rare bird alert!

Black Headed GrossBeak (photographed by Andrew Keaveney of Toronto)Nov. 28/03 A first winter male BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK has been seen coming to a feeder in the Pakenham area for approximately one week — a first for Eastern Ontario! It was seen November 28, at around 3:30 pm. This bird is coming to a feeder at the property of Bob and Iris Jurmain and it is requested that anyone interested in seeing this bird please call ahead to arrange a visit. The phone number is 613-256-0160.

Updates from Bob and Iris Jurmain

Dec. 11/03 Our friend has not arrived at the feeder for 2 full days. Prior to that he often came when Evening Grosbeaks were at the feeder so perhaps he is hanging out with his new friends. The modifications to the feeder were quite successful. The heating pad between the boards and the SM made for a warm base and the heat lamp heated up the felt covered perch and seeds. The last time we saw him he was actually standing with both feet even though it was quite cold outside. The weather is supposed to turn cold again soon (what else is new?) and perhaps he will return. Until then, I am not encouraging anyone to visit our house. I’ll report as soon as he returns, if he does. The consensus among birders is that he is staying here for the winter but perhaps he is continuing on his mistaken direction.

Dec. 6/03 We’ve received about 70 birders so far, most from southern Ontario. I’m continually canvasing for ideas as to what we can do to help him survive and many good suggestions have been made. We have a heat lamp on the seeds, SM insulation under the feeder and tomorrow I will put felt on the perch and a heating pad between the SM and the boards. The main concern at this time is his feet which Mike Runtz told me was not adapted to this kind of cold. He is continually standing on one or another of his feet while feeding. While perched we can see he crouches down and covers his feet with feathers so it may not be a problem when he is away from the feeder.

We also discovered an Indian Meal Worm (moth) in our sunflower seeds after being warned to freeze our seeds before bringing them inside. This is a very invasive critter that we didn’t know about before. We are experiencing a steep learning curve with all these visitor-experts.

We had a little excitement today with a visiting Sharp-shinned Hawk (juvenile). With the extra feeding and goodies, we have had a slight increase of bird activity and hence someone else looking for a meal of another sort. I didn’t think bringing my .22 rifle out would go over too well with 10 birders watching and photographing but that’s what I felt like doing. Our grosbeak did not come to the feeder until later than usual and did not stay as long each time. Perhaps the hawk had been around all day and he was being a little cautious. The extra seeds are also been enjoyed by at least one deer at night. So far, everyone has seen the bird save one who came on the one day he didn’t show up.

About the Black-Headed Grosbeak

The Black-headed Grosbeak is a resident of the American southwest and is a summer breeder in the lower interior and coastline of British Columbia. A bit larger than our summer rose-breasted grosbeak, the male’s head, back, neck and wings are black and the breast and around the neck is cinnamon brown. It has two white wing bars. The adult female looks like our female rose-breasted except the breast is buffy brown.The bird at the Jurmain’s feeder is a juvenile male, like the female but with a more cinnamon brown breast with fine streaking towards the belly. A key indicator is the beak, which is dark on the upper mandible and light on the lower.

The Jurmain bird is a record for this part of the continent.

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Photograph by:  Tine Kuiper
Taken:  Saturday March 29, 2003

Last weekend, Tine Kuiper was fortunate to notice a flock of about 10 wild turkeys that had come to her bird feeder to clean up a few scraps of seeds that had fallen to the ground. One Tom was in full display, strutting with tail fanned to attract and hold his harem; he did not have much time for feeding, but nudged the others on. After becoming concerned about some geese overhead, the birds marched single file back into the woods.

The National Audubon Society writes ” Although the Wild Turkey was well known to American Indians and widely used by them as food, certain tribes considered them stupid, and did not eat them for fear of acquiring these characteristics.” By the end of the 19th century, the wild turkey had largely disappeared from Ontario, generally attributed to the destruction of their natural hardwood breeding grounds and to over-hunting. From 1984 to 1986, 253 wild-caught turkeys from the US were introduced into the local areas and seem to be expanding slowly.

Their preferred habitat is a pine-oak forest near water. They forage on seeds, nuts, acorns, but in the Summer also enjoy grass hoppers and other insects, frogs, toads,salamanders, lizards and snakes. The gobbling sound of the male turkey is similar to that of the domestic turkey.

The toms have a one inch-wide “beard” that increases in length with age; the beard visible in the photograph indicates that this tom is fairly young.

Wild turkeys nest on the ground, near the edge of wooded areas. The nest is shallow, sparsely lined with dead vegetation or leaves. The males are polygamous and take no part in nesting activities.

Single brooded, the hen lays from eight to twenty eggs. Incubation takes twenty-eight days and after the chicks hatch, they can fly into trees within two weeks. Broods stay together until wintertime, at which time they are fully grown and move off singly to mate in the Spring.

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