|Dark-eyed Junco in February - a common winter sparrow|
You see the effects of this reality whenever you look at your bird feeders, go out for the mail, wander in the woods, or amble a town street. Most species which fill our woods and fields with song and movement from late Spring through early Fall are gone.
Internet bird notes and e-mail bird list-serves provide regular updates about what is being seen where; in particular they report on the unusual and unexpected birds for this time of year and our corner of the world. When someone from outside of the active bird watching community sees something that strikes them as unusual or unexpected, the report often comes with a surprised, “I’ve never seen that bird around here” ... or an implied, “What is that bird doing here at this time of year?”
|Red-bellied Woodpecker in February|
An aside: Birders have an imprecise vocabulary for describing bird populations: Abundant (you can’t miss it) - Common (you will probably see it) - Uncommon (you might see it if you are lucky, but no surprise) - Rare (you are really lucky if you see) - Accidental (you won’t see it because it just doesn’t belong here).
Red-bellied Woodpecker is uncommon in southeastern Vermont. You might see it, but it’s no surprise. It may even live in your neighborhood, in which case you will think it is common. The Red-bellied Woodpecker population in our area has grown significantly since its first nesting in 2001. It may not be too long before it will be as common as the Downy or Hairy Woodpecker. The Red-bellied is larger than the Hairy Woodpecker. It has a red stripe over the top and back of its head, a plain white breast, a barred black and white back, and a red belly that is almost never seen.
|Caroline Wren in December|
|American Robin in January|
|American Robin in February|
In Spring, the robins disperse in pairs to raise their young. They are seen everywhere. If you don’t see or hear a robin when outdoors during the breeding season, you simply are not looking or listening. But in winter, they gather in flocks and wander about. Int the last ten years, the Brattleboro Area Christmas Bird Count has recorded robins every year except one. The number counted has ranged from one robin, to over 150 robins. During winter, there is no assurance that you will see a robin on any given day, but on any given day you may see a robin.
What is true for the American Robin is also true for another member of the thrush family, the Eastern Bluebird. If the response to the winter sighting of a robin is surprise, the response to a winter sighting of a bluebird is likely to be astonishment. Some of the reason for this reaction to the bluebird in winter is undoubtedly due to its recent rarity. For many years, bluebirds were so uncommon, that any sighting at any time of the year was greeted with joy and astonishment. The population recovery of the bluebird has been a conservation success story.
|Eastern Bluebird in November|
There is no need to be astonished, or surprised, at seeing a bluebird during the winter. On the other hand, elation at a winter bluebird sighting is always in order. Few birds have the ability to catch my breath the way a bluebird does. In the words of naturalist John Burroughs, the Eastern Bluebird is the “bird that carries the sky on its back and the earth on its breast.”