Foam Lake Birding No. 33

No. 33
Since coming back from the sunny south, I have had the pleasure of feeding a small flock of Redpolls in our backyard. Like other finches, they like niger seed the best. Because niger seed has become expensive, our niger seed is provided in finch feeders only. That means the birds must be able to hang upside down to feed. Unlike other Carduelis finches, Redpolls do not like to hang upside down to feed unless they absolutely have to. Eventually, temptation overcomes their reluctance and they hang upside down and feed.
Our friends, Morris and Jane Karakochuk, have supplied us with lots of canola and canary seed from their farm. For several years now we have hung out feeders with both of those seeds. To our dismay, nothing would touch them! We left the feeders out anyway just in case something eventually developed a taste for canola and/or canary seed. To our delight we found the Redpolls eating both, but preferring the canola. Even so, niger seed is still their preference.
On a very cold and blustery January 13th, as I was sitting at the kitchen table having a coffee, a small flock of birds flew over our house from the west (from “behind”) and plunged into the deep soft snow in our in our neighbour’s yard across the street from us. A quick glance through binoculars confirmed that they were Grey Partridges (Huns). I took some pictures, but only four birds are visible as the other five quickly buried themselves into the snow to get away from the awful weather. After several vehicles drove down the street, the birds seemed to become agitated and suddenly flew away for a quieter place, I presume.
This week’s featured bird, the Common Raven, is a relative newcomer to our area. It is not until the last twenty years or so that the Raven started to appear locally.
P. A. Taverner, a noted Canadian ornithologist, in his 1953 edition of, The Birds of Canada, wrote, “…. yet for some unexplained reason the Crow increases and the Raven disappears when settlement advances.” Now, for some “unexplained reason” the Raven has adjusted to man and, like the Crow, increases with settlement. Personally, that is a good thing. We needed more birds in the winter. Some farmers have reported Ravens tearing up plastic grain storage bags to get to the grain inside. This is not a good thing.
The Common Raven is found throughout the Northern hemisphere. In Canada it can only be confused with the Crow. Refer to Foam Lake birding No. 17 for distinguishing features between it and the Crow.
In the deep south of the US and in Mexico, it can be confused with its crow sized cousin, the Chihuahuan Raven. Fortunately, there is only a little overlap in ranges, so a range map can usually help determine which is which. Where they do overlap, identifying a solitary bird can be a real problem. An observer has to hope for a small gust of wind to ruffle the Raven’s neck feathers and expose the base feathers underneath. If they are black, the bird is a Common Raven; if they are white, the bird is a Chihuahuan Raven. Because of these white base feathers, the Chihuahuan Raven was originally called the White Necked Raven.
This week’s picture was taken in the Grand Canyon in Arizona. A bus load of us were on a guided tour and had stopped for lunch at a picnic site. The Raven sat patiently in a pine tree on the look out for something to eat, and I managed to get a good shot of a very elusive bird.