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Juncoes harken winter

Juncos announce winter's arrival. (C) Fotolia.com

Juncoes announce winter's arrival. (C) Fotolia.com

Today when I walked out to put seed in the feeders, two juncoes (Junco hyemalis) flew from the lilac bush.

This was my first sighting this season of these lovely studies of charcoal, black and white. Their arrival from northern climes means that winter is not far behind. Juncoes are one of the true snowbirds, birds from Canada that winter in Indiana.

In winter, they eat seed, preferably from the ground, although they do visit niger and safflower feeders. They also take advantage of bird baths. I keep one bird bath going all winter with a little heater in the water.

Juncoes have white bellies and their tails flash white when they fly. They are a tiny bird, weighing 1/2- to 1 ounce, about 5- to 6-inches long. There is considerable regional variation in their black, gray and charcoal coloring. They are beautiful.

Originally posted here Nov. 10, 2009.

Great Backyard Bird Count Feb. 12-15, 2010

<p>In the 2009 Great Backyard Bird Count, 1,260 checklists in Indiana reported 6,082 cardinals. © iStockphoto</p>

In the 2009 Great Backyard Bird Count, 1,260 checklists in Indiana reported 6,082 cardinals. © iStockphoto

You don’t have to be a gardener very long before you notice other inhabitants of the landscape.

Last year this time, robins filled my yard, but this year nary a one. No robins, either, on my daily walks with the dog along White River, where last year, there were flocks of the red-breasted birds.

One way to know which birds are in your landscape is to participate in the 13th annual Great Backyard Bird Count Feb. 12 through 15, one of the largest citizen science activities in the country. Participation is free.

Bird populations change all the time and one way to keep track is by the count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society with support from Wild Birds Unlimited, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Resource Conservatiopn Science and the National Science Foundation. The count helps scientists understand birds and environmental factors on their populations.

Last year, 94,165 checklists were submitted, which counted nearly 11.6 million birds representing 620 species. Here’s the Indiana count from 2009.

Here’s how to participate:

* Get a checklist for your area.

* Select a site. This can be your bird feeder, a tree, a spot in the yard, landmark or other area. Watch the site for at least 15 minutes.

* Consider the count like a snapshop. Count the birds you see and record the highest number for each species. For instance, you see two cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) and one Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) the first time you count, which you record. The second time you count, you see three cardinals and three chickadees. You correct your tally to the higher numbers. Do not add the numbers together.

* Record weather conditions, time of day and time spent on counting.

* Report your count at the Web site.

Tiny screech owl makes presence known

Night caller — The Eastern screech owl’s call is more noticeable in spring and fall. © iStock

Night caller — The Eastern screech owl’s call is more noticeable in spring and fall. © iStock

A familiar voice returned to my landscape a couple of weeks ago after nearly a decade away. It’s a voice that I first heard here nearly 20 years ago.

The vocal Eastern screech owl (Megascops asio) is a tiny thing, only six to 10 inches tall and weighing four to eight ounces. Its colors range from brownish-gray to reddish-brown. It’s one of the few birds that have several color variations within the same range and brood. Their coloration resembles the bark of trees so the variation may be a camouflage. There’s no marked coloration difference between males and females, but females may be slightly larger.

The nocturnal screech owl is not endangered, probably because it has a widespread habitat throughout the Eastern United States and southern Canada. It also has a diverse diet, which includes small rodents, insects, spiders, crawfish and songbirds. They store or cache their kill to eat later.

This owl tends to be in Indiana year ‘round but seems to be more vocal in spring and fall. Courtship begins in winter and these owls usually mate for life, frequently tending the same nest for several seasons. They have three to five eggs.

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