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A beautiful display by natural’s aerial acrobats

Bill Schiess,
The blizzard was in full force at Beaver Dick Park west of Rexburg, but there was no wind and no clouds or snow, and the color of the flakes were a tan or an off-yellow. The blizzard was created by about 100 common redpolls as they were tearing up the catkins as they searched for the seeds on the birch trees at the park.
“Must be at least 100 birds in that tree,” commented a birder who had traveled from Pocatello to watch the birds. “I have come three times trying to find a Hoary redpoll among them, but have not had any luck.” Hoary redpolls are a larger, lighter colored cousin of the common.
Redpolls are busy little birds while feeding, stripping the covering from the seeds, eating or storing the seeds inside a sac in their throat and then flying to a secluded spot to eat them. They like to gather seeds in close proximity to others, but often chase another redpoll off a catkin and then eat the half-eaten seed pod.

Bill Schiess,
Common redpolls are an Arctic breeding bird that does not migrate, but are one of a group of birds that are an “irruption” specie, meaning they migrate only to find an available food source. Birch and alder trees produce the seeds that they like and their irruptions are usually caused by a very successful breeding season followed by a food shortage in their normal winter habitat. The last time that I have seen this many redpolls in Southeastern Idaho was in the winter of 2015-2016.
I have seen a few small groups of redpolls in recent years as they have joined mixed flocks of Pine siskins and American goldfinch in their migrations. This year I have seen large flocks of 30 to 50 in several cemeteries and homes that have multiple birch trees. They are usually accompanied by a few other finches feeding with them.

Bill Schiess,
While feeding they will sometimes appear to get tired of hanging upside-down and will knock several catkins off the tree, then fly down and harvest the seeds while standing in the snow or on the grass.
These birds are equipped with a dense feather-cover that allows them to survive in the cold weather, but when the snow gets deep and the temperatures become bitter cold, they also use the snow to protect them. For nighttime survival, they will fly from a high perch, dive into the snow and make a burrow about a foot long for a roosting chamber. The snow acts as an insulated bedroom for the night. High in our surrounding mountains, the Ruffed grouse do the same thing to survive.

Bill Schiess,
These itinerant birds are not easy to bring into a feeding station but if their food source diminishes from the area trees, they will come to homes that have multiple thistle seed bags. Twice this past week I have had two or three of them show up with finches and siskins at my place. In January 2016, some large flocks were found in Rexburg, St. Anthony, Ashton and Howe. It will be interesting to see what happens this season.
As I watched the seedpods litter the ground as the birds fed, I finally realized why I was cautioned to not eat the yellow-colored snow when I was a kid – the snow probably had waste food particles and maybe a few other undesirables in it.
If you get tired of TV and are looking for some entertainment, find a flock of Common redpolls and watch these acrobatic feeders enjoy the birch trees.

Bill Schiess,
The post A beautiful display by natural’s aerial acrobats appeared first on East Idaho News.

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