A winter of bird rarities in Manitoba

Grosbeak and redpoll numbers are exploding in the north this year and backyards in south Manitoba are experiencing the overflow.

The northern cardinal is considered a rare bird.
The northern cardinal is considered a rare bird.

You never know what a season is going to be like when it comes to feeding wild birds. Every season comes with different expectations of what species may be seen and in what kind of numbers. Each specific season can vary also depending on natural food sources and weather conditions. This particular winter has been nothing short of fantastic! The number of species being seen is quite exciting and these include some rare and unusual ones.

There is no question the big thrill for those who have birdfeeders is the explosion of pine grosbeaks this winter. This is a very colourful bird that also carries a wonderful song.

The largest finch

Grosbeaks are the largest members of the finch family. Males have a beautiful pink-red head, breast, and rump with grey wings striped with black and white bars. The females have a golden-olive head and rump with grey on the back and under-parts with the same wing-bar patterns. They have noticeably thick bills used to accommodate their varied diet of berries, seeds, insects and nuts. At birdfeeders they will eat black oil sunflower seed, striped sunflower, safflower and shelled nuts.
Due to their size and the fact they tend to be seen in large groups, the best type of feeder is a platform. This allows the group to feed together and spend more time in your yard. Pine grosbeaks are usually found in the northern coniferous forests but occasionally have an irruptive season (when their numbers explode) and many come south. This is usually the case when natural food sources are not plentiful.

Common and hoary redpolls are another winter finch being seen in high numbers. I personally am feeding about 80 of them at this time! These are a very small finch that love nyjer seed in finch feeders but will also eat black sunflower. I have been offering them sunflower chips which is shelled sunflower broken up into smaller bits. They love this! Females have a crimson red cap on the top of their heads and males also have a pinkish breast. This is another northern bird that is having an irruptive season.

Suet feeders have been presenting some interesting sightings. There are reports of many northern flickers, which are large woodpeckers that are usually migratory. The very rare red-bellied woodpecker has been seen in Wolseley, Charleswood, St. Vital and many rural areas. Pileated woodpeckers, which are the largest woodpecker seen here, have been making appearances in much higher numbers than usual. A very exciting bird to attract! My favourite, the little red-breasted nuthatch has also been a highlight this winter at suet feeders.

For those who like to go bird-watching outside of their own yards, there are some equally exciting birds to seek out! The great grey owl which is our provincial bird has been seen in many areas but especially in and around Birds Hill Park. Very large numbers are being seen around the Riding Mountain area for those looking to go on a venture. Snowy owls have been seen up Highway 3 and 6 notably, and around the Shoal Lake area. Look on hydro poles where they tend to perch when at rest. Northern hawk owls are another bird to watch for on the hydro poles, a very interesting looking bird indeed!

An amazing season!

A few of the other really rare sightings include a Baltimore oriole in St. Vital, a summer tanager in Lindenwoods, and several northern cardinals in and out of the city.

Overall it has been an amazing season so far and soon the days will be getting longer as we anticipate the spring migration, the most exciting time of the year in Manitoba. The countdown is on!

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