Seeing a flock of Redpoll birds on the Rexburg bench was an unexpected sight

Last week, while searching for common larks and snow buntings on Rexburg Bank east of Rexburg, I noticed a flock of little birds flying from a few wild sunflowers to pockets of weeds emerging from the snow. One of them landed on a weed near my truck and I noticed the faded red colored chest and the little red “skull cap” on the top of its head.

Red sap, I thought to myself as I watched the others harvest seeds from a nearby patch of dried wild sunflowers.

They were busy little characters and their constant chirping attracted other species, including three larger common finches and even two gray-crowned finches. Every once in a while a weed patch was found laden with seeds, then communicated the plentiful food source to others and social distancing was dropped, resembling a Christmas dinner.

Sizerins don’t usually spawn every year in the Upper Snake River Valley, but this is the second year in a row I’ve seen them. I didn’t record them here in 2018 or 2019, but in December 2020 they have appeared in large herds and so far they are hit and miss.

“We have seen little herds of them appear in areas that have a lot of birch trees this year,” Darren Clark commented to me as we watched a herd of gray larks and a few snow buntings near Walker Siding the last week. “We haven’t seen any large herds, but their season is still early.”

With major storms forecast over the Christmas weekend, we could see a lot coming or storms could push them further south. Next Monday the Rexburg Christmas Bird Count is scheduled and Wednesday the CBC Howe is also scheduled. Those two counts should reveal just how strong the Redpoll’s migration is this season.

The sizerins are a species of “irruption” which migrates only to find food. They breed in Alaska and northern Canada with early winter migration to find their winter food source. As their food sources run out, they continue to migrate where they can find more abundant food. Seed pods of catkins on birch trees are their favorite, making cemeteries and parks with seed-laden birch trees popular for these birds. They often join the American goldfinch to feed in large groups on these seeds.

A Redpoll in a patch of wild sunflowers on Rexburg Bank. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

One of my favorite places to watch is Beaver Dick Park, west of Rexburg. It has many birch trees which receive enough watered water during the summer to produce millions of kittens which they feed on. But this year I only saw a small flock there as I saw several flocks feeding on dried wild sunflowers in the foothills east of Rexburg. As the snow thickens, the birds should become more noticeable as they move towards the birches.

This week I also had other winter birds. I had a brown creeper and two red-breasted nuthatches showed up at my feeders. A visit to Burton Cemetery to visit a grandson’s grave allowed me to observe several lianas and nuthatches foraging in the huge evergreens. It was a sweet moment alone with my thoughts and celebration.

I wish you all a Happy New Year. Looking forward to the freezing cold forecast for next week as it should freeze over Ririe Reservoir for some great kokanee fishing.

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