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Happening NOW: Winter Wrap-Up and Looking Ahead

Those of you who are tuned into the American Birding Podcast will know that my co-Editor Tom Reed
and I recently sat down to discuss some of our favorite trends from this Winter-that- was. We had a
great time discussing everything from Tufted Ducks to Tufted Flycatchers! If you haven’t yet had a
chance to listen, take the time to download the podcast and tune-in. Of course, there were some things that we just didn’t have a chance to discuss. So if you found yourself wanting a little more, read-on!

Tom shared his thoughts on the recent uptick in reports of some southwestern rarities—birds like Tufted Flycatcher and Rufous-backed Robins which appear to be showing up with increasing frequency. It’s debatable why this is. Perhaps there are genuinely more birds, or perhaps this is an example of the “more birders, better birders” phenomenon. In either case, we at North American Birds are looking forward to covering these changes in upcoming issues.

We also wanted to point out that a similar thing is happening in the east with a particularly gaudy songbird. Painted Buntings have graced more feeders in the mid-Atlantic this year than perhaps any other recent memory. Many of these birds have been discovered by curious homeowners posting to their local birding Facebook groups, inquiring as to the identity of the grass-green or technicolor “finch” gracing their sunflower feeder. This offers compelling evidence that this species may not be occurring in newly boosted numbers, but is being detected and reported more widely as our birding world becomes even more interconnected.

Painted Buntings, like this bird in Massachusetts last fall, have been showing up with more frequency outside of their core range. Is it that we are simply better at finding them? Photo: Frank Lehman/Macaulay Library

Speaking of interconnected, as we turn our eyes towards the next four-to-eight weeks there are some
trends from Winter that birders across the continent should be keeping in mind as the seasons change. In the west, birders should be very aware that the La Niña conditions we have been experiencing are expected to weaken throughout the year. Personally, I’m very curious as to how this will affect the saga of the Nazca Boobies. These birds have been present since late last Autumn and have continued through this week in the San Diego Bay area.

We still don’t have a very good understanding as to what is happening with these birds. Maybe this was a one-off anomaly, but maybe not. Watching these individuals and any more that may begin to appear will go a long way to building a better picture of this species’s status in North America. We should also consider other Humboldt Current species—Swallow-tailed Gull has a similar core breeding range and is worth bearing in mind as the changeable Pacific currents begin to shift.

The other “continuation” theme is one that I almost didn’t include, as it has become so thoroughly
discussed. It’s been ongoing since last summer and involves birds across the continent. Of course, I am referring to Red Crossbills. Many of you will recall that Tom wrote about this species last fall and that he spoke about them in the recent podcast. I decided to bring it up because apparently we’re not done with them! The spectacular flights along the western Great Lakes last fall would be enough of a reason to keep an eye on them as we move into spring. But a recent eBird checklist from West Virginia offers another reason—it includes recordings of what appears to be that state’s first record of a type 4 bird.

This subspecies of Red Crossbill is typically found in the Pacific Northwest and is a Douglas-fir specialist. It irrupts across the Midwest occasionally, but records east of Mississippi are exceedingly rare. While drawing conclusions from a single record is hazardous, the report is outstanding and given this species’ recent movements, it makes me suspect that the Red Crossbill story is far from over. Keep your eyes and ears open!

Of course, we at NAB rely on the dedicated and die-hard birders who are contributing sightings daily. So get out and bird! Are you watching crossbills and Humboldt Current seabirds like I am? Are you interested in following the thread of Blackpoll Warblers, as Tom brought up on the podcast? Or is your focus elsewhere? Leave us a comment and let us know!

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Mike Hudson

Mike Hudson

Co-editor, North American Birds at American Birding Association
Mike Hudson is co-editor of North American Birds. He grew up within sight of Baltimore, Maryland. Living in the city, he developed an interest in urban birds, and the differences in distribution he observed between rural and urban areas. He is also fascinated by the forces that drive changes in bird distribution, from climate and weather to competing species. Mike works at the Chester River Field Research Station where he assists with the seasonal bird banding operations there. He has also been an educator at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, where he taught about ecology and conservation and he has been staff at multiple ABA young birder camps and events.
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