Friday, October 26, 2012

Tufted Titmouse irruption!

There are so many species irrupting into Connecticut this year that I have not had time to focus on all of them individually. Pine Siskins and Purple Finches have probably visited your feeders. Red-breasted Nuthatches have been on the move since July. Red Crossbills are being seen heading south from time to time in Connecticut and in large numbers elsewhere in the west. The legendary Evening Grosbeak is even making a dash down into our state with small numbers seen here and there. Amazingly, we have already had a report of a Common Redpoll! These and more species should continue to be seen in increasing numbers, and maybe we will add White-winged Crossbills, Pine Grosbeaks, Bohemian Waxwings, and more.

What is often overlooked is how many of our common resident birds stage irruptions as well. Blue Jays migrate south in a regular manner but with varying numbers. Black-capped Chickadees can sometimes stage large movements in certain seasons. Today I wanted to focus on the Tufted Titmouse as the species has been making a tremendous push to the south in the last couple of months. These striking little familiar faces may enjoy your backyard, but many to the north and possibly some in the state have decided it is a good time to find winter quarters further down the coast.

Now how can you tell if the Tufted Titmouse at your house is a migrant or a resident? That is a very good question, and unless they're flying over high in the sky heading due southwest in the early morning, I have no idea. However, if you see a group of 15 or 20 of them feeding in your backyard together, that sounds much more like a group of migrant birds. Yes, that actually happens, and it is as strange to see as it sounds! While families often stay together in the fall and winter, seeing more than six or maybe eight in a group is probably a definitive sign.

My first sign that they were on the move came at Stratford Point. The species as a whole is rare there year-round due to its location, and prior to this fall, in over four years and thousands upon thousands of hours of observations by Twan and me at the site, we had recorded them there six times. Since September 25, I have found them present on 14 surveys! The largest group that I have seen was at least 26 birds, all foraging in one tightly packed bunch. Who knows how many thousands of these little gray guys and gals have worked their way through more appropriate habitat across the state instead of the coastal grasslands on Long Island Sound, and we will see how many more have yet to arrive.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photo © Scott Kruitbosch and not to be reproduced without explicit permission

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