The feeder birds of Christmas

The feeder birds of Christmas by Myrna Pearman

December 02, 2021 | Myrna Pearman, Chin Ridge Seeds (en-CA)

Myrna Pearman

This article is part of our "Ask Myrna" Backyard Bird Feeding series.

As we head into the holiday season, bird watchers will be marking their calendars with an additional yuletide activity – the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Interestingly, the CBC - now the longest-running and most important bird census in the world - didn’t start out as a wildlife-friendly activity. Prior to the turn of the 20th century, hunters engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas "Side Hunt." They would choose sides and go afield with their guns, killing everything in sight. The group that slaughtered the most (all animals were fair game) was declared the winner.

In 1900, ornithologist and Audubon Society officer, Frank M. Chapman, proposed an alternative to this barbaric holiday tradition—a "Christmas Bird Census" that would count, not kill, birds. The inaugural count, held on Christmas Day, had 27 participants recording 90 species across North America. Today, tens of thousands of volunteers around the globe take part in this annual event. While most of the 2021 Alberta counts will be held on December 19, check out the Nature Alberta website for a complete list of counts and count dates across the province. We encourage all backyard bird feeding enthusiasts to participate! Remember, feeder watching is a great way to connect children and grandchildren to nature!

Of the 50+- bird species that can be typically encountered on an Alberta Christmas Bird Count, the following are some of the most common “Feeder Birds of Christmas.”

Chickadees - these little cherubs are the most common, recognizable and beloved of all backyard birds. Year-round residents, they concentrate their winter activities around bird feeding stations. All three Alberta species, the Black-capped Chickadee, Boreal Chickadee and Mountain Chickadee will dine on sunflower seeds (shelled or unshelled), shelled peanuts and suet/suet mixtures.

House Finches - House Finches are recent arrivals in the province but are now abundant throughout the province and will come year-round to bird feeding stations. Sunflower chips are their favourite feeder fare but they will also eat safflower and millet.

Woodpeckers - what would Alberta winters be without woodpeckers? Dreary! There are four species of woodpeckers that typically visit winter bird feeding stations in Alberta: Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker and Pileated Woodpecker. All will eat shelled sunflower seeds, shelled peanuts, raw suet and suet mixtures.

Redpolls – it has been determined that Common Redpolls and Hoary Redpolls (considered to be the same species by some authorities) are the toughest birds on the planet, better able than any other species to withstand extremely cold temperatures. Redpolls nest in the Arctic tundra, then migrate down to “balmy” Alberta and beyond for the winter. Redpolls will readily dine on shelled sunflower seeds, canola and nyger.

Nuthatches – both Red-breasted Nuthatches and White-breasted Nuthatches are common feeder patrons. They will eat sunflower seeds, (unshelled and shelled), chopped nuts, peanuts (shelled or unshelled) as well as suet/suet mixtures.