Goldfinches change their color with the season

Published 3:53 pm Saturday, February 8, 2014

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic.”

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“Are you staying warm?” I inquire.

“That’s easy. All I have to do is to look at my heating bill. I ate at one of those buffet places the other day. It was busy. My fortune cookie said that there were people waiting for my table. I ate a lot, but that’s OK. I’m putting on winter weight while cutting back on the chocolate candies. It’s not hard. I grew up with older brothers who raised rabbits. I’ve never dared eat a single Milk Dud. I’m officially an eyeglasses wearer now. I even wear the glasses when I get a haircut. I think it’s important that both Conan the Barber and I have keen eyes while he has a scissors in his hand. One of the neighbors, Gnarly, is trying to sell his house. He wants to move someplace where the winter lasts only eight months. What a wimp. He should spruce his place up a bit. The garbageman is chronically confused about what goes and what stays. He’s trying to sell it himself. He nailed a ‘For sale by owner’ sign on a tree in his yard.”

“Has he had any luck?” I ask.

“Sort of. Some guy stopped and asked Gnarly how much he wanted for the tree.”


It was cold enough to foster all kinds of second thoughts.

Sooner or later, it will defrost.

Still, the day seemed enchanted. They all are.

A sun dog rainbowed down, appearing to rest upon a wind turbine.

Great Backyard Bird Count

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, birdwatchers from over 100 countries will participate in the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), Feb. 14 to 17. Anyone, anywhere in the world can count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more of those days and enter their sightings at The information gathered by volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada.

“People who care about birds can change the world,” said Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham. “Technology has made it possible for people everywhere to unite around a shared love of birds and a commitment to protecting them.”

In North America, GBBC participants will add their data to help define the magnitude of a dramatic irruption of magnificent snowy owls. Bird watchers will be looking for the invasive Eurasian collared-dove to see if it has expanded its range. GBBC observations may help show whether insect-eating species are showing up in new areas, possibly because of changing climate.

Last year’s GBBC shattered records after going global for the first time. More than 34.5 million birds and 3,610 species were recorded, about a third of the world’s total bird species.

The GBBC is a great way for people to connect with nature and make a difference for birds. It’s free and easy. To learn more about how to join the count visit

Q and A

“Does a purple martin really eat 2,000 mosquitoes per day?” I wish it did. Mosquitoes account for, at most, 3 percent of its diet. Purple martins prefer larger prey such as dragonflies and damselflies.

“Goldfinches look different during the year. Why?” American goldfinches molt twice a year. They have bright yellow feathers in the spring before breeding and olive brown feathers in the fall. The color of their legs, feet and bills change with the feather molt. In winter, they are a dark-grayish brown. In breeding plumage they are a buffy yellowish-orange color. American goldfinches are partial migrants, meaning only part of the population migrates annually. Winter can cause them to become nomadic and they may move farther south to find food.

“Most of the juncos in my yard appear to be males. Why is that?” Dark-eyed juncos have gray or brown heads and breasts set off markedly from white undersides. Females and immatures are rather browner than adult males. Males are typically darker with sharper markings. Females have more indistinct markings. Most juncos are migratory, following the food supply south. Males winter farther north than females. There is a social hierarchy within the winter flocks. Males tend to be dominant over females and adults are dominant over younger birds. Because males are dominant, females have less access to food and tend to winter away from the males. Males risk harsh winters farther north in order to be closer to the breeding grounds. Females don’t compete for territories in the spring and take their time returning. When encountering another junco, the bird faces the other, raising and fanning its tail, and revealing white outer tail feathers.

“Do house finches migrate?” House finches may be confused with purple finches. Purple finches have a more reddish color on their upper parts and are not streaked on their abdomens. In groups, house finch males and females usually establish dominance hierarchies, in which females are typically dominant over males. Throughout most of their range, house finches don’t migrate. However, some populations in the north move south for the winter. Some of those migrations are of short distances.



The 33rd Annual Bluebird Recovery Program Expo will be held on April 12, at Red Wing High School. Registration will begin at 8 a.m., with programs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Speakers for the 2014 Expo are: Mike Jeresek, “Setting up and Maintaining Bluebird Trail;” Loren Murphy, “Environmental Changes on Trails;” Donald Mitchell, “Attracting Hummingbirds;” Madeleine Linck, “Highlighting Birds of Three Rivers Park District” (Including Trumpeter Swans and Ospreys); Tim Schlagenaft, “Restoring Bird Habitat on Upper Mississippi River” and Al Batt, who hopes to be able to think of something to talk about by then.

For more information, please contact Jenean Mortenson at 507-332-7003 or at

Thanks for stopping by

“Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions. It has become a common cause of all of the people of this country.”—President Richard Nixon

“Hearts understanding ways minds cannot.”—Louis Wilson

Do good.

Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. Email him at