Weather pattern changes cause a “fowl irruption” for Michigan’s winter birders | Michigan Radio
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Weather pattern changes cause a “fowl irruption” for Michigan’s winter birders

Feb 22, 2021

The red-breasted nuthatch (pictured above) is one of the birds that have been spotted in Michigan this winter due to the migration irruption.
Credit John Pizniur / GBBC

Michigan has had quite an irruption this winter. We’re not talking lava, but rather an irruption of birds. It’s been a great year for winter birding because of this irruption and Michigan Audubon education coordinator Lindsay Cain explained that an irruption is when northern wintering birds come down south for winter because they’re not finding enough food. 

“They're moving to find food for the winter, which is a really great experience for a lot of birders because we're seeing a lot of things that we wouldn't normally see over the winter,” Cain said.

So which unusual birds are watchers spotting in Michigan this year? Cain said purple finches, redpolls, pine siskins, evening grosbeaks, and red-breasted nuthatches have been the most noteworthy sightings. 

Cain clarified that irruptions are completely typical behavior for birds to exhibit, but this phenomenon doesn’t happen every year. Irruption has been observed this year because of the low-yielding pine crop. Pine cones are the majority of many northern wintering birds’ diets. 

But, climate disruption is affecting how often irruptions occur.

“We are seeing a lot of birds that have changed their wintering grounds and their ranges because of climate change,” Cain said. “As we're experiencing more mild winters further south, a lot of our birds that would normally migrate aren't migrating because they don't need to. But the climate can definitely have an impact on our forests and pine cone production and all of that as well.”

Because of the bird watchers’ high interest in less common winter sightings, Cain said it is important to be aware of birding ethics to maintain the integrity of the birds’ behaviors and natural habitats. 

“And so we have to be careful about interrupting them,” Cain said. “And a lot of people think about interrupting them during nesting and breeding season as being the only time of year where it's important, but it's important all year round.”

Luring birds by playing pre-recorded bird sounds or placing food in their vicinity also violates birding ethics. But you don’t have to go searching for birds in the forest. Cain says birding can be done anywhere— even in your backyard.

“If you have a bird feeder near your backyard, in your backyard, or near you, you can find and start to learn all kinds of different birds without any equipment,” Cain said. “I think that's one of the great parts about birding, is that anybody can do it anywhere. Right? Birds are all around us and you can find them in your own backyard, and especially in the winter.”

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan