Our bird feeder didn’t see much action this winter. Last winter, 2010-2011, the various birds that visited our buffet consumed two and half sacks of oats, but this winter one was enough. During the January 2011 there were days when I filled the feeder up to four times a day, this year one fill could last several days. Something has happened during the last year that has taken its toll on small wintering birds. This winter we saw mostly yellowhammers, Emberiza citrinella (keltasirkku), and some house sparrows, Passer domesticus (varpunen).  House sparrows used to be the dominant species but now their numbers have plummeted. There used to be hundreds of them in our neighbourhood, the hedges were absolutely full of them! Now, almost total silence instead of constant, overwhelming chirping. I know that most of the greenfinchesCarduelis chloris (vihervarpunen), were wiped out three years ago by a disease and their numbers are still low. But what has happened to sparrows? Birds of the Paridae– family, however, are still doing fine. Great tits, Parus major (talitiainen) and blue tits, Parus caureleus (sinitiainen) especially have been regulars.
But a few days ago things changed. It snowed heavily last Tuesday, and all the ground that had been revealed was once again covered under a span of snow. An army of common redpolls, Carduellis flammea (urpiainen) invaded our backyard. At one point today there were about 100-130 of them feeding on the ground. They are small and grey, but the males are like blood stained soldiers in their courting coat with deep red caps on their foreheads and deep red breasts. If I remember correctly, the size of the red patch on the chest is a direct indication of the bird’s status: the larger the stain, the more dominant status.
It has been so much fun to see them in such numbers, and their presence has encouraged other species to join in. Today there were 5-7 chaffinches, Fringilla coelebs (peippo, peipponen) mingling with the redpolls, but it did take them several days before they got comfortable enough to join the horde of the hyperactive redpolls. I bought a special seed mix that contains seeds more suited to their beaks. Maybe that helped.