Yesterday (December 21, 2009) was the official start of winter in the northern hemisphere, where the sun is lowest in the sky and the day is the shortest of the year. Here in the Edmonton, Alberta region that means less than eight hours of daylight.
Most people living here would agree that winter really starts when the weather gets cold and the snow comes. This year that happened early in December. But for me, I know winter has arrived when I see my first flocks of Redpolls, the cheeky little finches that fly in from the north (where it breeds in the spring) to spend the winter here. I first saw them on the 20th when they landed in my driveway to pick up the sand grit that falls off our vehicles. Then yesterday, they found the feeders and were successfully competing with the black-capped and boreal chickadees for food (not to mention the red squirrel)..
There are two species of Redpolls that come here, the Common and the Hoary. Most of what we see here are Common Redpolls, although we see an occasional Hoary Redpoll in a flock from time to time. The latter are lighter in color.
Redpolls are only occasional visitors here. The feeders are usually dominated by the year-round residents, such as the black-capped chickadee, and the white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches. I am always amazed how these tiny little birds survive the extreme temperatures. So, I don’t begrudge the seeds they eagerly consume.