Birds hanging out in spite of the cold

This January’s weather has been for the birds. Literally.

Both residents and avid birdwatchers have been delighted by large quantities of robins and some other unique bird sightings in the area lately.

Marietta resident Betty Boersma, 82, said she was surprised to see such a large quantity of robins drinking from the heated fountain in her backyard a couple weeks ago.

“They came and there might be seven or eight of them around the bird bath,” she said.

But that is nothing compared to the dozens of robins that have taken to perching on the tree in front of Boersma’s home.

When one of her friends visited recently, she counted more than 50 robins in the tree.

“I don’t know what the poor things are eating. They’re going to have a hard time,” said Boersma.

She said she was a bit perplexed to see so many robins in such cold weather. Like many, Boersma associates robins with the coming of spring.

But actually, the orange-breasted birds never really leave the area, said Elsa Thompson, one of the founding publishers of Bird Watcher’s Digest in Marietta.

“I think most people think the robins hop on a plan and go to Florida. Some of our robins probably go a little south. But many of our robins go into the woods,” she said.

Instead of heading south, robins change their diet from worms and insects in the summer months to berries and fruits in the winter months, added Bill Thompson, editor and co-publisher of the Marietta-based birding magazine.

“What birds do to stay warm, they need to keep their fuel tanks full. They need to eat fatty foods-a crab apple tree or a holly bush,” he said.

These foods are actually easier to digest after a hard frost, Bill Thompson said. And so the bitter cold days have meant lots of robin activity.

Avid bird watchers are not complaining. Marietta resident Steve McCarthy has been noticing rounds of robins outside his Second Street business since the first cold snap.

“I’ve seen them in the air, flights of 25 to 75 of them,” he said.

He has also been enjoying seeing more than the typical amount of Red-winged Blackbirds at his feeders, he said.

Tess Buckels, 27, of Marietta, said she was more than a little surprised to see a Great Blue Heron out her front window Wednesday.

The towering bird was hanging out near the RVs at the Marietta RV Park on Front Street, she said.

“I’ve never seen that kind of bird, let alone that close up and just hanging out here,” said Buckels, who has been living in Marietta less than a year.

Actually, the Great Blue Herons are not uncommon along the Ohio River, said Kyle Carlsen, assistant editor at Bird Watcher’s Digest.

“We have had more water fowl on the river than usual because everything is frozen. Things that would be out on ponds and lakes are moving to the river,” he said.

That was likely the case with a Harlequin Duck spotted on the Ohio River near Belpre Sunday.

The sighting was likely the first recorded sighting in our area and only the third recorded sighting of such a bird in West Virginia, said Carlsen.

“They are more common in the west and in Alaska. It’s not that unusual that a few in winter would move around a bit, even to the Great Lakes. But with Lake Erie frozen, it probably continued south until it found water,” he explained.

Marietta resident Shila Wilson has been enjoying watching the Great Blue Heron and has noticed a few robins around her house, but it is the unusual appearance in Ohio of snowy owls, common in arctic regions, that has her most excited.

Wilson recently took a trip to Amish Country where some of the owls have been spotted.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see one,” she said.

She might still have a chance, said Carlsen.

The snowy owl irruption, which started in November, has brought unprecedented numbers of the owls to Ohio, he said.

Irruptions, which happen every three or four years, mean a large influx of the birds have left the area where they normally winter. For snowy owls, that is the Arctic.

“I’ve heard reports of well over 100 in Ohio alone. Typically you would have none, or just in the single digits at best,” said Carlsen.