White spruce is a tree native to the northern part of North America. One of Canada's widest ranging tree species, it is important commercially for lumber and pulp. It also provides food and shelter for many types of wildlife. Every two to six years a bumper crop of cones is produced ensuring the survival of the species even when the seed eaters have had their fill.
I do not know for certain, but it would seem there was a bumper crop of flowers and cones this year. I went for a walk on a cold day this week and sought shelter from the wind in a grove of spruce trees. It did not take long for me to notice that I had company as the branches were full of birds. I saw Chickadees, House Finches, and...
Common Redpolls, the first I have seen this year. They were irruptive last winter but few have been reported in the area this season.
The Redpolls were busy extracting seeds from the many cones on the trees. White spruce do not grow as tall as other conifers and their branches grow outwards even at ground level. It made bird watching much easier without having to look way up in the treetops.
After several attempts, I finally got a recognizable picture of a Golden-crowned Kinglet. These tiny birds seldom stay still for a second but the seeds kept them in one spot briefly.
This bird was a first for me. White-winged Crossbills are irruptive this winter and large numbers were seen during the recent Christmas bird count. Their unique crossed bill is especially designed for removing seeds from cones. There were perhaps 25 or 30 of these birds in the trees but they were spooked by my presence and I had difficulty getting pictures of them. They perched on the top of a high deciduous tree and waited for me to leave.
The males are a beautiful red colour. Lynne from Hasty Brook had wondered if the blurry picture I showed of one on Wednesday was a Pine Grosbeak. Other than the beaks, the two species do look very similar. This is only picture I got that shows the colour and the distinctive wings of the male.
The snow below the trees was covered in spruce seeds that had fallen while the birds were feeding. Nature can be extravagant in its abundance. That is a good thing as there are many cold, hungry weeks of winter ahead for the birds depending on white spruce cones for food.