A pair of Northern Cardinals live in my backyard year round and here’s the female cruising the cherry tomatoes. Her last batch of 5 youngsters are over in the lilacs with dad, they look much like her but lack the coral-colored beaks of adults. There are 2 other members in the Cardinalis genus, the much grayer Pyrrhuloxia of the southwest and the Vermilion Cardinal of South America, but the extensive cardinal family (Cardinalidae) also includes tanagers, chats, seedeaters, new world buntings, and a number of grosbeaks.
Pink legs and feet, a white eye-ring, and a tail much redder than its back are what differentiate Hermits from the other spotted thrushes. They rummage for insects and invertebrates on the forest floor but in wintertime their diet will also include berries and other fruit. Hermit Thrushes breed from Alaska to Newfoundland and some migrate as far south as Central America, but here on the southern Maine coast it would be most unusual if I also didn’t see or hear of one or more braving the New England winter. They have one of the loveliest songs of all birds—very flutey. Sexes are alike.
Tufted Titmice are a North American member of the Tit family. They are year round birds found in the eastern half of the US and parts of southern Canada. They prefer to nest in natural tree holes but will also use abandoned woodpecker nests and man-made nest boxes. Young are raised on insects, especially caterpillars, but their diets shift to seeds and berries in the fall and through the winter. Like all tits, they’ll stash food for later retrieval, usually in the barky crevices of trees. Sexes are alike but the juveniles lack black foreheads.
Juvenile Great Blues, like other herons and egrets, roam far and wide in all directions after fledging. In coastal New Hampshire and Maine most have migrated farther south by November, but not very far, after a warming spell of only a few days or in milder winters with little ice, it’s not unusual to see Great Blues in any of the winter months. Juvenile plumage is dingier and less bold than adults, for example the crowns of juveniles are slaty gray instead of the sharply defined black and white of adults. Great Blues belong to the genus Ardea, one of about a dozen species of large stalking herons that together fill much the same wetland niches around the world.
One of New England’s two migratory woodpeckers (Northern Flicker being the other), Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers drill neat holes in tree trunks to lick the sap from. The sapwells are arranged in neat rows and are regularly tended to keep the sap flowing. Trees with a high sugar content like birches and maples are favored but many species of trees are utilized such as this American Larch. Juveniles are duller brown and drabber than the black and white adults. This juve is showing a few red feathers below the bill indicating its sex is male, females only sport red above the bill. In adults the red patches aren’t just hints but bright and well defined.
Sanderlings are one of the small shorebirds you’ll often see running back and forth with the waves on the beach. They stitch the wet surface with their bills like two-legged sewing machines. The sand is softened by a receding wave, allowing the birds to probe deep for isopods and other marine invertebrates before the next wave approaches. Sanderlings are one of the few New England sandpipers we can see in all plumages. These white and spangle-winged birds are the juveniles we see migrating south in the fall, the slightly more colorful adults have already passed through in August. The next plumage for these birds will be a more uniform winter white with soft light gray wings, followed in the spring by the rusty speckled adult plumages (male and female adults being slightly different). Most migrating Sanderlings are on their way to South and Central American beaches, but a few small flocks will overwinter on the sandy beaches of the southern Maine coast.
My immediate impression of this sandpiper was that it was a Baird’s, really no other peep has the same golden tones, noticeably warmer than the more common Semipalmated Sandpiper. To confirm, check out how the wingtips extend well beyond the tail, the only other long-winged peep is the similarly sized White-rumped Sandpiper, but that’s a much grayer bird than this. Baird’s Sandpipers migrate to the west coast of South America down the Central Flyway, west of the Mississippi, but every year a few strays wind up coming south down the Atlantic coast, and this is one of them.