House Finches, along with Purple and Cassin’s Finches, used to belong to the worldwide group of birds collectively known as rosy finches. But DNA studies have shown the North American rosy finches to have diverged considerably, and so they have been moved into their own genus Haemorhous, or blood finches. While a few migrate, here they are year round birds. They originated in the southwest but were introduced into NYC and have been spreading for decades, displacing their Purple Finch cousins.
Black-bellied Plovers breed on the Arctic islands and coasts of North America and Asia, wintering as far south as Argentina, South Africa, southern Asia, Australia, and even New Zealand. Here they are migrants just passing through, though you can find some wintering as far north as Cape Cod. Outside of North America they are called Grey Plovers, even though they are the exact same species. Adult breeding plumage sports the bold black bellies, while winter adults are similar to juveniles like this one, only grayer and not as strongly speckled. These shorebirds belong to the genus Pluvialis—the rain plovers—of which there are 4 species around the world.
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.