Mourning Dove 12/2/18

Mourning Doves—also known as Rain Doves or Carolina Turtle Doves—are abundant and year-round residents across the continental US. They are the closest living relative to the now-extinct Passenger Pigeon, and are in fact one of our most prolific birds, the US population alone being estimated at over 350 million. Like their exterminated cousins they are a popular game bird, indeed the most hunted of all game birds. Roughly 50 million of them are taken every year.

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American Robin 11/28/18

During the winter months when a thaw melts the snow cover and the ground comes alive again, American Robins will leave off foraging for fruits and berries in the trees and shrubs to appear on lawns again to feast on invertebrate protein. Winter flocks of robins can often include other foraging species like waxwings and blackbirds, but scan them carefully, it’s in the relative safety of these mixed groups that you might find one of the rarer winter vagrants, like a flicker, sapsucker, or hermit thrush.

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Pied-billed Grebe juvenile 11/26/18

Close to home at the end of a not very productive bird drive I pulled into Pepperrell Cove and suddenly spotted this tiny grebe. The wharf had been empty in the rain, and when I thought it dove for food, and thought it safe to get out of the car for a windshield free shot, it was already halfway out to the refuge of this buoy, underwater. Shy bird. This is a juvenile, a bird in its first set of feathers, adults are more charcoal-gray colored and have a black throat, as well as a bluish bill split by a prominent black stripe you only get a hint of here. P-B Grebes are found in freshwater lakes and ponds all across the continent, but the northern populations, whose territories freeze in winter, have to migrate by leap frogging over all the year round ice-free populations in the southern part of their range, to winter in southern Mexico or Central America.

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Red-throated Loon juvenile 11/24/18

Red-throated Loons are more common than you might think, but you have to distinguish them from the larger Common Loon. They are both smaller and sleeker, and tend to ride lower in the water. Note especially the thinner bills with a slightly upturned and more pointy appearance. Juveniles like this one are told by their overall dull gray and indistinct field marks, while winter adults have bright white throats, necks, and undersides but with dark gray uppers. The red throat is seen in both sexes, but only in the breeding season.

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Hermit Thrush 11/21/18

You won’t find it mentioned in any field guide, but Hermit Thrushes are one of those birds like Flickers, Sapsuckers, Catbirds, Bluebirds, and others who regularly winter along the Maine coast in small numbers. Oh, the range maps are largely correct that most of them have migrated, but in being largely correct, they’re flat out wrong in giving the impression that they’ve all gone. Hermit Thrushes with their reddish tails and spotted breasts forage the forest floor for insects and invertebrates. You won’t ever find them at seed feeders but you might find them on lawns or openings at the woods edge. Like other thrushes, as winter approaches their diet expands to include fruits and berries.

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Red-necked Grebe 11/19/18

Of the 2 grebes we see along the New England coast in the winter, the Red-necked Grebe is the larger and much less common one, with a larger, yellower, and stouter bill than the Horned Grebe.  These waterbirds breed along shallow inland bodies of water west of the Great Lakes all the way to Alaska , so it’s odd that some winter along the Atlantic but they do. During the breeding season they sport the rusty red necks of their name, bright white cheeks and faces with black crowns. They are consummate divers for small fish, molluscs and crustaceans, and will typically flee from danger underwater rather than taking to the air. Like their Loon relatives their feet are placed too far back on the body to make them anything but ungainly on land, and unlike the web-footed ducks, they have peculiar lobed toes for swimming.

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Red-tailed Hawk 11/14/18

Red-tailed Hawks are classic buteos, the genus of hawks characterized by robust bodies, broad wings, and wide tails that enable them to circle and soar the heights effortlessly in search of prey. You’ll also find them perched in trees along the highway, or scanning the ground from a phone pole or wire, ready to pounce on some hapless rodent. Red-tails are large even for a buteo (in Europe buteos are called buzzards), and females are up to a third larger than males. North of us, many Red-tails migrate but in Southern Maine they remain abundant during the winter months.

 

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