Archive for Backyard Birds

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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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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Palm Warbler female 11/6/18

There’s nothing more confusing in the bird world than the fall warblers to me, but I do have a few of them down, one of them being the Palm Warbler. Spring males are brighter yellow and the breast streaks and cap are a rusty chestnut. No hint of that here leads me to think this a female when a juve would be even more drab and less yellow. Palms are found lower to the ground than most warblers, and helpful in identifying them is the near constant wagging of their tails.

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Wild Turkey 11/2/18

That hairy boinker rising from this young Wild Turkey’s forehead is called a snood, one of a number of fleshy execrecences called caruncles or carnosities such as those red warty squiggles at the back of the head and neck, but which also includes the wattles and dewlaps under the chin, and in other birds can include combs, crests, and other protrusions. Female Turkeys are called hens, males are gobblers or Toms, hatchlings are called poults and young males like this one are called Jakes. As he matures his snood becomes long and pendulous up to 5 or 6 inches, flopped over and hanging well below the bill, and the skin from which the various caruncles protrude becomes a bright pale blue in a mature gobbler.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet male 10/29/18

One of the hardest little birds to photograph on account they never hold still for more than the briefest moment. I came across a little fallout of them yesterday following Saturday’s storm at the back of the beach, and took at least a hundred shots, but with few exceptions they are all green blurs or a bit of head or tail chopped off by the frame. Kinglets are tiny, about 4 inches long and weighing about as much as 2 or 3 pennies. Only males have the red crest which you rarely see except as a faint thin line, unless you’re lucky enough catch a courtship or territorial display in spring. I got lucky with this one molting his head feathers.

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Blue Jay 10/24/18

There are more than 3 dozen American Jays, most all of them blue and white and black, not to mention noisy, smart, and aggressive. But the Blue Jay is the only one common to the eastern US. They have a prodigious repertoire of sounds and calls, and are accomplished mimics as well, especially of local hawks. Occasionally I’ll hear some bird sounds I don’t recognize coming from the thickets and woods behind my yard, but after investigating it invariably turns out to be a Blue Jay. In New England some migrate, others stay put for the winter.

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