Archive for Backyard Birds

Northern Cardinal male 1/17/18

Can you imagine New England without cardinals? Actually you don’t have to go back very far in history to find that, not even a 100 years. Cardinals, or Redbirds, came from the southeastern US and began spreading north and west, taking advantage of warming temps, the habitat changes that come with suburban development, as well as the popularity of backyard bird feeding in winter. Cardinals don’t migrate, they need year round territories with dense thickets, where they typically rear several broods in a season. It’s no surprise that when people compulsively “tidy up” the brambles and thickets on their property they later wonder what happened to all the songbirds.


Dark-eyed Junco male 1/8/18

Dark-eyed Juncos are year round birds in New England but their population increases dramatically in winter with the arrival of migrants from the boreal forests of Canada. We used to call this bird the Slate-colored Junco, but that was when the splitters were in charge of bird taxonomy, today the lumpers hold sway and 5 different Junco species were all renamed “Dark-eyed Junco” since the populations readily hybridized where their ranges overlapped. So today they are all considered subspecies. Juncos are a genus of Sparrows, just not the brown streaky kind. Females are browner.


Black-capped Chickadee 12/23/17

Cheerful and curious, Black-capped Chickadees have developed numerous adaptations for surviving the frigid temps of winter. They become omnivorous, they cache food, they can lower their body temps at night, and they have several roosting cavities to choose from when it’s time for bed or whenever they need a cozy spot to ride out a spell of dirty weather. Roost cavities are much smaller than nest cavities, most commonly they are small cracks or holes in trees (esp. birches), and need only be large enough and sheltered enough to keep out wind and precipitation.


American Tree Sparrow 12/19/17

American Tree Sparrows are tundra breeders, come south to escape the Arctic winter, and replacing our Chipping Sparrows who themselves have fled even farther south. You can tell them by their rusty cap and rusty (not black) eyestripe, and that distinctive gray over yellow bill. They often have a central breast spot. You’ll find them along edges and open fields scratching the ground for weed seeds with juncos, and they even visit backyard feeders.


Sharpie or Coop? Christmas Puzzlebird 12/17/17

This hawk burst through my Arbor vitaes this afternoon after one of the Juncos foraging under the feeder. Missed! It’s either a Cooper’s or a Sharp-shinned Hawk and telling the difference between the two is one of the more difficult challenges for beginner and even intermediate level birders. Both are Accipiters, short-winged and long-tailed hawks designed for agility and speed when chasing prey through the woods. One of them has a more squared off tail while the other’s more rounded. One’s head is proportionally large to the body while the other’s head is proportionally small. One has a paler nape than its crown creating a “capped” appearance while the other has a dark crown and nape, creating a more “hooded” appearance. And while Sharpies are smaller than Coops, male Coops are about the same size as female Sharpies. Sharpies have those skinny legs (the eponymous “sharp shins”) compared to Coops. ¬†To make things even more complicated, juveniles have different breast feathering from each other and adults!

I’ll send a free 2018 Phillip’s Fetching Birds Calendar to whoever posts the correct answer with the best explanation that appears in the comments by midnight Christmas eve. Winner and answer will be posted here on Christmas day.


Song Sparrow 12/14/17

Seapoint is a stubby spit of grass and scrub poking into the Atlantic, flanked by Seapoint and Crescent Beaches and backed by the salt marshes draining Chauncey Creek in Kittery Point. While Seapoint offers a a wealth of bird life, on land and sea and in the air, at any time of year, this little Song Sparrow and its mate are the only-year round avian residents of the 2+ acres that I know of. I regularly see one or both of them every time I visit, usually several times a week.


Eastern Bluebird female 12/10/17

Though many migrate south, many small groups of Eastern Bluebirds will brave the New England winter. Once insects have disappeared with the arrival of snow and frozen earth, they switch their diet and you’ll find them competing for the same fruits and berries that waxwings, robins, starlings, mockingbirds, and others go after. But I’ll also see them at the beach where piles of rotting seaweed¬†hatch brine flies, or in the salt marshes where a receding tide leaves little crustaceans for them to find, and once I saw a group gather at a construction site where a backhoe opened up the frozen earth for a foundation exposing worms and other invertebrates, and bluebirds are no dummies. But this one is in my garden, come for the dried meal worms we scatter for them and the Carolina Wrens.


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