Archive for Songbird

House Finch male 2/4/18

I like all the birds I find, even the killers and invaders. Like my old friend and mentor Alfred Timmons would say, “Everything just wants to live.” So one of the things I’m often perplexed by is how some birders have an almost violent hatred of certain invasive species, like House Sparrows or European Starlings. Supposedly the hatred is justified on account of them displacing native species like Eastern Bluebirds and Northern Flickers. There are folks who complain or unfollow Birdaday after I’ve posted about about these invasives. But then others not, so it seems something else might be going on. Case in point the House Finch—an invasive species that has devastated the Purple Finch population in the Eastern US (except for its deep forest habitats). Why are they not vilified? Is it because they look so similar to the species they’ve displaced? Is it because they bring color to the feeder, or a pleasant song in spring?

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Gray Catbird 1/30/18


Gray Catbirds are another species you have to be careful about when checking your field guide’s range map. It will tell you that there are none around in the winter months, but every winter there are always a number of them who didn’t get the memo.

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Carolina Wren 1/26/18

This little brown job (aka “lbj” in birdspeak) is a relative newcomer to New England winters, having only been a fairly common resident in southern Maine for about 30 years. Field guides will tell you the primary reason for its northward expansion is global warming, and while no doubt that’s a factor, I believe their march northwards is better attributed to the popularity among birdlovers of putting out seeds and suet and meal worms during the winter months. They don’t migrate but are sensitive to severe winters, and frequently many perish in hard years, but they can produce several large broods in one season so that decimated populations recover quickly and soon there are new birds to expand the range even farther. To help them survive winter months, they often roost close to houses which radiate heat at night, creating a microclimate change of a just few degrees, which can mean life or death to them. Consider keeping some old pots, watering cans, or 5-gallon pails filled with dryer lint, dried straw, grasses, or leaves up against your foundation under a deck or stairs for them to sneak into on those nights when the polar vortex is upon us.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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