Archive for Passerines (perching birds)

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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Horned Lark 2/3/18

Horned Larks are found all across the northern hemisphere in 42 subspecies. They are North America’s only lark, and breed in open country—prairies, deserts, tundra, mountains above the tree line, agricultural fields, and shorelines. They are year round residents in much of the US, but there are migratory populations that breed in the Arctic and winter much farther south in places like New England and the Gulf Coast. I often see them in small flocks of a half to several dozen on local beaches during the winter, occasionally mixed in with other Arctic birds like Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs. They’re hard to see until they’ve been spooked into the air with weak tinkling calls. Many of the North American subspecies are in decline, one reason being they are especially susceptible to being killed by wind turbines.

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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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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.

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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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