Archive for January, 2017

Mourning Dove 1/31/17

Mourning Doves—also known as Rain Doves or Carolina Turtle Doves—are abundant and year-round 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 is estimated at over 350 million. Like their exterminated cousins they are a game bird, indeed the most hunted of all game birds with 20-70 million harvested every year.

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Eastern Bluebird male 1/29/17

Many folks are still surprised that some Eastern Bluebirds hangout in New England all winter long. It’s true that many migrate south, but as their populations rebound, more and more small flocks are persisting through the snowy and cold months. For one thing they can shift their diet from invertebrates to fruits and berries in wintertime, and at least along the coast, they regularly supplement that with occasional protein snacks. I see them in flooded marshy areas after especially high tides, or visiting heaps of rotting seaweed on the beach for hatching brine flies. I’ve even learned to watch for them anywhere excavation is happening—where they’ll come cruise the freshly disturbed earth. If you want to attract them to your yard in the winter, a supply of dried mealworms is essential. This male is checking out a possible nest site in my backyard after a recent snowfall.

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Lapland Longspur male 1/27/17

In summer, Lapland Longspurs are common songbirds breeding in the wet tundra grasses all around the Arctic Circle. At that time the males looks quite different than in their dapper winter duds, with an all black face and throat, and a bright chestnut nape. In winter they migrate south, often in large flocks of several hundred birds, but I’ve only ever seen them by themselves or in much smaller flocks along the coast, sometimes mixed into a flock of Snow Buntings (with whom they are closely related). Other times Ive found them hanging with Horned Larks. They get their name from their hind toe which sports an unusually long claw.

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Bufflehead female 1/22/17

Hen Buffleheads are even smaller than the shiny-headed drakes, with a dusky gray body and a white cheek patch. First year birds of both sexes look much like her, except the cheek patch is slightly larger in the immature males. In the breeding season, territorial disputes between females with young sometimes results with the winning female keeping most or all the young. I love how Buffleheads ski in for a long landing, but when taking off they’ll jump straight into the air.

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Downy Woodpecker male 1/21/17

Most of our New England woodpeckers are year-round residents with the exception of flickers and sapsuckers that migrate farther south in winter. The Downy is the smallest of them and in winter often forages with the neighborhood gang of chickadees, titmice, and other small birds. Their plumage is virtually identical to their larger cousin, the Hairy Woodpecker, but if you’re in a situation where it isn’t easy to judge size, note that the Downy’s bill is rather small in proportion to its head, less than half its width. In contrast a Hairy’s bill is much bigger proportionately, and is more than half as wide as the head. For both species, males have the red patch at the back of the head, in females the same spot is white, and juveniles have a red patch on top.

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American Pipit 1/20/17

Despite being common all across North America, American Pipits are one of those birds most folks don’t even know of. Part of that is they breed in the open and uninhabited Arctic, so they just aren’t around in summer. And when they do migrate to the coasts and southern states for the winter, they disperse into small flocks and are so drab and well-camouflaged they just seem to vanish when they land. Most range maps only show them in New England as spring and fall migrants, but I regularly see them right along the coast in winter, just don’t know how common they are inland. I found this one wagging its tail and shedding one of its primaries along the rocky coast. 

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White-breasted Nuthatch 1/20/17

Nuthatches are found in temperate and treed regions around the world, famous for their habit of wedging a nut or large seed into a crevice and using their strong bills to hatch it. They also forage for insects on the trunks of trees, where you’ll often see them upside down. They visit winter feeding stations for suet, sunflower seeds, peanuts and other large seeds and nuts.

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