Tag Archives: birds

Did You Know? The Ovenbird is a Warbler!

Ovenbird ©John Harrison

 “Among them all, the most common and conspicuous was the Oven-bird. Its staccato song with its crescendo ending rang through the woods, seemingly the loudest of them all, and when I saw the pretty bird walking with its alert air along a log, putting its little head forward at each dainty step in a manner of a diminutive chicken, I was utterly captivated.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

Though it looks and sometimes acts like a spotted thrush, the Ovenbird is a warbler. Its loud and oft-repeated call is a familiar backdrop in the spring woods, and, where many males all sing in close proximity, the din can be impressive. Like other birds of mature mixed forest, Ovenbirds were likely plentiful in the time before European ships landed on the shores of the “New World.”

As the forests began to fall before the fire and axes of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the majority of Ovenbirds retreated to the remaining forests of the western part of the state until the widespread agricultural period was over. As large areas of contiguous mature forest have gradually returned, Ovenbirds have been quick to recolonize them.


Ovenbirds build their oven-shaped nests in mature forests.

Ovenbird nest

Trend in Massachusetts

Like the Prairie Warbler we posted about last week, the Ovenbird is what we refer to as a “whispering bird”, because it’s breeding footprint in Massachusetts (according to our Breeding Bird Atlas 2) is stable or increasing, but the Breeding Bird Survey is showing significant declines for the species in the state.

Fun Fact

Ovenbirds will often sing together with their neighbors, though they do not sing as a chorus. One male will sing, followed shortly thereafter by another male without overlap between the two. They may repeat their successive songs up to 40 times.

Attend our Birders Meeting on March 19 to learn more about warblers.

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

Who Was Edward Howe Forbush?

In ornithology, as in most disciplines, there are inevitably “giants” whose profiles stand taller than those of their peers.  Such a figure was Edward Howe Forbush, a prominent Massachusetts ornithologist living from 1858–1929.

Born in Quincy, most of Forbush’s adult life was spent in Worcester in the county that today hosts a bird club bearing his name. Once established in Worcester, at the early age of 16 he was appointed Curator of Ornithology at the Worcester Natural History Society.

By the turn of the 20th century, Forbush’s awareness and passion for the developing need for increased bird protection resulted in his appointment as Ornithologist to the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture, where his duties included determining which bird species at that time were deemed detrimental or beneficial to agriculture. By 1896 he became one of the founders and supporters of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and in 1908 he was named the first Massachusetts State Ornithologist.

As a lifelong champion of bird protection, Forbush ultimately undertook the project for which he is best known today: the publication of Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States (1925-1929), a spectacular three-volume set of books magnificently illustrated by artist luminaries Louis Agassiz Fuertes and Major Allan Brooks.  In addition to their famous collection of paintings, the species accounts and accompanying essays about the birds in these books are still considered among the best ever compiled on the birds of Massachusetts.

Sadly Forbush never lived to personally complete his magnum opus, yet his many essays and species accounts about birds will forever linger on as richly informational and engaging accounts of the bird species found in the Commonwealth today. The world lost a true hero and a giant in the bird conservation movement with the passing of Edward Howe Forbush.

To get a glimpse of his essays on birds, look for our Warbler of the Week postings, which feature a quote from Forbush for each bird.

Can you spot the grey morph of the Screech Owl in the below Fuertes watercolor?

©Louis Agassiz Fuertes – Plate 47 of Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States: Hawk Owl, Screech Owl, Richardson’s Owl, Saw-whet Owl.

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

Meet the Prairie Warbler

© Joel Eckerson

 “The handsome little Prairie Warbler is remarkable only for its song. Dr. Elliott Coues likens this to the ‘plaint of a mouse with a toothache,’ because of its thin wiry quality.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

Natives of more western states than Massachusetts might scoff at the scrubby clearings that we Easterners call “prairies,” but such areas provide perfect habitat for the Prairie Warbler. This species abhors forests, and breeds in shrubby clearings and only the most open woodlands. Both human-caused and natural disturbances have created plenty of Prairie Warbler breeding habitat in the Commonwealth over the past several centuries. However, as forests reassert themselves, Prairie Warblers stand to lose habitat as a result of this natural succession.

Though Forbush complimented the Prairie Warbler only on its song, our own Wayne Petersen, Director of Important Bird Areas, favors this “spectacled” warbler for both its song and its looks.

In addition, Wayne believes that the Prairie Warbler is a good “signature” bird for Massachusetts because we have some outstanding habitat for it on Cape Cod, in southeastern Massachusetts, and along many powerlines throughout the state.


The Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor) breeds in early successional habitats in the eastern U.S.

Trend in Massachusetts

The Prairie Warbler is what we refer to as a “whispering bird”, because it’s breeding footprint in Massachusetts (according to our Breeding Bird Atlas 2) is stable or increasing, but the Breeding Bird Survey is showing significant declines for the species in the state.

Did you know? 

Male Prairie Warblers sing two different—though similar-sounding—songs during the breeding season. He sings one song, the faster of the two, to serenade his mate in courtship and strengthen their pair bond. The other, he sings to declare to other rivaling males that his territory is claimed.

Check out the updated Bobolink Project website!

Hi all,

We are pleased to announce that we have finished updating our website for the coming 2017 Bobolink Project season. Check out the new information at www.bobolinkproject.com. The farmer applications are live and donations are very welcome.

We will be accepting farmer applications until March 20.

  • IMPORTANT: We have changed some of the criteria for eligible farms and clarified a few other things so we highly recommend that you thoroughly read through the For Farmers page.

We also encourage donors to donate before April 1 when we will begin selecting farms for the program. The reason why only donations before April 1, 2017 will be applied to the 2017 season is because the number of farms and which farms we accept into the program depend wholly on how many donations we have pooled up to that deciding date when we start creating the contracts. Any donations that come in after April 1 will be saved for the following 2018 season.

Contact us at [email protected] if you have any questions.

We are looking forward to a new season of The Bobolink Project!


Warbler of the Week

Hi all,

In anticipation of our warbler-themed Birders Meeting, we’ll be posting about a featured warbler species every week.

This week’s warbler is…

© Davey Walters


Black-and-white warbler (Mniotilta varia)

In the last days of April or in early May, when the buds on deciduous trees are swelling and when tiny, light green leaflets appear on the shrubbery, in sheltered sunny spots we may find a little black and white striped bird hopping along the lower limbs in the woodlands, turning this way and that, searching over the branches from one side to the other, often head downward, closely scanning the bark, silently gleaning the insect enemies of the trees. This is the Black and White Warbler.” – Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

Breeding habitat: partially open mature or second-growth hardwood and mixed forests.

Most warblers are in constant motion, hopping from branch to branch in their search for invertebrates to eat, which makes identifying many species by their behavior alone usually quite difficult. The black-and-white warbler stands apart from its fellows since it forages by creeping along the bark and larger branches of trees, much like a nuthatch. Although the black-and-white warbler remains widespread in Massachusetts, it is beginning to show the first signs of decline. Check out our Breeding Bird Atlas 2 account for more information on this warbler in MA.

The biggest threat to black-and-white warblers is fragmentation of its forested habitat. When forest patches become more and more fragmented there is increased incidence of “edge effects” such as increased chance of predation, brood parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird, and disturbance. “As nocturnal migrants, Black-and-white Warblers are a frequent victim of collisions with glass, towers, and wind turbines; as insectivores, they are vulnerable to pesticide poisoning.” (American Bird Conservancy)