Category Archives: Birds & Birding

Fall Birding Hotspots

When the heat of summer fades in October, the crispness of fall is a signal to birders to get outdoors and search for fall migratory birds. Don’t know where to start? Check out these birding hotspots at some of our Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries. 

Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshfield 

This unique habitat attracts birders wanting to observe and appreciate a wide variety of bird species. Gone are the breeding Bobolinks that are major contributors to the allure of the sanctuary in summer, but now raptors like Northern Harriers take advantage of flourishing populations of Meadow Voles at Daniel Webster that scurry about in the grasslands. These rodents are the perfect prey for numerous raptors because they don’t hibernate or store food like most other rodents, leaving them exposed during their daytime activities.

Other predators like a Great Horned Owl wait until dusk to prepare for its next hunt. For a chance to hear their deep hoo-hoo calls and possibly even see one, walk along the Secret Trail and look through the groves of Red Maples, Gray Birches, and Red Cedars. 

Great Horned Owl © Scott Creamer

Head to Fox Hill Trail for a glimpse of the Green Harbor River and the occasionally flooded fields, where wintering freshwater ducks often congregate, including Green-winged Teal, pintail, Gadwall, wigeon, shoveler, Mallard, and Wood ducks.  

Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, Lincoln 

Migrating birds are hungry birds, and what better place to refuel than in a crop field? At Drumlin Farm, fall is a wonderful time to search between the rows of vegetables or scan the shrubby field edges for sparrows while also keeping an eye on the sky for raptors like Red-tailed Hawks and Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawks.  

Bird standing in a meadow.
American Pipit

While you most likely see common species such as crows, American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Bluebirds, and American Goldfinches, there is also always a chance you might spot something special like American Pipits. These small, slim birds with white outer tail feathers, a brownish back, and white underparts with brown streaks on their breast can be found in almost any type of open ground habitat. If you spot one searching for food, you’ll notice that it often pumps its tail while trying to find insects and seeds. 

Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary, Princeton 

During the fall and winter, a variety of sparrows can be found at Wachusett Meadow. Before going on the trails, stop by the feeders near the Visitor Center to look for White-crowned, White-throated, Chipping, American Tree, Song, or Fox sparrows. With patience and persistence, both Lincoln’s and Swamp sparrows can often be found along the edges of the South Meadow Trail. 

Bird sitting on top of a plant.
Lincoln’s Sparrow © Kevin Bourinot

The Lincoln’s Sparrow can most easily be differentiated from other sparrows by the fine streaking on the buffy breast. When its crown feathers are raised, a Lincoln’s Sparrow’s head appears to have a slight crest. Keep your eyes towards the ground to find them foraging, usually not far from a woody edge where they quickly fly for protection when startled. 

Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, Lenox 

From a central point at Pike’s Pond at the Pleasant Valley, many fall migrants often sift through the young forest and wetlands along the edges of the pond. One of the best places to spot birds is from the parking lot, which offers plenty of low shrubs in a nearby wetland where the birds frequently fly across the dirt parking lot to reach the next section of the wetland.  

Black-throated Green Warbler © Kim Nagy

A number of migrant warblers regularly pass through Pleasant Valley, including the Black-throated Green Warbler. These bright, yellow-faced warblers have a black throat that leads into their white underside and olive-green backside, but the ones visible in the fall are often immature and lack the black throat. They often mingle with flocks of other migrant and resident birds.  

Once you’ve checked out these locations, find your next birding spot at another Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary. Tag us in any photos you take on our Facebook and Instagram at @MassAudubon.  

Follow That Yellow Bird

A flash of yellow flies by, and with only a quick glance, it’s hard to tell what it is. Was it a warbler or a finch? With so many brightly colored birds, it’s easy to get your species mixed up. With a few tips, you can tell one yellow bird from another.

American Goldfinch 

American Goldfinch © Jason Gilbody

One of the most common yellow birds you will probably see is the American Goldfinch. Breeding plumaged males are yellow, lined with black wings, tail, and cap. In the colder months, they match their female counterparts with a brown plumage. Goldfinches are frequent flyers to birdfeeders, so keep an eye out for their golden feathers.  

There are a couple of ways to identify a goldfinch. The first is to look at how they fly. Goldfinches have a recognizable “bouncing” style of flight because of their tendency to hold their wings tight against their body for a second or two between bouts of flapping. You’ll also notice that they are very small, and like many other finches, have a short conical-shaped beak. Listen to the song of the American Goldfinch with a distinctive four-note flight call given as they bounce through the air: po-ta-to chip, po-ta-to chip

Scarlet Tanager 

Scarlet Tanager © Kathy Diamontopoulos

You may be wondering why we are including a blazing red bird on our yellow bird list, but that’s because females are actually a dull yellow. Non-breeding males are a similar shade to the females, but they have black wings instead of olive. Like the goldfinch, the tanagers have wings darker than their body, but they are bigger and bulkier than finches.  

Scarlet Tanagers reside high in the canopy of oak forests. Although their vibrant feathers stick out against the green of the trees, you are much more likely to hear them. The male’s song is a sing-song similar to an American Robin, but with a burry quality. Both males and females have a distinct chick-burr call. 

Common Yellowthroat 

Common Yellowthroat © Kathy Porter

Just like their name suggests, the Common Yellowthroat has a dazzling yellow neck and breast with an olive backside. Like all warblers, it has a thin, pointed bill. If you think you see one, try to find the distinctive black mask that males have, earning them the nickname the yellow bandit. They typically stick low to the ground in fields and marshes, looking for insects to snack on.  

Yellowthroats are one of the only warblers to nest in an open marsh from the east coast to the west coast. As you enjoy the summer weather, you’ll know a male is close by when you hear a low witchety-witchety-witchety song.  

Prairie Warbler 

Prairie Warbler © Amy Severino

Although Massachusetts isn’t known for its prairies, the beautiful Prairie Warbler does breed here. Shrubbery clearings in Cape Cod, southeastern Massachusetts, and even the powerline across the state, make a perfect home for these golden warblers.  

Males are an outstanding yellow with black streaks on their flanks. Look for a dark black stripe on their eyes and a semi-circle directly below. Prairie Warblers have a series of buzzy rising calls that echo through the shrubs.  

Start Practicing

The yellow doesn’t stop there! Other birds like Pine Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Yellow Warblers come in all shades of gold and yellow. Take a look at our Breeding Bird Atlas 2 to start learning more species, and put your knowledge into practice during one of our birding programs.