Category Archives: Nature Notes

All About Sea Turtles in Massachusetts

When most people think of sea turtles, they imagine these marine reptiles enjoying the warm waters of the tropics. However, visitors and residents of the Cape may not realize that each summer hundreds of these turtles make their way into waters around Cape Cod.  

Loggerhead © Elizabeth Bradfield

While sea turtles don’t nest north of the Carolinas, many sea turtles spend their summers in our nutrient-rich waters, feeding on the plentiful crabs, jellyfish, and other prey. In fact, warming water temperatures due to climate change is leading to turtles traveling farther north each summer.

When the time comes to head south for the winter, some juvenile turtles that have been feeding north of the Cape get trapped by its shape, or “hook”, becoming lethargic in the cooling water.  

When the water reaches about 50°F by early-November, these turtles become too cold to eat, drink, or swim—they become cold-stunned. Strong onshore winds, mostly from the north or west, push cold-stunned turtles onto the beaches. 

Loggerhead

This is where a team of Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary staff and trained volunteers come in. They patrol the beaches of Cape Cod night and day at high tide, on the lookout for cold-stunned turtles. Any turtle they find is rapidly transported to the sanctuary and then on to the New England Aquarium or National Marine Life Center for evaluation and rehabilitation. Since 1979, Wellfleet Bay’s Sea Turtle Team has rescued and recovered more than 5,000 turtles.   

Sea Turtles in Massachusetts  

While unlikely, it is possible to find five species of sea turtles on the Cape.  Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary keeps track of sea turtles in the summer and early fall by asking boaters to report sightings at seaturtlesightings.org. 

Kemp’s Ridley   

STATUS: Endangered  
The smallest and most endangered sea turtle in the world the Kemp’s Ridley is also the most common turtle found cold-stunned on Cape Cod Bay beaches. Juveniles are typically only 5-10 pounds, but adults can grow up to 100 pounds. Several hundred to over 1,000 strand each winter on Cape Cod.   

Loggerhead  

STATUS: Threatened  
This species has the largest geographic distribution of any sea turtle in the world. Juveniles and sub-adults can vary widely in size—between 30-200 pounds—and full-grown adults can reach 350 pounds. Loggerheads are becoming a commonly stranded species on Cape Cod. In recent years, an average of 24-26 are found cold-stunned, with a high of nearly 150 in 2012.   

Green   

STATUS: Threatened  
Green turtles are named for the green color of their body fat. Juveniles can weigh anywhere from 5-25 pounds, and adults can reach an impressive 400 pounds.   

Leatherback   

STATUS: Endangered  
These are the largest turtle species in the world. Leatherbacks are also the only sea turtle whose body temperature can rise above the temperature of the surrounding water, due to a number of unique physical adaptations. Thanks to these adaptations, leatherbacks don’t cold-stun. But they can still be severely injured or killed by boat strikes, fishing gear entanglement, and ingesting plastic. Full-grown adult leatherbacks can reach up to eight feet in length and weigh 1,500 pounds!   

Atlantic Hawksbill   

STATUS: Endangered  
This species rarely leaves tropical water, making it the least common sea turtle found off Cape Cod. Only one or two cold-stunned individuals have ever been recorded. The hawksbill is listed as “Endangered” in Massachusetts and at the federal level. Adults can reach up to 180 pounds.   

Learn more  

Find out more about sea turtles and how you can get involved at massaudubon.org/seaturtles.  

Will We See Cicada Brood X in Massachusetts?

People are buzzing with excitement (and maybe a little fear) about the possibility of billions of cicadas emerging after almost two decades of living underground. If you fall into the excitement category and hoping to witness this phenomenon here in Massachusetts, alas, you’ll have to hold on for a few years. 

When they emerge after 17 years underground, swarms of Cicada Brood X could be spotted in parts of the Southeast, Midwest, and North Atlantic. While we may not experience the 2021 version this event, we do have our fair share of annual cicadas that contribute our summer soundtrack. 

Cicada on a stem near a leaf. Copyright Jacob Mosser
Cicada © Jacob Mosser

Cicadas in Massachusetts 

Of the more than 2,000 species of cicadas that exist worldwide, nine species have been documented in Massachusetts including one periodical cicada species and eight annual cicada species. The most common cicada here in Massachusetts is the “Dog Day” Cicada.

The annual, dog day cicada emerges every one or two years. It’s approximately 2.25 inches long, medium brown, with a green venation (the vein structure in its wing). Though we hear them each summer, these cicadas are solitary insects; we seldom see them. 

Hearing Cicadas 

Cicadas are sometimes referred to as harvester flies because their “song” is characteristic of late summer days. This astonishingly loud sound comes from a pair of organs called tympana located at the base of the males’ abdomen. 

The tympana are complex mechanisms that consist of a series of three membranes inside a resonating chamber. A powerful muscle flexes one of these membranes (the tymbal), somewhat in the way we pull and release a metal, can top to create a loud click. Done in rapid succession and amplified by the resonating chamber, the familiar whine is produced.  

Mark Your Calendar 

We may not witness Brood X this year, but those in Southeastern Mass or on the Cape and Islands can anticipate being treated to Brood XIV, emerging summer 2025. 

Eastern Phoebe copyright Anthony Lischio

10 Common Bird Sounds

Do you wonder what you’re hearing outside? Is it the Northern Cardinal you see flitting about? Or maybe it’s something more cryptic?

We’ve pulled together 10 sounds and songs of birds that you may commonly hear when you are out and about in your yard or neighborhood, particularly in the spring. Listen to them enough times and you’ll be able to identify some of what you are hearing when you go outside.

Northern Cardinal

Female Northern Cardinal

Both male and female Northern Cardinals sing a loud, whistling song. Northern Cardinals used to be a species more commonly found south of New England and rarely seen in Massachusetts, but they began to expand their range northward in the 1950s. Now they are a very common species in New England.

Eastern Phoebe

© Anthony Lischio

Eastern Phoebes are cute flycatchers that often nest in manmade structures, like under the eave of a house. Their song gave them their name because it sounds like “fee-bee”.

Black-capped Chickadee

The Black-capped Chickadee is the official state bird of Massachusetts. While its chickadee-dee-dee call is perhaps the most identifiable, the chickadee’s song is a clear two- or three- note whistle similar to the Eastern Phoebe’s song. Play them both back-to-back to hear their differences.

Northern Flicker

© Christopher Peterson

The Northern Flicker is a flashy member of the woodpecker family with a spotted breast and bright yellow feather shafts that you may glimpse when they fly. Their song sounds a lot like they are laughing and can be confused with the song of the Pileated Woodpecker, though the Northern Flicker’s song is more even-toned.

Mourning Dove

© Brian Hunter

The soft coo-ing song of the Mourning Dove is often mistakenly thought to be the sound of an owl.  Another sound you may hear them make is the loud whistling their wings make when they take off and land.

Wings:

Common Grackle

© Matt Sabourin

Common Grackles are blackbirds that have a striking iridescence to their feathers in the sunlight. Their song sounds like a rusty gate opening.

House Wren

For such a tiny bird, the House Wren certainly has a lot to say—and loudly! Their bubbly song is fast-paced and often made up of over 12 syllables per bout of singing. They also have large repertoires of songs and will sing around 600 times an hour during the spring.

Baltimore Oriole

© Sarah Keates

The striking Baltimore Oriole is often considered a sign of spring in Massachusetts with its flute-like song. Baltimore Orioles build intricate hanging nests that cradle their young.

Grey Catbird

The Gray Catbird is another bird whose song inspired its name. Though they make a lot of different sounds, including gurgles, squeaks, and whistles, their cat-like mew is very distinctive.

Mew:

Chipping Sparrow

Unsurprisingly, given its name, the Chipping Sparrow’s song is a series of metallic sounding chips. If you look closely at this small sparrow, you’ll spot its rusty hat.

— Margo Servison

A Harlequin Duck in Western Mass: Out of Place, or Right at Home?

Harlequin Ducks may not be the rarest ocean-going duck in Massachusetts, but they require a more specific habitat than any other kind of waterfowl: rocky, jagged coastlines with rough surf and abundant shellfish.

In fact, according to eBird, nobody had ever documented Harlequin Ducks more than a couple of miles inland in Massachusetts—until New Year’s Day 2021 when a local birder found a first-year male Harlequin on the fast-flowing Millers River in Turner’s Falls, MA, more than 120 miles away from the coast.  

The rocky Millers River was apparently good enough habitat for this young male Harlequin Duck. Photo © James Smith
The rocky Millers River was apparently good enough habitat for this young male Harlequin Duck. Photo © James Smith

Powerful Rivers are Western Harlequins’ Summer Home

While it’s surprising to see this duck inland in Massachusetts, Harlequins in other parts of the country actually spend half of their lives on fresh water. In the Rocky Mountains and the Cascades of the West, these patchily-distributed ducks breed in fast flowing, whitewater rivers.

The Millers River is well-known among paddlers for its fast current and rough stretches. Not many rivers in Massachusetts have the wide expanses of rapids that Harlequins prefer, making the Millers a likely candidate for our first inland record of this species.

Even Wandering Birds Follow Habitat Guidelines

This sighting is a great example of how rigidly habitat preferences govern  where birds are found, even in cases when birds show up in unusual geographic regions.

Most vagrant birds (that is, birds outside of their normal range) also stick to their usual habitats, or the closest thing they can find. Massachusetts’ last sighting of a Tropical Kingbird, for example, showed up in the brushy fields of Rock Meadow in Belmont—a fair local approximation of the low plains a prefers in the extreme Southwest.

And, true to its name, a Barn Owl that strayed farther north than normal was spotted taking shelter in the rafters of a high-ceilinged wooden garage in Lexington.

Stay in the Know

If you’re interested in following along with the latest unusual sightings, check out our weekly rare bird reports!

Black-capped Chickadee at a Feeder

Why Cleaning Bird Feeders Matters

Enjoying watching birds visit your feeder? Great! Make sure the birds that visit stay healthy by keeping your feeder clean.

Black-capped Chickadee at a Feeder
Black-capped Chickadee at a Feeder

Why a Clean Feeder is a Happy Feeder

High concentrations of birds in close proximity to one another can contribute to the spread of disease at bird feeders. The four diseases that most frequently affect birds that use feeders are: salmonella, trichomoniasis, aspergillosis, and avian pox.

All of these diseases are transmitted from one bird to another at feeding stations, especially when overcrowding occurs. Birds are also susceptible to mites and lice. There are many steps you can take to help keep feeder birds and people safe and healthy.

How to Keep Birds Healthy

  • Clean feeders monthly using one part bleach to nine parts warm water. Soak the feeder in the solution for a few minutes, rinse, and air dry.
  • If uneaten food is accumulating in or under feeders, consider using less food or switch to a seed more to the birds’ liking.
  • If birds are fighting over space at a feeder, consider adding more feeders to alleviate the congestion that can potentially be responsible for the rapid spread of disease.
  • Store seed in airtight containers to prevent spoilage.
  • Avoid throwing large amounts of food on the ground or alternate ground feeding areas so that uneaten food does not accumulate and develop bacteria or mold.
  • If dead birds are found, stop feeding for a few weeks and thoroughly clean feeders and areas under feeders. Use disposable gloves when handling dead birds.

Learn More

Get answers to bird feeding frequently asked questions. Still have questions? Ask our wildlife experts.

Pine Siskin. Photo © Terri Nicker

Siskins and Grosbeaks and Purple Finches, Oh My!

Most bird species overwinter in the same general area from year to year. Not so with some finches. Around eight species of winter finch become nomadic in winter, sometimes crossing the continent in search of food.

One reason these birds don’t stick to an annual pattern is the annually shifting availability of their favorite foods. If conifer seeds and mountain-ash berries are abundant in Canada, winter finches stay put on their northern breeding grounds. In less fruitful years, they head off in search of their next meal.

Biologists and birders in Canada who keep track of seed availability are forecasting that this will be a good year for finch movements. Here’s what to look for this winter.

Purple Finches

Purple Finch
Purple Finches have more extensive color and a different shape than similar House Finches.

Purple Finches had a great breeding season in Canada, in part due to an outbreak of spruce budworm, their go-to summer food. But the new hordes of yearling birds will need more seeds and berries than what’s available this winter in the north, and we’re already seeing a big movement of them in Massachusetts.

At feeders, Purple Finches love to eat safflower seed, but they’ll also stop for black-oil sunflower and thistle seed. Unlike the similar-looking House Finch, Purple Finches have a reddish wash that extends all the way down their wings and back, and a thicker bill.

Pine Siskins

Pine Siskin. Photo © Terri Nicker
Pine Siskin © Terri Nicker

Siskins are the stars of the show so far this year. Pine Siskins have arrived early in Massachusetts in spectacular numbers (with some observers recording overhead movements of more than 2,000!) At feeders, these finches don’t stop for much other than thistle seed, or other seeds small enough for their narrow bills.  

Evening Grosbeaks

Evening Grosbeak © Jim Renault
Evening Grosbeak © Jim Renault

These bold-colored finches last irrupted into Massachusetts in 2018, a bit more recently than the other two finches on this list. Major irruption years were infrequent in the 1980s through 2000s, so it’s a pleasant surprise to see these birds again just two years after their last big movement through the region. At feeders, these thick-billed birds prefer larger seeds, like black-oil sunflower.

Bonus species: Red-breasted Nuthatches

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch

While not technically a finch, this species is nearly as nomadic. Red-breasted Nuthatches are year-round residents in high-elevation coniferous forests, and normally, they only visit the rest of the state in winter. But this summer and fall saw several big pushes of Red-breasted Nuthatch into Eastern Mass as well, and it’s a real possibility that they’ll continue through the winter in great numbers.

All of these species have arrived earlier than in most irruption years. That leads to a question of whether or not they’ll persist all winter in Massachusetts. It’s possible that these birds are mostly transients on their way even farther south: feeder-watchers are reporting that flocks of winter finches are showing up for a day and leaving, and grosbeaks and siskins have already been reported as far south as the Gulf Coast.

This is a great winter to hang up some feeders and see what happens!

Red-tailed Hawk copyright George Brehm

Fall Hawk Migration is in the Air

Hawks, falcons, and vultures are among the few groups of birds that migrate during the day.

Unlike songbirds and waterfowl, which migrate under cover of night, raptors are actually visible as they make their long journeys across continents.

Although hawks pass by some sites by the hundreds or thousands, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can see them from any site on any day of the season. To find your best day and destination, you have to think like a hawk.

Red-tailed Hawk copyright George Brehm
Red-tailed Hawk © George Brehm

Riding the Airwaves

Raptors have one goal when migrating: use as little energy as possible to make it to their destination. So, they seek out rising air currents to help them gain altitude without flapping. 

Air rises as it is heated by the warmth of the ground (a “thermal”), or pushed upwards by passing over a hill or mountain (an “updraft”). Raptors circle inside these columns of rising air as it carries them upwards. As the air cools and stops rising, raptors exit and glide for miles, slowly losing altitude until they find another column (or start flapping).

Hawks often end up riding the same air current together, forming a rising spiral of birds, or a “kettle.” Kettling isn’t actually a social behavior, even if it looks like the hawks are flying together. Thermal-surfing raptors are simply taking advantage of the most efficient route, like drivers on a highway.

Cool Weather, Hot Hawkwatching

Thermals are strongest when the ground is much warmer than the air. Hawkwatching can be excellent when a cold front moves through, bringing cold air over the (temporarily) much warmer ground and sending thermals spiraling upwards.

Cold fronts are often accompanied by winds from the north, which are conducive to southbound raptors in the fall. When clear, cold air moves in from the north after many days of poor migration conditions (either rain or strong winds from the south), unusually high numbers of restless raptors can be seen migrating at once.

Timing is Everything

Mid-September is prime season for viewing Massachusetts’ most numerous and conspicuous raptors, like Broad-winged Hawks and Ospreys, as well as less common species like American Kestrels and Sharp-shinned Hawks. As the season cools, the mix shifts a little, but the hawkwatching often stays good until late October and tapers off into November.

If you want to plan a trip to see migrating raptors this season, check out our list of hawkwatching sites as well as resources from the Eastern Massachusetts Hawk Watch club.

The Triumphant Return of Bald Eagles

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) recently confirmed that there are now more than 70 active Bald Eagle nests in the Bay State, including the first nesting effort on Cape Cod since 1905. 

The Bald Eagle spotted nesting on the Cape © Heather Fone

This nest, located in a white pine tree, was discovered many months ago by a homeowner’s association and reported to MassWildlife. Subsequently, Josh Maloney, a burgeoning nature enthusiast and volunteer at Mass Audubon’s Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary discovered what appeared to be a chick in this nest in late May. 

Josh carefully mapped the location of the nest, documented the chick with photographs, and reported the sighting to MassWildlife state ornithologist Andrew Vitz. Within days, Mass Wildlife ascended the tree and banded the eaglet in order to gather valuable life history information throughout its life and contribute to eagle research across the country. We are hopeful this chick will fledge in the coming weeks, and that this breeding pair will return to this nest annually for many years to come.

Bringing Eagles Back to Massachusetts

© David Ennis

This historic benchmark is a living testament to the conservation efforts initiated in Massachusetts by Mass Wildlife and Mass Audubon in response to the significant regional decrease in the population of Bald Eagles that took place throughout the Northeast as a result of DDT use during the 1950s and 1960s. 

In 1982, two healthy young eagle nestlings from Michigan were foster reared in a specially constructed tower in a remote section of the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts. Using a captive rearing protocol called hacking, the two fledglings were eventually released with hopes that upon reaching maturity in four to five years, they would return to the Quabbin area to breed. Between 1982 and 1988, 41 similarly raised eagle chicks were released at Quabbin Reservoir. By 1989 two pairs successfully reared young of their own.

Since the late 1980s, the Commonwealth’s eagle population has steadily grown and spread. Today pairs of this magnificent raptor are nesting from Berkshire to Barnstable County, and recently they have attempted to colonize Martha’s Vineyard.  

Impact of Conservation

Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of Massachusetts citizen scientists who contributed the valuable breeding bird distribution data, Mass Audubon ornithologists now have two invaluable roadmaps to help highlight nesting species in need of state conservation assistance. This includes not only include Bald Eagles, but also declining grassland species such as American Kestrel, Bobolink, and Eastern Meadowlark.

In spite of last year’s chilling national report on 3 billion missing birds in “Decline of the North American Avifauna,” species recoveries like those shown by the Bald Eagle, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Piping Plover, and Eastern Bluebird offer clear evidence that it is never too late to implement sustained conservation efforts, and that many species will often dramatically respond. 

These species offer clear evidence why Mass Audubon’s bird conservation efforts continue to make a difference, and why financial support for avian conservation programs is more important than ever.

You can support Mass Audubon’s Bird Conservation efforts and help us accomplish even more. Make an impact >

Robin eggs

On the Robin Watch

During on walk at Boston Nature Center on May 4, Preschool Director Claire Harris stumbled (literally) across an American Robin’s nest perched in the gate of the Clark Cooper Community Gardens.

She took the opportunity to take a photo of the nest containing four perfectly blue eggs and then backed away quickly. After observing from a distance, she watched as the robin returned.

Claire spent the next few weeks watching and photographing from a safe distance, reporting back to her preschoolers who have been learning remotely. On May 20, she came back to discover the robins had successfully fledged (ie left the nest).

Since baby birds can capture the hearts of preschoolers and grown-ups alike, we wanted to share her observations far and wide.

Robin Eggs
May 4, 2020
May 10, 2020
Robins Day 2
May 11, 2020
May 16, 2020
May 17, 2020
May 18, 2020

And they’re off

May 20, 2020
Burds you can see in an urban setting

Birds to Look For During Bird-at-home-a-thon

While this year’s Bird-a-thon has shifted focus to birding closer to home and around your neighborhood, you can still find tons of exciting birds. Some birds are common in many habitats, like Northern Cardinals and American Robins, but here is a list of other feathered friends you are likely to see (or hear!) in habitats across Massachusetts along with some fun facts. 

UrbanSuburbanForest Grassland/Fields Wetland/Fresh Water Coast

Urban

Peregrine Falcon © Martha Akey; Turkey Vulture © Verne Arnold; Mourning Dove © Ruthie Knapp; American Crow © Neal Harris; Common Grackle © Anthony Nomakeo

Peregrine Falcons (1) are found on all continents except Antarctica. They are also the fastest bird in the world! 

Turkey Vultures (2) find their carrion meals by smell as well as sight. When threatened, a Turkey Vulture will projectile vomit to defend itself.  

Mourning Doves (3) are known to make nests in odd places. A nest on top of an upside-down push broom leaning against a wall was once reported to our Wildlife Information Line. 

American Crows (4) congregate in large numbers (sometimes up to a million birds or more!) to sleep together in the winter. One such roost has been common in Lawrence, MA. 

If you look closely at a Common Grackle (5) in the sunlight, you’ll see that it has quite beautiful iridescent feathers. 

Suburban

Carolina Wren © Ian Barton; White-breasted Nuthatch © Rebecca Smalley; Gray Catbird © Kristin Foresto; Red-bellied Woodpecker © Irene Coleman; Chipping Sparrow © Kristin Foresto

Carolina Wrens (6) are also known to nest in odd places when living in suburban areas, like in an old boot, or in a mailbox. 

White-breasted Nuthatches (7), like other nuthatches, can move head-first down tree trunks and are frequently seen in that upside-down pose.

The Gray Catbird’s (8) song may last up to 10 minutes. 

Sometimes, Red-bellied Woodpeckers (9) wedge large nuts into bark crevices, then whack them into smaller pieces using their beaks. They also use cracks in trees and fence posts to store food for later in the year. 

In 1929, Edward Forbush (MA ornithologist) described the Chipping Sparrow (10) as “the little brown-capped pensioner of the dooryard and lawn, that comes about farmhouse doors to glean crumbs shaken from the tablecloth by thrifty housewives.” 

Forest

Northern Flicker © Gates Dupont; Eastern Towhee © Mike Duffy; Wood Thrush © Kathy Porter; Black-and-white Warbler © Brad Dinerman; Yellow-rumped Warbler © Bernard Creswick

Although they can climb trees and hammer like other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers (11) prefer to find food, like ants, on the ground.

The Eastern Towhee’s (12) song sounds like they are saying “drink-your-tea.” 

Wood Thrush (13) can sing two parts at once. In the final trilling phrase of their three-part song, they sing pairs of notes simultaneously, one in each branch of its y-shaped voicebox. The two parts harmonize to produce a haunting, ventriloquial sound. 

The scientific name for Black-and-white Warblers (14) is Mniotilta varia meaning “moss-plucking,” after their habit of probing bark and moss for insects. 

The yellow patch just above the Yellow-rumped Warbler‘s (15) tail gives them the nickname “butter butts.” 

Grassland or Open Field

Tree Swallow © Mike Duffy; Eastern Bluebird © Dorrie Holmes; American Kestrel © Anthony Lischio; Bobolink © Bernard Creswick; Eastern Meadowlark © Phil Brown

Tree Swallows (16) are one of the best-studied bird species in North America, helping researchers make major advances in several branches of ecology. Despite this, we still know little about their lives during migration and winter. 

Eastern Bluebirds (17) typically have more than one successful brood per year. Young born in early nests usually leave their parents in summer, but young from later nests frequently stay with their parents over winter. 

American Kestrels (18) can see ultraviolet light, which allows them to see the urine trails that voles leave as they run along the ground. These bright paths help kestrels find prey. 

Bobolink (19) songs sound like R2D2’s voice from Star Wars.

Male Eastern Meadowlarks (20) can sing several variations of its song. Scientists analyzed one male meadowlark and found he sang more than 100 different song patterns. 

Wetland or Freshwater Pond, Lake or River

Belted Kingfisher © Edmund Prescottano; Wood Ducks © Christina Ernst; Green Heron © Lisa Gurney; Spotted Sandpiper © Keenan Yakola; Hooded Merganser © Srimanth Srinivasan

Fossils of Belted Kingfishers (21) dated to 600,000 years old have been found in Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, and Texas. 

Wood Ducks (22) nest in trees ranging from directly over water to over a mile away. After hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest tree and make their way to water. The mother calls them to her but does not help them in any way. Ducklings may jump over 50 feet without injury. 

Green Herons (23) are one of the world’s few bird species who use tools. They often create fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, and feathers, dropping them on the surface of the water to attract small fish. 

Unlike most birds, Spotted Sandpiper (24) females establish and defend the territory, arriving to the breeding grounds before males. Males then take the primary role in parental care, incubating the eggs and caring for chicks. 

Hooded Mergansers (25) find their prey underwater by sight. They can actually change the refraction properties of their eyes to improve their underwater vision. Plus, birds have an extra eyelid called a “nictitating membrane,” which is transparent and helps protect their eyes while swimming, like a pair of goggles. 

Coast and Saltmarsh

Piping Plover © Sherri VandenAkker; American Oystercatcher © Cameron Darnell; Double-crested Cormorant © Kristin Foresto; Common Eider © Roger Debenham; Great Egret © Marco Jona

Piping Plovers (26) will sometime use a foraging method called foot-trembling where they extend one foot out into wet sand and vibrate it to scare up food like marine worms, insects, and crustaceans. 

Unlike most shorebirds, American Oystercatcher (27) chicks depend on their parents for food for at least 60 days after hatching. 

Double-crested Cormorants (28) often stand in the sun with their wings outstretched to dry. Cormorants have less oil on their feathers so their feathers can get soaked rather than shedding water like a duck. Having wet feathers probably make it easier for cormorant to hunt underwater. 

Common Eider (29) mothers and chicks form groups called “creches” that can include over 150 chicks and include non-breeding hens as protection. 

During the Great Egrets (30) breeding season, a patch of skin on its face turns neon green and long feathers called aigrettes grow from its back. These feathers were prized for ladies’ hats in the 19th century and inspired Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna B. Hall to form Mass Audubon to protect them.

Ready to start birding?

Get involved at massaudubon.org/birdathon