Tag Archives: birding

Wood Ducks ©Matt Filosa

This Winter, Learn Indoors and Practice Outside

New Online Nature Programs

This winter, enjoy nature lessons from the comfort of your home, then take what you’ve learned outdoors to practice!

Pour yourself a cup of something warm, grab your fuzzy socks, and tune in with us online to learn about winter birds, stars, animal tracks, plants, weather, and everything in between.

Mass Audubon Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Norfolk

The Wonder of Winter Series
Thursdays • 7:00-8:00 pm

Explore the natural phenomena of winter and learn how wildlife in Massachusetts adapts to the colder season.

Join us for one, some, or all of this series.

Wood Ducks ©Matt Filosa
Female Mallard and Male Wood Duck © Matt Filosa

Ducks & Waterbirds
Friday, January 14 • 7:00-8:30 pm

It may be cold, but winter is the best time of year to view large numbers of ducks with exquisite plumages.

Tracking Mammals
Wednesdays, January 19 & 26 • 7:00-8:00 pm

Learn to interpret the subtle and sometimes glaring clues creatures can leave behind in the wild.

Do you know who left these tracks?

Winter Neighborhood Naturalist Series
Wednesdays • 7:00-9:00 pm

Become a neighborhood naturalist by learning about the winter phenomena happening all around you.

Join us for one, some, or all of this series.

Gray & Grayer: Winter Gulls
Friday, January 21 • 7:00-8:30 pm

Gull identification can be challenging, but there’s a helpful systematic approach you can take to parse out the gray and grayer. 

Barred Owl © John Harrison

Owls of Massachusetts
Tuesdays, January 25, February 1 & 8 • 7:00-8:30 pm

Learn about local owl banding, research, and conservation efforts, and meet some of Mass Audubon’s live owl wildlife ambassadors.

Winter Raptor Identification
February 9 • 7:00-8:30 pm

Find out the best places to view winter raptors and learn how to confidently identify them.

Marsh Owls
February 11 • 7:00-8:30 pm

Winter owls that specialize in open landscape hunting come alive during the twilight hours on Massachusetts salt marshes.

Mass Audubon members get discounts on programs; learn about all the benefits of becoming a member today.

Savannah Sparrow © Phil Doyle

Take 5: Sorting Out Sparrows

There are some birds that scream for attention, like Northern Cardinals or (more literally) Blue Jays. Sparrows are not that kind of bird. Sparrows are subtle, nuanced, and notoriously tricky to tell apart from one species to another. Commonly referred to as “Little Brown Jobs” (LBJs for short), sparrows mostly just run around, eat seeds, and try to stay out of trouble.

One useful tip to narrow down your options from the more than two dozen sparrows that can be found in Massachusetts is to pay attention to habitat. Some species are grassland specialists, like the Grasshopper Sparrow or Savannah Sparrow. As their names suggest, Seaside Sparrows and Saltmarsh Sparrows are most often seen at the shore. Swamp Sparrows prefer freshwater marshes, and Field Sparrows like early successional habitat (recently or frequently disturbed areas, like grasslands, pastures, shrubby thickets, and young forests).

Geography and time of year can be useful as well, as there are some species that only breed in Massachusetts in the western counties, such as White-throated Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco, but all bets are off during migration when most of these species can be seen almost anywhere.

At that point, your best bet is to narrow down your choices by looking for identifying physical features: Is the breast striped or clear? Is the crown solid or striped? Are there any spots of yellow around the face?

Ask almost any expert for help honing your sparrow identification skills and they’ll likely give you a sympathetic smile and say something encouraging like, “Just keep practicing,” or “Don’t get discouraged.” Sorting out sparrows is, in the end, an exercise in patience and persistence.

If you’d like a leg up on your LBJ-identification training, check out our upcoming online program, Sorting Out Sparrows & Other LBJs. And enjoy these five photos of sparrows from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2021 photo contest closes this Thursday, September 30, so submit your own nature photography today!

Saltmarsh Sparrow © Andy Eckerson
Saltmarsh Sparrow © Andy Eckerson
Savannah Sparrow © Phil Doyle
Savannah Sparrow © Phil Doyle
Swamp Sparrow © Matt Filosa
Swamp Sparrow © Matt Filosa
Song Sparrow © Thomas Kilian
Song Sparrow © Thomas Kilian
Grasshopper Sparrow © Kevin Bourinot
Grasshopper Sparrow © Kevin Bourinot