Tag Archives: birds

Female Northern Flicker © Gates Dupont

Take 5: Northern Flickers

Spotting a Northern Flicker can be truly spectacular. Vocal and conspicuous, flickers may be the most obvious woodpecker in the state of Massachusetts. They don’t visit bird feeders as frequently as their ubiquitous cousins, Downy Woodpeckers, but you may spot one in your backyard or at your birdbath, especially if your yard abuts a wooded area with a mix of trees and open ground. Unlike other woodpeckers, they often feed on the ground, even mixing together with flocks of ground-feeding songbirds, such as robins. Wherever you see one, this handsome bird certainly has unique plumage.

Their tan-brown bodies are patterned with black scalloping or spots, appearing almost polka dotted from a distance. In the East, the undersides of their wing and tail feathers are bright yellow (their Western counterparts have red flight feathers but you won’t see them around here). If you startle one from the ground, you may see a flash of white on its rump. They have a black bib across their breasts, a grey cap with a red nape, and the males sport black “mustache” markings beside their beaks.

These five photos of Northern Flickers were all submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2018 contest is open now, so submit your spectacular wildlife and nature photography before the deadline of September 30.

Female Northern Flicker © Cheryl Rose

Female Northern Flicker © Cheryl Rose

Male Northern Flicker © Lee Millet

Male Northern Flicker © Lee Millet

Male Northern Flickers © Ken & Judy Proulx

Male Northern Flickers © Ken & Judy Proulx

Male Northern Flicker © Paul Flanders

Male Northern Flicker © Paul Flanders

Female Northern Flicker © Gates Dupont

Female Northern Flicker © Gates Dupont

Goldfinch at Birdbath © Paula Stephens

Take 5: Bath Time!

“Splish, splash I was takin’ a bath…”

Today’s Take 5 is all about birdbaths! Many folks are taking advantage of the warm weather this time of year to spruce up their yards; landscaping to attract birds and wildlife is a fun way to make your home more welcoming for both animals and people.

Birdbaths are a great addition to your yard for a variety of reasons: they attract birds to your yard that don’t typically eat seeds (meaning you might not see them visiting your feeders), they provide a supply of fresh water for drinking, bathing, and cooling off in hot weather, and—as you’ll see from some of the photos below—they can also attract a variety of other fascinating wildlife.

A few things to bear in mind: Most birds prefer water shallower than 2”, so if your birdbath is deeper you can make it more welcoming by adding stones or gravel to the bottom or providing a larger rock or branch to perch on. Window collisions are always a concern near buildings, so either place your birdbath well away from windows or close enough so they can’t pick up enough speed to injure themselves should they collide with the glass after taking flight.” Learn more about choosing a good birdbath (or making your own!) on our website. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some great information on safe placement of birdbaths and feeders.

The five photos below were all submitted to past years of our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest, which is now open for 2018! Send us your best shots of wildlife, plants, landscapes, and people in nature for consideration.

Eastern Bluebird at Birdbath © Pam Anderson

Eastern Bluebird at Birdbath © Pam Anderson

Raccoon at Birdbath © Lisa Gurney

Raccoon at Birdbath © Lisa Gurney

Northern Cardinal at Birdbath © Jack Bakker

Northern Cardinal at Birdbath © Jack Bakker

Albino Squirrel © Paula Sheehan Gaudet

Albino Squirrel © Paula Sheehan Gaudet

Goldfinch at Birdbath © Paula Stephens

Goldfinch at Birdbath © Paula Stephens

Magnolia Warbler © Jim Sonia

Take 5: Wild for Warblers!

May is peak warbler migration season in Massachusetts, heralding the return of these small, often brightly colored songbirds. Each spring, thousands of warblers fly north from their southern winter homes to breed and raise their young.

Because warblers are quick and often elusive, they can be tricky to see in the field. Listen for the dawn chorus and watch treetops and shrubbery at sunrise and sunset for a flash of bright color and sweet song. The best way to learn to identify warblers is to go on bird walks with more experienced birders. Mass Audubon sanctuaries offer hundreds of bird-watching programs each year, so there’s sure to be one nearby that suits you.

Below are five photos of beautiful, bright warblers from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2018 contest opens soon, so keep those sharp birder’s eyes out for the announcement!

Chestnut-sided Warbler © Gregory S. Dysart

Chestnut-sided Warbler © Gregory S. Dysart

Yellow Warbler © Larry Warfield

Yellow Warbler © Larry Warfield

Magnolia Warbler © Jim Sonia

Magnolia Warbler © Jim Sonia

Blackburnian Warbler © Brian Lipson

Blackburnian Warbler © Brian Lipson

Prairie Warbler © Cameron Darnell

Prairie Warbler © Cameron Darnell

Great Blue Heron © Pat Ramey

Take 5: Great Blue Herons

Migrating great blue herons arrive in New England as early as the latter part of March, where they join the small population of great blues that overwinter here.

The most common place to find great blue herons is at the edge of a wetland, where they will stand stock-still, tracking the movements of fish and frogs and waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

Once a rare sight in the northeast US due to hunting pressure and pollution, great blue herons have staged a staggering comeback in the past few decades. Now, these statuesque wading birds can be seen at ponds, lakes, and rivers of all sizes, often in surprisingly urban areas.

Great blue herons are something of a “fan favorite” for many folks, with their graceful movement and ubiquity at bodies of water across the state. Have you spotted any herons already returned to their nesting sites? Learn more about great blue herons on our website.

Here are five fantastic photos of great blues from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Submissions for the 2018 photo contest begin in early summer, so stay tuned!

Great Blue Heron © Steven Brasier

Great Blue Heron © Steven Brasier

Great Blue Heron © Brooks Mathewson

Great Blue Heron © Brooks Mathewson

Great Blue Heron © John Elliott

Great Blue Heron © John Elliott

Great Blue Heron © Pat Ramey

Great Blue Heron © Pat Ramey

Great Blue Heron © Jean Joyce

Great Blue Heron © Jean Joyce

8 Ways to Watch Woodcocks

American Woodcocks are back! Even when spring arrives late, woodcocks still perform their remarkable sky dances. In March and early April, these fascinating, awkward-looking birds put on a mating display at dusk.

The best part: it’s easy to view this display in any large brushy field, including some city parks.

American Woodcock by Will Freedberg

Keep an ear out for a woodcock’s sharp, nasal “peent!” from sunset to half an hour afterwards. The woodcock will take off after a few calls, wheeling and diving in the sky as their wings produce their signature twitter. Then, the bird dives steeply, its wings continuing to whistle as it falls to the ground to start over.

To help you track down these enigmatic birds, here’s a list of Mass Audubon’s upcoming guided woodcock walks, plus some sites in greater Boston to look for them by yourself.

Mass Audubon Woodcock Programs

Join a walk if you want some help finding woodcocks or just enjoy the company of a group of nature lovers. Experienced naturalists will make sure you don’t miss a peent!

1. In Greater Boston: March 30 and April 6 at Broadmoor (Natick); March 31 and April 14 at the Blue Hills Trailside Museum (Milton); April 3 for adults and April 7 for teens at Drumlin Farm; April 8 at the Boston Nature Center (Mattapan).

2. On the South Shore: March 28 and April 4 at Birchwold Farm (Wrentham) with Stony Brook; April 7 at North River (Marshfield).

3. In Central and Western Massachusetts: April 4 at Broad Meadow Brook (Worcester); April 5 at Wachusett Meadow for families (Princeton); April 7 at Arcadia (Easthampton/Northampton); April 11 at Pleasant Valley (Lenox).

4. On Cape Cod: March 30 and April 14 at Long Pasture (Barnstable); March 30 and April 7 at Wellfleet Bay (Wellfleet).

See the entire list of woodcock programs!

4 Parks to Seek Woodcocks in Greater Boston on Your Own

5. West Roxbury: Millennium Park
This former landfill became a great birding site after it was covered with soil from the Big Dig and reclaimed by native grassland. Search for woodcocks along the northwest and southwest edges of the park and by the canoe launch.

6. Boston: Franklin Park
Park off of Circuit Drive. The best area is through the open area towards a softball field.  Sometimes, woodcocks display in the sports fields off of Pierpoint Drive to the north.

7. Cambridge: Alewife Reservation
Most woodcocks are found by walking the path between Bullfinch Parking Lot (off of Acorn Park Drive) and the T station.

8. Belmont: Rock Meadow
Rock Meadow is best accessed from a small parking lot on the West side of Mill St. south of its intersection with Concord Ave. Walk the path into the adjacent field about 400 feet, passing the community gardens on your left. The woodcocks will be displaying on your right, but can be found further into the meadows as well.

Post by William Freedberg, Bird Conservation Associate

Pileated Woodpecker © Kimberlee Bertolino

Take 5: Pileated Woodpeckers

It’s always a treat to spot the iconic pileated woodpecker (unless, of course, you catch one drilling into the side of your house). With their striking black and white plumage and flaming red crests, they are almost prehistoric-looking, like a crow-sided modern pterodactyl.

Woodpeckers have several unique adaptations. Their feet have two toes pointing forward and two pointing rearward with sharp pointed claws that enable them to scale tree trunks and other vertical surfaces to look for food and shelter. Their straight pointed bills and reinforced skulls help them to absorb the constant shock of pecking, chiseling, drilling, and drumming as they hunt for insects (especially carpenter ants) to eat. Their stiff tail feathers act as props (like a third leg) when they climb.

It’s not an everyday occurrence to see a pileated woodpecker, so here are five photos of these remarkable birds from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest for you to enjoy. Submissions for the 2018 photo contest will open in early summer, so keep an eye out!

Pileated Woodpecker © Lee Millet

Pileated Woodpecker © Lee Millet

Pileated Woodpeckers © Jacob Mosser

Pileated Woodpeckers © Jacob Mosser

Pileated Woodpecker © Kimberlee Bertolino

Pileated Woodpecker © Kimberlee Bertolino

Pileated Woodpecker © Mary Jeanne Tash

Pileated Woodpecker © Mary Jeanne Tash

Pileated Woodpecker © Davey Walters

Pileated Woodpecker © Davey Walters

Pileated Woodpecker © Dan Prima

Pileated Woodpecker © Dan Prima

A Hero for Waterbirds

Back in 1896, it was the passion and persistence of two Boston women who launched the modern-day conservation movement. When Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall founded Mass Audubon to stop the killing of birds for fashion, they left a lasting impact on the environment and served as an inspiration for future generations.

To honor their intrepid spirit, Mass Audubon has created the Hemenway + Hall Wildlife Conservation Award. This honor, which will be awarded annually, recognizes excellence in wildlife conservation and celebrates an individual or organization whose research and related ecological management successes have amply demonstrated and provided a significant and lasting wildlife conservation benefit.

The inaugural recipient of the Hemenway + Hall Wildlife Conservation Award goes to Carolyn Mostello, a coastal waterbird biologist in MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP).

Carolyn has devoted her career to restoring and protecting the populations of, most notably, federally endangered Roseate Terns, as well as those of Common Terns, American Oystercatchers, Common Eiders, and various other island nesting species off the coast of Massachusetts.

Most recently Carolyn oversaw the restoration of Bird Island in Buzzards Bay. Rising sea level and erosion of the original seawall on the island turned the beaches into salt marsh and salt pannes. Common terns, who nested on the beach, were forced to move inland, displacing endangered Roseate Terns.

Working with the town of Marion and colleagues in other private, state, and federal agencies, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Carolyn and her team restored nesting habitat for both bird species by raising the elevation of the island, removing invasive plants, planting native ones, and protecting the island from additional erosion by rebuilding the seawall.

Common Terns on Bird Island © Ian Nisbet

Carolyn Mostello’s work on these islands has been critical to the persistence of the North American Roseate Tern population. Due to her work and the work of others, Roseate Tern numbers at the Buzzards Bay sites have increased by 37% over the past eight years.

Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton, who will make the award presentation at the Birders Meeting on March 11, notes that Carolyn’s important efforts on behalf of coastal waterbirds align with the legacy of the organization’s founding mothers.

“Carolyn personifies excellence in wildlife conservation every day as she demonstrates her commitment to the biodiversity of the Bay State,” Gary said. “She has not only shown success in protecting endangered and threatened bird species, but has served as an inspirational role model for others to take up this crucial work. Thus she is a perfect choice to be the first honoree of the Hemenway + Hall Wildlife Conservation Award.”

Slide to See Bird Island Before and After

Red-bellied woodpecker © John Jack Mohr

Take 5: Winter Feeder Frenzy

Backyard bird feeders can be a great source of joy and entertainment, especially in the grey winter months when the pop of red from a cardinal’s plumage can bring some welcome color to the scenery and the chatty antics of a small flock of finches fighting over feeder perches can be surprisingly entertaining.

Here are five photos from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest of birds you are likely to see at your feeder this winter. For more, see our list of common winter birds in Massachusetts.

Carolina wrens © Julie McDevitt

Carolina wrens © Julie McDevitt

Black-capped chickadee © Francine Wilson

Black-capped chickadee © Francine Wilson

House Finch © Melissa Shelley

House Finch © Melissa Shelley

Northern cardinal © Rob Smiley

Northern cardinal © Rob Smiley

Red-bellied woodpecker © John Jack Mohr

Red-bellied woodpecker © John Jack Mohr

Male Northern Cardinal © Judith Keneman

Take 5: Colorful Cardinals

Northern cardinals bring splashes of vivid color to the grays and browns of a winter garden. Thanks to the increasing popularity of backyard bird feeders, these once rare (to New England) birds have become common year-round residents in Massachusetts over the past fifty years.

Identifying the male northern cardinal is easy thanks to his rose-red plumage, pointed crest, and black mask. The female cardinal can be trickier, though, with her more subdued fashion sense consisting of pale tan and brown with a few rosy accents on the crest, wing, and tail. Both sexes, however, have the same powerful, bright orange beak which they use to crack open stubborn seeds and slice open sugary fruits to help them survive the coldest months of the year.

Keep your feeders full of seed and you can likely delight in the colorful crimson hues of cardinals all fall and winter long! Here are five photos of cardinals from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest that should help you identify these beautiful birds.

Male Northern Cardinal © Judith Keneman

Male Northern Cardinal © Judith Keneman

Female Northern Cardinal © Richard Antinarelli

Female Northern Cardinal © Richard Antinarelli

Male Northern Cardinal © Johanna Wray

Male Northern Cardinal © Johanna Wray

Female Northern Cardinal © Debbie Dineen

Female Northern Cardinal © Debbie Dineen

Male Northern Cardinal © Nathan Butler

Male Northern Cardinal © Nathan Butler

Crow © Steve DiGiandomenico

Take 5: Clever Crows

Crows have long suffered under the reputation of being “bad.” Crows raid crops, frequently steal eggs and chicks from other bird nests, and have been known to steal shiny objects such as articles of jewelry from people.

Yet, these vocal black birds are among the most intelligent. Crow are said to be able to count (to a point) and they are also known to be very discriminating in their abilities to identify specific objects.

Here are five photos of crows* from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Notice a theme with our Take 5 posts? All this month, leading up to Halloween, we’re spotlighting wildlife that’s “spooky,” “creepy,” and goes “bump” in the night. BOO!

Crow © Michele Moore

Crow © Michele Moore

A crow and a red-tailed hawk face off in mid-air © Jim Higgins

A crow and a red-tailed hawk face off in mid-air © Jim Higgins

Crow © Matt Filosa

Crow © Matt Filosa

Crow © Steve DiGiandomenico

Crow © Steve DiGiandomenico

Bird silhouetted against the moon © Greg Saulmon

Bird silhouetted against the moon © Greg Saulmon*

*Okay, we’ll admit: this bird is not actually identifiable from just a silhouette, but it looks so perfectly spooky we had to include it anyway!