Tag Archives: birds

Indigo Bunting © Amy Powers-Smith

Take 5: Indigo Buntings

Take a walk through a weedy meadow or shrub-filled forest edge and there’s a chance you might spot a flash of brilliant jewel blue singing boisterously from a treetop or telephone wire.

Not only are male Indigo Buntings gorgeous in their azure plumage, but they are also prolific singers and may whistle their high-pitched songs from dawn until dusk. Individual notes are often clustered in pairs and pairs often come in threes (“what what, where where, here here?“) but songs can vary widely from one individual to the next—young males learn their songs not from their fathers but from their nest neighbors, creating distinct “song neighborhoods”.

Fascinatingly, Indigo Bunting feathers contain no blue pigment. Like all blue birds, their coloring comes from the microscopic structure of the feathers that refracts and reflects blue light and absorbs other colors. Females are plain brown but may occasionally have a slight hint of blue on their wings, while immature and molting males have splotchy blue and brown patches.

Here are five photos of male Indigo Buntings from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2019 contest is open, so submit your nature photography today!

Indigo Bunting © Yunzhong He
Indigo Bunting © Yunzhong He
Indigo Bunting © Davey Walters
Indigo Bunting © Davey Walters
Indigo Bunting © Amy Powers-Smith
Indigo Bunting © Amy Powers-Smith
Indigo Bunting © Amy Severino
Indigo Bunting © Amy Severino
Indigo Bunting © Jaymie Reidy
Indigo Bunting © Jaymie Reidy
Tree Swallow © Steve Nikola

Take 5: Nest Builders

The varied landscapes of Massachusetts provide nesting spots for nearly 200 bird species and spring is prime time for nest-building and brooding. You may have seen birds flitting back and forth with beaks full of twigs, grasses, and even plastic refuse to fortify their nests, which may pop up in any number of familiar or surprising places around your home and neighborhood.

A number of bird species nest on balconies and building ledges or in the nooks and crannies of houses. Observing these nests can be a source of enjoyment, and native species that eat insects, such as chimney swifts, barn swallows, and cliff swallows, help with pest control.

Sometimes, however, nesting behavior can bring birds into conflict with people, especially if birds construct a nest in an inconvenient or unsafe location in or around your house. Read our guide to Nests In & On Buildings and remember that relocating an active nest is really not an option—not only will bird parents abandon a relocated nest, it’s against federal and state law to disturb the nest of a native species.

To help you enjoy the bustling activity of nesting birds this spring, here are five photos of birds doing just that, all submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Baltimore Oriole © Myer Bornstein
Baltimore Oriole © Myer Bornstein
Rose-breasted Grosbeak © Derek Allad
Rose-breasted Grosbeak © Derek Allad
Osprey © Terri Nickerson
Osprey © Terri Nickerson
Baltimore Oriole (female) © Marcy Setter
Baltimore Oriole (female) © Marcy Setter
Tree Swallow © Steve Nikola
Tree Swallow © Steve Nikola
Eastern Bluebird © Cheryl Rose

Take 5: Winter Songbirds

Whether you’re briskly pacing across Boston Common or gazing out your kitchen window into a snow-covered suburban backyard, birds can be seen all winter long. The birds featured below are some of the most commonly seen species in winter all across Massachusetts, and many of them will readily come to bird feeders.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but many urban and suburban avian visitors in the winter months will belong to one of the species below. See a longer list of cold-weather Massachusetts birds on our website and enjoy these five beautiful photographs from our photo contest archives.

American Goldfinch © Alex Renda
American Goldfinch © Alex Renda
Cedar Waxwing © Bernard Creswick
Cedar Waxwing © Bernard Creswick
White-breasted Nuthatch © Jonathan Eckerson
White-breasted Nuthatch © Jonathan Eckerson
Tufted Titmouse © Kim Nagy
Tufted Titmouse © Kim Nagy
Eastern Bluebird © Cheryl Rose
Eastern Bluebird © Cheryl Rose
Dark-eyed Junco © Andy Eckerson

Take 5: So Many Sparrows

Sparrows have a reputation for being a bit tricky for beginning birders to identify. Thankfully, the colder months are a good time to get some practice in, with several common species overwintering here in Massachusetts, including American Tree Sparrows, White-Throated Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos (yes, they belong to the sparrow family!). Most sparrows are primarily seed-eaters and are often seen feeding on the ground, so a good place to look for them is on the ground beneath your bird feeders where the seed naturally falls.

A great way to hone your sparrow-identification skills is to spend time with more advanced birders and learn on-the-fly (pun absolutely intended). See a list of upcoming birding programs at our sanctuaries to find a trip near you and enjoy these five diverse photos of sparrows from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Savannah Sparrow © Phil Doyle

Savannah Sparrow © Phil Doyle

Song Sparrow © Mike Shachook

Song Sparrow © Mike Shachook

Dark-eyed Junco © Andy Eckerson

Dark-eyed Junco © Andy Eckerson

White-Throated Sparrow © Katherine Sayn-Wittgenstein

White-Throated Sparrow © Katherine Sayn-Wittgenstein

Fox Sparrow © Alberto Parker

Fox Sparrow © Alberto Parker

Evening Grosbeak © MDF (CC BY-SA 3.0)

An Epic Winter For Nomadic Finches

Every few winters, several bird species abandon their normal wintering areas to our northwest, and move into Massachusetts by the thousands. While distantly related, redpolls, siskins, and grosbeaks all rely on food sources that go through boom and bust cycles, peaking and crashing every 3-6 years. When conifer and birch seeds are scarce in Canada’s boreal forest, these loosely-related species irrupt southwards in search of food.

The core group of these birds are collectively called “winter finches,” and this year will be huge for them!

Species On The Move In 2018:

Evening Grosbeaks

Evening Grosbeak © MDF (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Evening Grosbeak © MDF (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This year, these sunset-yellow, black and white-patterned finches are the stars of the show. It’s been a few years since Massachusetts saw any wintertime movement of Evening Grosbeaks into the state, and the last major irruption was in the 1990s.

Unlike many winter finches, Evening Grosbeaks seem equally happy feeding on several food types—both fruits and large seeds. They’ll come to feeders, but their bulky size means that they prefer large platform feeders and will avoid tube feeders. Their fruit-eating tendencies means that they often move south with two other frugivores, Bohemian Waxwings and Pine Grosbeaks, which may show up in smaller numbers this year.

Common Redpolls

Common Redpoll © Simon Pierre Barrette

These finches specialize in eating birch catkins, and birches are the best place to look for them. Ornithologists predict a big redpoll incursion into the northeast this winter. Redpolls got a slow start in Massachusetts this year, but are starting to show up in larger numbers, especially in the Northern and Western parts of the state.

Red-breasted Nuthatches

Red-breasted Nuthatch © Richard Alvarnaz

While technically not a winter finch, this species is nearly as nomadic, and this year is big for them. Their relative, the White-breasted Nuthatch, is a year-round resident and common backyard bird.

Red-breasted Nuthatches made a very early southward movement this year, with many appearing as early as late summer, heralding a major incursion of wandering finches later in the season.

Pine Siskins

Pine Siskin © Terri Nickerson

Siskins are showing up in abundance right now! These small finches with yellow-streaked wings love small seeds. Hang up feeders filled with nyjer or thistle seeds to take advantage of their incursion.

Where To Look

In addition to feeders, groves of spruce trees can be great places to look for seed-eating winter finches like siskins and crossbills. Redpolls are drawn to birch catkins. Fruit-eating finches often take well to ornamental varieties of crabapples, which bear fruit through the winter, so look for grosbeaks and waxwings anywhere large groves of these have been planted—which sometimes means office parks, parking lots, and gardens.

Feeders Up!

Last year was an excellent year for cone crops in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, leading to increased reproduction for seed-eating birds. This means that while spruce seeds, birch catkins, and mountain-ash berries are scarce in Ontario and Quebec, there will be loads of hungry birds looking for them—and moving into the US in search of food.

Birdfeeders do help birds survive harsh winters when food is scarce (though there’s a some This is a great time of year to put out black-oil sunflower seeds and nyjer seeds—two of winter finches’ favorite staples at birdfeeders.

For a more in-depth look at this year’s incursion of Evening Grosbeaks and their shifting distribution in New England, check out our birding blog.

Canada Goose © Davey Walters

Take 5: Comin’ In Hot!

Clear the decks, because these five birds are coming in for a landing, and they are comin’ in hot! These photos were all submitted to past years of our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2018 contest is closed, but the judges are hard at work picking the winners, so in the meantime please enjoy these five fantastic action shots and go capture some new images for next year’s photo contest!

Osprey © Dennis Durette

Osprey © Dennis Durette

Wood Duck © Paul McCarthy

Wood Duck © Paul McCarthy

Canada Goose © Davey Walters

Canada Goose © Davey Walters

Greater Yellowlegs © Rachel Bellenoit

Greater Yellowlegs © Rachel Bellenoit

Canada Goose © Marco Jona

Canada Goose © Marco Jona

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