Tag Archives: birds

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

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 (Creative Commons)

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

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