Tag Archives: birds

Hermit Thrush © Evan Lipton

Take 5: Hermit Thrushes

Northern Cardinals. Blue Jays. American Goldfinches. You expect to see these birds during the winter. But birds like the American Robin and the Hermit Thrush catch many New Englanders off guard this time of year. After all, shouldn’t they be sunning themselves down south?

Not necessarily. According to Joan Walsh, Mass Audubon’s Bertrand Chair of Field Ornithology and Natural History, many traditionally migratory birds are sticking around, possibly due to increasing temperatures and a more readily available food source (i.e., berries)—a trend that’s been increasing over the last 40 years. And, in some cases, we humans have contributed to the number of birds seen this time of year.

Though quiet as a mouse in winter, the Hermit Thrush is full of song in spring. In fact, you’re likely to hear this small, olive-brown-colored forest dweller long before you see him. Considered by many to be the finest songster in North America, the Hermit Thrush utters a song that consists of a series of ethereal flutelike phrases.

It may be a few months before you hear the fabled “American Nightengale” sing its sweet song, but if you’re lucky and attentive, you can hit the trail to spot this bird: Hermit Thrushes prefer secluded woodland habitats, from the damp mixed forests of western Massachusetts to dry pine barrens along the coast. Common characteristics of their nesting areas are a dense understory (think saplings and shrubs) and an abundance of evergreens.

Enjoy these five photos of Hermit Thrushes from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest, and if you haven’t yet, check out this year’s photo contest winners!

Hermit Thrush © Jaymie Reidy
Hermit Thrush © Jaymie Reidy
Hermit Thrush © Anthony Lischio
Hermit Thrush © Anthony Lischio
Hermit Thrush © Adolfo Cuadra
Hermit Thrush © Adolfo Cuadra
Hermit Thrush © Evan Lipton
Hermit Thrush © Evan Lipton
Hermit Thrush © Mark Rosenstein
Hermit Thrush © Mark Rosenstein
Cedar Waxwings on a variety of crab apple © Stephen Kent

Take 5: Birds Love Berries

As winter closes in, many species of wildlife look to fuel up for the challenging conditions of winter. Fortunately, several plant species take advantage of this in their seed dispersal strategies by producing delicious and nutritious berries that wildlife will eat then excrete, depositing seeds in a new location along with a dose of fertilizer. While many of the fall berries have long since gone by, some varieties last well into winter, providing a larder for the fruit-eating species that are active all winter long.

If you have a fruit-bearing plant in your yard or neighborhood, you’ll have a better chance of capturing a great photo of some fruit-eating birds. Visit our website for more tips to attract birds to your feeders and enjoy these five photos of birds snacking on berries from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Cedar Waxwings on a variety of crab apple © Stephen Kent
Cedar Waxwings on a variety of crab apple © Stephen Kent
Pine Grosbeak on a variety of crab apple © Kevin Bourinot
Pine Grosbeak on a variety of crab apple © Kevin Bourinot
Eastern Bluebird on Winterberry © Cheryl Rose
Eastern Bluebird on Winterberry © Cheryl Rose
American Robin Eating Winterberries © Alan B. Ward
American Robin Eating Winterberries © Alan B. Ward
Northern Flicker on a variety of crab apple © Peggy Chao
Northern Flicker on a variety of crab apple © Peggy Chao
Blue Jay © William Zhen

Take 5: Boisterous Blue Jays

Clever, pugnacious Blue Jays are well-known for their territorial behavior and raucous Jay! Jay! call, but they are actually capable of an amazing array of vocal sounds, including whistles, toots, and wheedle-wheedle calls. Blue Jays can even mimic the scream of a Red-tailed Hawk in order to scare other birds!

Like all blue birds, Blue Jays are not actually, in fact, blue! Most of the vibrant feather colors found in birds, like yellow and red, come from pigments in their food that absorb certain wavelengths of light, but no birds (and almost no species in the entire animal kingdom) are capable of producing blue pigments. Instead, the blue color is the result of light refracting off of tiny, specialized structures in the bird’s feathers.

Learn more about Blue Jays on our website, read a blog post on why they are so noisy this time of year, and check out our Blue Jay Quick Guide and enjoy these five photos from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Blue Jay © William Zhen
Blue Jay © William Zhen
Blue Jay © Owens Linehan
Blue Jay © Owens Linehan
Blue Jays © Jonathan Eckerson
Blue Jays © Jonathan Eckerson
Blue Jay © Sue Feldberg
Blue Jay © Sue Feldberg
Blue Jays © Jillian Alexander
Blue Jays © Jillian Alexander
Least Tern © Sandy Selesky

Take 5: That’s a Mouthful!

Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to talk with your mouth full? Apparently, these birds never got the memo. Here are five photos of birds that may or may not have bitten off more than they can chew, all submitted in the past to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2019 photo contest is closed, but we’ll be announcing the winners soon, so stay tuned!

Least Tern © Sandy Selesky
Least Tern © Sandy Selesky
Great Black-backed Gull © Susumu Kishihara
Great Black-backed Gull © Susumu Kishihara
Great Blue Heron © Jennifer Atwood
Great Blue Heron © Jennifer Atwood
Eastern Phoebe © Amy Severino
Eastern Phoebe © Amy Severino
American Robin © Raju Murthy
American Robin © Raju Murthy
Belted Kingfisher © Christopher Ciccone

Take 5: Shake It Off

We all know that haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, but if you take after these finely feathered friends, all you have to do is shake it off! To get your week off on a positive note, here are five birds that really know how to let things roll, like water off a…well, you get the idea.

The photos in this fun collection were all submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2019 photo contest closes on September 30, so submit your own nature photography today!

Mallard (male) © Krysta Bertoli
Mallard (male) © Krysta Bertoli
Belted Kingfisher © Christopher Ciccone
Belted Kingfisher © Christopher Ciccone
Mallard (female) © Jim Housley
Mallard (female) © Jim Housley
Black-capped Chickadee © Chad Parmet
Black-capped Chickadee © Chad Parmet
Mallard (male) © Srimanth Srinivasan
Mallard (male) © Srimanth Srinivasan
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.