Tag Archives: birds

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!

The Most Notable 2016 Bird-a-thon Sightings

More than 700 birders on 24 teams participated in Bird-a-thon 2016 this May, recording a total of 270 species of birds. That’s only 1 species away from the Bird-a-thon all-time best total of 271 species in 2009!

Highlighted below are some notable sightings as determined by Wayne Petersen, Director, Important Bird Area Program. (See the master list of species recorded.)

The birding may be over, but you can still support Bird-a-thon by making a donation to your favorite team or participant. Bird-a-thon is Mass Audubon’s largest fundraiser, providing important support to wildlife sanctuaries and programs across the state. See Bird-a-thon 2016 results and award winners

Protect the Bobolink

By Lindall Kidd, Bird Conservation Associate

With spring officially here, one of the world’s most impressive songbird migrants, the bobolink, will be returning to Massachusetts.  Bobolinks travel some 6,000 miles to South America for winter, with some returning to breed in Massachusetts hayfields. Over their lifetime, a bobolink can travel over 100,000 miles—that’s about halfway to the moon!

The Problem

Bobolink eggs

Bobolink eggs

Sadly, bobolink populations are declining in Massachusetts, New England, and beyond. Part of this decline is caused by the intensification of agriculture. Bobolinks build their nests on the ground in hayfields; in the northeast, agriculture is the only widespread land use that maintains the open land that they depend upon for breeding.

However, financial pressures force farmers to mow their fields during the weeks that bobolinks are nesting. Nestlings hatch in June, which is when farmers typically harvest their first—and most valuable—cut of hay. Haying the fields when bobolinks are nesting typically results in a complete loss of eggs and nestlings.

A Solution

copyright Martha Akey

copyright Martha Akey

A promising solution to this is The Bobolink Project, which helps farmers and birds by financing bird-friendly mowing practices. There are many hay farmers in New England who are willing to delay mowing for the sake of nesting grassland birds, but to do so costs money: late season hay is less valuable than early season hay.

The Bobolink Project “buys time” for grassland birds to successfully nest on working farms by providing financial support, collected from conservation donors, which is paid to farmers who are willing to manage their fields for grassland birds.

In 2015, approximately 550 young fledged from fields enrolled in The Bobolink Project. These hayfields also supported other declining grassland bird species such as savannah sparrows, eastern meadowlarks and northern harriers.

This year, Mass Audubon has joined forces with Audubon Vermont and Audubon Connecticut to help expand The Bobolink Project and we need your help! Pass this information to your friends, farmers or donors, and ask them to tell their friends, too. For 2016, we need the support of both farmers and donors by April 22.

Last Month in Birding: August 2015

Here we feature five of the past month’s exciting bird sightings as suggested by our experts. This time we’re highlighting offshore wonders: pelagic birds, including four species spotted on an incredible Brookline Bird Club pelagic trip to the continental shelf edge that took place on August 22-23. (For those who are new to birding, pelagic trips take participants far out to sea to observe species that don’t tend to come near the shore.)

White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus)

Tropicbirds are elegant, long-winged, slender-tailed birds of tropical oceans. A remarkable two species were seen on this trip: white-tailed and red-billed. Like terns, white-tailed tropicbirds plunge into the water to grab fish, and in warm seas they frequently consume flying fish. During the breeding season they perform elegant courtship flights during which one member of the pair reaches out to touch the other’s tail.

White-tailed tropicbird © Jeremiah Trimble

White-tailed tropicbird on the pelagic trip © Jeremiah Trimble

Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus)

The second tropicbird species observed on this trip was named for the mature adult’s red bill; first-year birds have cream-colored bills. Red-billed tropicbirds are larger than their white-tailed relatives. They can be common in the Caribbean and only very rarely wander north as far as New England.

Red-billed tropicbird © Peter Flood

Red-billed tropicbird on the pelagic trip © Peter Flood

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma castro)

Storm-petrels are among the smallest seabirds. They’re often seen hovering low over the water, pattering at the surface with their feet as they pick tiny planktonic crustaceans and other prey from the surface. Band-rumped storm-petrels breed on tropical islands in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and spend the rest of their time at sea. Subtle field marks such as tail shape, white rump pattern, and flight behavior are useful in distinguishing this cryptic species at sea.

Band-rumped storm petrel ©

Band-rumped storm petrel on the pelagic trip © Peter Flood

Audubon’s Shearwater (Phaethon aethereus)

Common in many tropical oceans, they are among our smallest shearwaters. Audubon’s shearwaters tend to wander north in late summer and fall, especially when surface water temperatures are high. They have two feeding methods: sitting on the surface and grabbing prey, and diving to “fly” under water with powerful wingbeats.

Audubon's shearwater © Jeremiah Trimble

Audubon’s shearwater on the pelagic trip © Jeremiah Trimble

Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche chlororhynchos)

Albatrosses don’t typically inhabit the North Atlantic, so these enormous wanderers are always cause for excitement. The yellow-nosed albatross has a wingspan of over 6.5 feet and a bright yellow-orange stripe at the top of its dark beak. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists this species as endangered. Like many albatrosses, its population is declining, mostly because of longline fishing entanglement. Remarkably, a yellow-nosed albatross was photographed on Stellwagen Bank on August 10.

Yellow-nosed albatross (Atlantic) © François Grenon

Yellow-nosed albatross (Atlantic) off Provincetown © François Grenon

Take 5: Goldfinches Aglow

American goldfinches breed relatively late in the year, so you may be seeing more goldfinch activity right now. Look for them plucking thistle seeds and listen for their enthusiastic songs. Here are five images of these energetic birds captured by past participants in our Photo Contest.

2013 Photo Contest Entry © Kim Nagy

2013 Photo Contest Entry © Kim Nagy

2012 Photo Contest Entry © Sash Dias

2012 Photo Contest Entry © Sash Dias

2012 Photo Contest Entry © Christopher Ciccone

2012 Photo Contest Entry © Christopher Ciccone

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Rosalee Zammuto

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Rosalee Zammuto

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Dawn Puliafico

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Dawn Puliafico

We’d love to see your best photos. Enter our 2015 Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest!

Take 5: Incoming!

These stunning photos of birds coming in for a landing, taken by past participants of our Photo Contest, show the beauty and complexity of bird wings.

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Richard Alvarnaz

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Richard Alvarnaz

2013 Photo Contest Entry © Greg Saulmon

2013 Photo Contest Entry © Greg Saulmon

2012 Photo Contest Entry © Frank Vitale

2012 Photo Contest Entry © Frank Vitale

2012 Photo Contest Entry © David Ennis

2012 Photo Contest Entry © David Ennis

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Sherry Leffert

2014 Photo Contest Entry © Sherry Leffert

We’d love to see your best photos. Enter our 2015 Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest!

Last Month in Birding: July 2015

In July, Massachusetts birders enjoyed another month of unusual sightings. Here are five of the most exciting of these observations as suggested by our experts.

Bridled tern (Onychoprion anaethetus)

A bird of tropical and subtropical oceans, the bridled tern is similar in size to our common tern, but is stouter and has striking black and white facial markings. Outside of the breeding period it spends most of its time over the open ocean, hovering over the surface and dipping its beak into the water to snag fish and other small sea creatures. A bridled tern was sighted in Nantucket in July.

Bridled tern © Lee H. Dunn

Bridled tern in Nantucket © Lee H. Dunn

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)

A ruff observed on Plum Island last month was a long way from home: the species is native to parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, breeding in the north and overwintering in the south. Though female and non-breeding male ruffs have an unremarkable appearance, during the breeding season the males display large feathery “ruffs” and battle vigorously for dominance on special display areas called leks. The species’ scientific name means “pugnacious lover of battle”.

Ruff © Steve Arena

Ruff at Plum Island © Steve Arena

White-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica)

This species looks somewhat like a mourning dove, but it has a chunkier body and a tail that is square rather than pointed. Though primarily a species of southern deserts, it is equally comfortable in suburban areas and frequently wanders quite far. Through the years its range has been gradually expanding northward; it often takes advantage of backyard feeders. One bird was briefly observed in Newburyport.

White-winged dove in Florida (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Kenneth Cole Schneider

White-winged dove in Florida (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Kenneth Cole Schneider

Fea’s petrel (Pterodroma feae)

This relatively rare seabird was named for Italian artist and zoologist Leonardo Fea, and its name is pronounced FAY-ah. It is a member of the tubenose order of birds (Procellariformes), and like other members of this group has the ability to excrete excess salt through tubes on its bill from special salt glands located above of its eyes. This petrel breeds on just a few islands in the Eastern Atlantic. When not nesting, it spends all of its time at sea. One bird was spotted over Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary—only the second record ever in Massachusetts and one of very few for North America!

Fea's Petrel © Steve Arena

Fea’s Petrel off Truro © Steve Arena

Sandwich tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis)

It’s easy to remember what a sandwich tern looks like: its beak has a yellow tip, which gives it the appearance of having been dipped in mustard. Juveniles may lack the yellow marking—perhaps they haven’t yet developed a taste for Dijon? The species is native to the southeastern US and the coasts of Central and South America. However, one wandered north to Nauset Marsh in Eastham this past month.

Sandwich Tern in Mexico  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)  Sergey Yeliseev

Sandwich Tern in Mexico (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Sergey Yeliseev

Last Month in Birding: May 2015

Each month we take a look at a few of the previous month’s bird sightings as suggested by our experts. Here are five of May’s most exciting observations.

Little gull (Hydrocoloeus minutes)

True to its name, this bird is the world’s smallest gull. It is common across much of Europe and Asia. In North America, a few little gulls have been breeding on the east coast since at least 1960, but this bird is still a rare sight. Last month, Massachusetts birders were amazed to note this species at three locations, including at least 10 birds at Hatches Harbor in Provincetown.

Little gulls (and one Bonaparte's gull), Hatches Harbor, Race Point, Provincetown © Ryan Merrill

Little gulls (and one larger Bonaparte’s gull), Hatches Harbor, Provincetown © Ryan Merrill

“Lawrence’s warbler” (Vermivora pinus x chrysoptera)

This fascinating bird is a hybrid, the result of a pairing between a blue-winged warbler (Vermivora pinus) and a golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera). The offspring of these closely-related birds are usually fertile, and they generally fall within two broad color categories: the grey and white “Brewster’s warbler” and the golden “Lawrence’s warbler”. The Lawrence’s is the rarest possible outcome, since its traits are recessive. Two of these stunning birds were seen in May—one in Petersham and one in West Newbury.

Lawrence's warbler in West Newbury © Margo and Steve, webirdtoo

Lawrence’s warbler in West Newbury © Margo and Steve, webirdtoo

Mississippi kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)

A graceful raptor, the Mississippi kite eats insects. It is most commonly found in the Great Plains and the US southeast, but its range has been expanding by leaps and bounds, and it is now spotted almost every year in Massachusetts. In fact, this species has even been found nesting in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire in recent years. The reasons for its spread are probably numerous, but here is one contributing factor: Mississippi kites like open areas with scattered trees, a landscape pattern that people frequently create. Last month, several birds were seen on the Outer Cape, and individuals were also seen in Westboro and Amesbury.

Mississippi kite, Westboro © Steve Arena

Mississippi kite, Westboro © Steve Arena

Brown booby (Sula leucogaster)

This sleek seabird lives in many tropical oceans throughout much of the world, where it executes dramatic plunge dives for its prey, especially flying fish. It is related to the famous blue-footed booby, but its feet are yellowish. It does not currently breed in the US mainland. Last month during our annual Bird-a-thon fundraiser, two participants on a whale watch trip were thrilled to spot a brown booby off of Gloucester. No doubt it was a prized addition to their lists, as well as to the whole Bird-a-thon!

Brown booby in a more tropical locale, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Mark Yokoyama

Brown booby in a more tropical locale, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Mark Yokoyama

Chuck-will’s-widow (Antrostomus carolinensis)

Perhaps you’ve heard the night call of this species’ better-known relative, the whip-poor-will. The chuck-will’s-widow breeds mostly in the southeastern US, and it is the largest North American member of the group of aerial insect-eaters known as nightjars. Despite its size, this bird is hard to spot. Its feathers match the pattern of bark and leaves. However, its namesake nocturnal “chuck-will’s-widow” call is loud and incessant. One was heard calling in East Orleans during Mass Audubon’s Bird-a-thon fundraiser.

"Chuck-wills-widow RWD7" CC BY-SA 3.0 Dick Daniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chuck-wills-widow_RWD7.jpg#/media/File:Chuck-wills-widow_RWD7.jpg

Chuck-will’s-widow CC BY-SA 3.0 Dick Daniels (carolinabirds.org)