It may still be cold and wintery outside, but things are heating up for our breeding owl species. Late winter is the height of the courtship and mating season for most owl species so there’s a good chance you may hear a “hoo’s hoo” of mating calls (although not all owls make “hoo” sounds!) on your next stroll through the forest. Great Horned Owls, for example, are one of our earliest breeders and begin hooting to attract mates as early as December.
Many owls roost in tree cavities during the day and those that do will also lay their eggs in tree cavities, although a roosting cavity is not necessarily also a nesting cavity. Lots of nature photographers love to capitalize on this fact to capture some wonderful photos of “owl peek-a-boo”. Here are five great shots of owls in tree cavities that were entered into our annual photo contest. For your own chance to glimpse one of these gorgeous raptors, join one of the dozens of Owl Prowls happening at our sanctuaries this time of year.
This year, more than 4,000 images were submitted in the Mass Audubon Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest—another record year! It wasn’t easy to determine the winners with so many incredible entries, but thankfully we always allow for a handful of Honorable Mentions outside of the main categories so we can highlight some of our favorites that just barely missed the cut.
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.
Winter is a wonderful time to see some colorful characters around your neighborhood—namely wintering waterfowl. In late fall and winter, the majority of waterfowl species return to wearing their bright and more colorful breeding plumages and with more than 25 species of ducks, geese, and swans that regularly spend the winter in Massachusetts, you’ll have lots to add to your birding list.
Here are five species of ducks you may spot hanging around lakes, ponds, rivers, and ocean-side viewpoints, depending on their preferred habitat. Learn more about wintering waterfowl in the winter issue of Explore member magazine and find an expert naturalist-led winter birding trip hosted by a wildlife sanctuary near you.
There are a lot of talented young people taking beautiful nature photographs and we were lucky enough to have many of them submit their work to the 2018 Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.
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.
Woodchucks (also known as groundhogs) are among the few “true hibernators” found in Massachusetts. In late summer they begin to put on weight in preparation for the move to their winter dens, often located in wooded areas. From October through March, woodchucks settle in for a long snooze and turn their metabolisms waaaaay down to burn as little energy as possible. While hibernating, a woodchuck’s body temperature drops from 99°F to 40°F, and its heartbeat drops from 100 beats per minute to 4 beats per minute! Visit our Nature & Wildlife pages to learn more about woodchucks.
They may not be conscious to appreciate it, but here are five photos of woodchucks from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest for you to enjoy.
Waterfowl exhibit a whole host of different feeding behaviors, like diving, grazing, or foraging. The most common, however (or at least the most commonly recognized) is “dabbling” or “tipping”. Dabbling ducks like the Mallards pictured below will simply “tip up” in shallow water to forage on the aquatic plants along the bottom. Swans, geese, and teals also display this behavior, although their varying neck lengths allow each species to access food at different depths. It’s a perfectly practical adaptation but one that can certainly be amusing to watch.
Here are five photos of Mallards dabbling away for your amusement. All of these photos have been submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Bottoms up, duckies!