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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Winter Finches Are Headed Your Way, How To ID and Attract Them!

This could be a good year to see some of the irruptive winter finches at your feeders, according to the annual Winter Finch Forecast report of Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists. Cone crops average poor in Southern Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Canada, New York, Vermont and New Hampshire. However, crops are good in Northern Ontario, Western Canada and Alaska. Pine Siskins and White-winged Crossbills may move west to get to cone crops rather than south but some may move south. Purple Finches are moving south in numbers. Common Redpolls may also move south. Finch species and others leave their northern areas in the Boreal Forest in winter when there are low seed and cone crops. So who to look for at your feeders?


Pine Siskins

 Pine Siskins like bird feeders filled with sunflower or thistle (Nyjer) seed.


Common Redpoll

Redpolls eat sunflower and thistle (Nyjer) at bird feeders and can descend in numbers so put out multiple feeders.



Pine Grosbeak, female

Expect to see a few Pine Grosbeaks and Red and White-winged Crossbills. All three species and rare at bird feeders.

Here's a basic guide to some of the winter finches and how to attract them to your bird feeders.


Purple Finch, males are red, female has a white eyebrow, American Goldfinch, winter, top.

Purple Finch — This is a large-headed, broad-necked, short-tailed finch that is a fairly common winter visitor to the eastern half of the US and along the West Coast. The male is strongly reddish on the head and body while the female is streaked white and brown and has a thick white eyebrow. One of the Purple Finch’s common calls is a distinctive sharp flat “pik.”


Common Redpolls

Common Redpoll — The Common Redpoll nests very far north and winters mostly in s. CAN; but in certain years may show up at feeders in northern states. It is a small, deep-bellied bird with a small head and very short stubby conical bill. It has a red patch on its forehead and a black patch on its chin; the male’s breast is suffused with red while the female’s is streaked brown over white. You may have just a few at your feeder or as many as 50–100! A common call is an ascending scratchy “jeeyeet.”



Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin — The Pine Siskin is a slim finch with a small head and fine-pointed bill. At first you might overlook this rather drab streaked brown bird until it opens its wings and reveals a bright yellow streak. It has a distinctive ascending buzzy call that sounds like steam from a boiling tea kettle — “zzzeeet.” Siskins can be in flocks from a few birds to a hundred or more and they can fill the room at your feeders and even eat on the ground beneath, cleaning up fallen seed bits.


American Goldfinches, winter plumage, Pine Siskin, far right.

American Goldfinch — These generally yellow finches live year-round in the northern half of US and migrate down into the southern states in winter. They are unmistakable in summer with their bright yellow body, dark wings, white wingbars, and orange bill. In winter, they are more drab with grayish to brownish body, dark bill, and variable amounts of pale yellow on the chin. Because of their dull winter plumage, some people mistakenly think that they do not have any Goldfinches at their winter feeder. A typical call in flight sounds like “potato chip, potato chip.” 


Evening Grosbeak, male

Evening Grosbeak — Aptly named, this large finch has a huge deep-based conical bill, well-suited to cracking open the large seeds it likes, such as black oil sunflower and even striped sunflower which has a tougher shell. This bill is pale greenish in spring and summer and paler in winter. Both sexes have white patches on their black wings, seen in flight. The male’s body is a deep yellow and he has a dark head with bright yellow eyebrow; the female has a gray head and back separated by a dull yellowish collar. The calls of Evening Grosbeaks have been likened to the sound of old fashioned sleigh bells.

Here's how to attract finches to your bird feeders in winter.

1. The favorite seeds of finches are black oil sunflower or hulled sunflower (which is sunflower minus the shell), thistle (Nyjer) seed, and finch mixes which contain small seeds like thistle (Nyjer) and millet. 

2. Offer black oil sunflower in sunflower feeders such as Stokes Select sunflower tube feeders, Stokes Select Large, Medium and Small Hopper feeders, Stokes Select 3 in 1 Platform and Red Platform feeders and Stokes Select Sunflower Screen, Mini Seed Screen and Giant Combo feeders. Evening Grosbeaks will eat striped sunflower which is a larger seed with a tougher shell.

3. Offer thistle (also called Nyjer which is an imported seed and not from our wildflower) and finch mixes (which contain tiny seeds), in finch tube feeders. Finch tubes have very small holes, which contain and disperse the finch seeds without having the seeds spill out. Do not offer finch seeds in regular sunflower feeders which have large holes, because the finch seeds will spill out! Put finch seeds in feeders such as, Stokes Select Jumbo Finch Feeder, Stokes Select Thistle Tube feeder, Finch Tube feeders, and Finch Screen feeder.

4. Finches are flock oriented birds so they will be more attracted to your yard if you provide space for lots of birds to feed. Put up multiple feeders mounted on Stokes Select Bird Feeder Poles.

5. Finches like to drink water. Provide clean water in bird baths, You can add bird bath heaters in winter although some feel it is better not to offer water in heated bird baths in the most severe winter weather.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Hawk Migration happening NOW, How to ID Them!

Broad-winged Hawk, adult. Has thick, black-and-white tail bands.

The hawks are coming! The hawks are coming! We're entering prime hawk migration time for birders in the northern and eastern half of the U.S. Some hawks, such as Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, Merlins and American Kestrels, will move by flapping, but Broad-winged Hawks, an abundant migrant, travel by using rising thermals. Weather conditions of clear and sunny, with mild north or northwest winds, should produce ideal conditions for Broad-winged Hawk migration. The Hawk Migration Association of North America runs a large website where all the dates and numbers of migrating hawks are recorded. Go there to keep track of migration or to find a hawkwatch site in your area. Most of the Northeast hawkwatch sites will seen many Broad-winged Hawks this fall as well as many other raptors.

Here are some tips for watching hawks:

1. Prime Broad-winged Hawk migration in the North is Sept. 11 to 25, in the South (TX) it is Sept. 25th to Oct. 10.

2. Prime Sharp-shinned Hawk migration in the Northeast is Sept. 1 to Oct. 10, in the Mid-Atlantic States it is Sept. 10 to Oct. 20, in the West it is Sept. 11 to Oct. 31.

3. Hawks usually move most under sunny skies with mild northwest, north or northeast winds. Broad-winged Hawks require thermals to move.

4. Go hawk-watching at one of the many "official" hawk-watch sites here. Or find your own by going to a hill, mountain, or tall structure available to you that has good views to the north, because that is the direction the hawks are coming from.

5. Bring binoculars that are at 8 power, or even 10 power if you have them. Scan slowly back and forth across the sky at different heights to find the hawks. Most hawks will be fairly far away and some may look like specs. Learn hawk shapes at a distance to identify them. Many hawkwatchers also use spotting scopes to locate hawks.

6. Here's a brief look at the most common hawks you will see:

Broad-winged Hawk, adult

Broad-winged Hawk, juvenile

* Broad-winged Hawks. These are medium-sized hawks, 16" long, with broad wings, and soar together in groups. Look for the broad black-and-white tail bands seen on the adults, usually visible even at a distance. Juvenile Broad-winged Hawks have thin tail bands and dark streaking that is usually heaviest on the sides of the breast.

Red-tailed Hawk, juvenile

*Red-tailed Hawks migrate a bit later than Broad-winged Hawks and here in NH, we can see them all the way through Oct. or even later. People may confuse juvenile Broad-winged and Red-tailed Hawks. Note on this bird, the dark mark, called the patagial bar on the leading edge of the wings, a great clue, also the dark belly streaks form a "belly band" another great clue.


* Sharp-shinned Hawks. These are small, about Blue Jay-sized, 12" long, hawks in the accipiter group. They migrate mostly singly with flap-flap-flap glide flight and have short rounded wings and a somewhat long tail that has a squared end.


* Cooper's Hawks. These are extremely similar to Sharp-shinned Hawks, and are a tricky ID challenge, but are somewhat larger, 17" long, with a longer, rounded tail and larger, longer head and similar flight pattern.

* American Kestrels. These are a type of falcon. They are smaller than a Sharp-shinned Hawk, about 10 1/2" long, with pointed wings and a long tail and fly mainly with continuous flapping.

* Merlins. Very similar to a Kestrel but darker and larger, about 12" long. Has broad, pointed wings and a somewhat shorter tail than a Kestrel. Flies swiftly and strongly. See yesterday's blog entry for details on Merlin vs. Kestrel ID.

* Turkey Vultures. Very large, about 27" long, all black birds that constantly soar with their wings held in a V.

7. Keep track of your numbers and turn them in to your local bird or hawk-watching organization.

8. For more complete information on identifying hawks see our all new national photographic guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. It has 3,400 images and is the most complete photo guide available.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Common Nighthawks On The Move Now, How to See Them!!

Common Nighthawk, male. Males have a white throat, white subterminal primary bar on wings and a white band on the tail. 

Common Nighthawk, female. Females have a buffy throat, smaller white primary bar and no tail band.

Common Nighthawk, male

Common Nighthawk, female

Common Nighthawk, male

Common Nighthawk, male

Common Nighthawk migration is in full swing here in New England. We have gotten good flights before, our previous high count has been 2,202 in one night. We live on a dammed-up section of a river, where the river flows north and nighthawks often follow river valleys on migration. We count from our deck and have been joined by our friends.

Common Nighthawk numbers have been declining in the Northeast so it is very exciting to see them.

This is peak Common Nighthawk migration time, so get out and look. The best time to see them is at the end of the day from about 5 pm to dark.

Here are some tips for seeing migrating Common Nighthawks:

1. Look during the later afternoon to early evening hours, from about 4 pm to 7:30 pm.
2. Look north, as they generally move from north to south.
3. Get comfortable, use a chair if you can, you will be looking for quite a while. Tuck your elbows in, it is less tiring and steadier to hold binos that way.
4. Nighthawks often move along river corridors
5. Note if there is an ant hatch. Nighthawks are attracted to, and eat, dispersing ants who rise up in clouds.
6. Study the photos above, to learn nighthawk shape. Often you will only see distant birds with long pointed wings, flapping rather slowly. When feeding, nighthawks fly erratically. When migrating, they move more directly and may even rise up on a thermal sometimes.




Sunday, August 07, 2016

Common Yellowthroats already migrating




Here's a young male Common Yellowthroat warbler in our garden. Look at his lower face and you can see a spot of black. He does not look like the adult male yet, but will when the rest of the black feathers of his bandit-like adult mask grow in. Look closely at Common Yellowthroats you see this fall and look for hints of black on their face, it will help you distinguish the young males from the females.
Young birds like this are newly independent and begin to wander. We are already seeing some warblers on the move here in NH and recently we saw some Chestnut-sided and Black-throated Green warblers migrating through.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Black Guillemot, Such A Cute Alcid!

Black Guillemot, cute seabird off the coast of Acadia National Park

This is their habitat.

I had to climb out on the rocks and hope one would come closer.

I was in luck. Note their white underwing and top of wing.

They have red feet but who know they had a red bill!

After diving down this one caught a crab.

The white on the wings makes them visible from a distance.

Resting on the rocks.

Finally I got some photos of Black Guillemots after trying to photograph them a number of times when I have been to Acadia National Park, Mt. Desert Island, ME. Usually they are too far away to photograph, but this time one flew somewhat closer to the rocky shore. So I was thrilled but still had to climb out onto the rocky cliffs and my Canon SX 50 with its long zoom lens helped get the photo. Black Guillemots live in northern seas and breed in Maine, Alaska and along the coasts of Canada and Greenland. They forage for fish by diving underwater and can stay there for several minutes.
These are very cute little seabirds in the group known as Alcids. Alcids, which include Dovkie, murres, guillemots, murrelets, auklets, and puffins, spend most of their time at sea and breed on remote islands. Many have breeding and non-breeding plumages and the sexes look alike. Alcids use their wings to propel them during dives.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Butterflies for Birders!



Monarch Butterfly. They lay their eggs on milkweed and their caterpillars feed on this plant.


Great Spangled Frittillary on Purple Coneflower


Close-up of Great Spangled Fritillary

American Lady Butterfly, told by the two eye spots on underside of the hindwing

Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies are unmistakable

Spicebush Swallowtails can be told from other big, dark swallowtails by their single row of prominent white dots inside the margin of their forewings.
The larvae of Spicebush Swallowtails feed on spicebush and sassafrass.


Pearl Crescent butterfly. Scores are feeding on white clover on our path so we keep the path mowed high to preserve the clover flowers for them.

Mourning Cloaks are widespread across much of North America. They are one of the few butterflies who overwinter as adults, finding protected places in log piles, nooks, or under loose bark, and when they emerge in the spring they look worn, as this butterfly does. They are one of the longest lived butterflies and some may live as long as 10 months. Mourning Cloaks feed on sap and fruit.


Our butterfly bushes will bloom soon and they're magnets for the butterflies. Here's a Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly on one of them.


We've written two books to help you attract and identify butterflies.Stokes Beginner's Guide To Butterflies, has an easy ID key to help you quickly identify the butterflies you see by size and shape.


Stokes Butterfly Book gives you plans for a butterfly garden, lists and photos of butterfly plants, and chapters, with color photos, on the identification, behavior and caterpillars of common butterflies. Both are available at amazon.com and stores.


When the birding is slow, and it's the middle of the day, a wonderful thing for birders to do is look for butterflies. Butterflies are colorful flying creatures, just like birds. The identification skills birders already have can be transferred to identifying butterflies.
Look at butterflies through your binoculars, no need to catch them in a net.

The hot weather favors butterflies as they need to warm their bodies to fly. They need to get their body temperature up to 85 to 100 degrees Farenheit in order to fly well. Adult butterflies come to flowers for nectar, lay their eggs on special host plants, which can be unique to each species of butterfly. The eggs hatch, larva feed on the plant then turn into a pupa or crysalis from which the adult butterfly will emerge. A complete cycle or generation is called a brood, and butterfly species can go through from just one to as many as four broods per year, depending on the species and the number of warm months. Different butterflies are on the wing at different times during the summer, so you will continue to see new species.

There are about 17,000 species of butterflies in the world. In North America there are about 700 species but only a small fraction are common and likely to be seen by the average person.

When you see a butterfly watch it closely for several minutes. Observe how it flies, its size, shape, and the colors and patterns on its wings, both above and below.

Start by knowing the major families of butterflies that are distinctive. Below are some:

Swallowtails - are our largest butterflies and most have long tails coming off their hind wings.

Whites and Sulfurs - these are all medium-sized butterflies that are predominantly white or yellow.

Gossamer Wings - this group is easy to identify since it includes all of our smallest butterflies, such as the blues, coppers and hairstreaks, and metalmarks. The blues tend to be iridescent blue, coppers are often copper, hairstreaks often have hairlike tails on their hind wings, and metalmarks often have metallic spots on their wings.

Brush-footed Butterflies - this is a large and varied group of medium-sized, generally dark-colored butterflies with such strong and rapid flight they are hard to follow. Their is no one field characteristic, besides their flight, that makes them easy to identify as a group.

Satyrs - these are medium-sized butterflies that are almost all brown, often with darker eye-spots on their wings. They have a weak and bobbing flight and are often seen at woods edges or among grasses.

Skippers - are small butterflies whose flight is extremely rapid and erratic. They are mostly rich brown or orange-brown

Enjoy the butterflies as well as the birds!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Eastern Bluebird mama and baby


This female Eastern bluebird is coming to our dried mealworm feeder and bringing her fledgling who perches on the edge while she feeds it. Such a help to her and soon her fledgling will learn to come on its own, a big help to it as it makes its way in the world. So special and such fun to watch!