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Sunday, December 16, 2018

CBC 2018 Peterborough, Hancock NH


Sharp-shinned Hawk



Brown Creeper






Where were all the birds? Our greater Peterborough, NH CBC yesterday had expected species and some puzzles, such as where were the Blue Jays (we had just 1 in our section), robins (we had 0 in our section) juncos (we had 0 in our section) and goldfinches (low numbers)? This was the talk of the countdown party at our house, where participants got together to tally up the numbers. In this area there is a real lack of fruit, such as crab apples and it is not a big year for acorns. Also there was a population boom of Grey Squirrels this year (many were road killed in fall) and the remaining ones stripped all the crab apples that did fruit leaving little for robins and other fruit eating birds. So some species that depend on these foods have just left the area and gone to..... maybe your area?? There were also frigid temps in Nov. and there is snow cover perhaps prompting other birds to move on. On the plus side there are still good numbers of chickadees and a number of Bald Eagles were sighted. A few of the unusual finds were the Sharp-shinned Hawk at our feeder (the only one of the count), a Northern Shrike, and 2 Pine Grosbeaks found by Phil Brown and Ken Klapper. Evening Grosbeaks were all in one big flock of over 40 birds with just one lone individual found elsewhere. The countdown party was lots of fun and a good opportunity for the awesome birders in this area to connect.

Monday, December 10, 2018

How To Protect Feeder Birds From Hawks

Sharp-shinned Hawk, juvenile.

Sharp-shinned Hawk, juvenile.

Bush piles can provide birds a place to hide.

Place brush piles near your feeders.

Sharp-shinned Hawks can frequent bird feeders, diving at the birds. Don wrote this Haiku poem about it one such incident.

A Sharp-shinned Hawk
Stoops into the feeders, making
The cold day colder.

It was a chilling event for the birds, who, in addition to getting food in winter weather, always have to be on the lookout for hawks which could spell instant death for them. We watched with anxiety as the birds dove for cover in the brush pile we created near the feeder. They also sought cover in the rhododendrons we planted nearby.

On the other hand we are always excited to see a hawk. Sharpshins are quick, fierce, and agile flyers, able to zip through the trees undetected. As watchers of nature we try not to make too much of a morale judgement about the hawk. As we say, Sharp-shins are not mean, they're just hungry. They have to eat too. In addition to Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks are one of the other main predators of feeder birds. Cooper's looks like a slightly larger version of Sharp-shinned Hawks. These both are in the Accipiter group of hawks.

Here are some tips to giving your feeder birds protection from the hawks.

1. A good brush pile is worth its weight in gold. Construct one near the feeders (about 8 or more feet away). Construct it out of cut sapling trees in a tepee fashion and add other brush and branches. Leave enough space and nooks and crannies for birds to dive into, but not too much open space so it's not protective.

2. Put other cover near feeders, or move feeders near cover. Evergreen shrubs and trees can make excellent cover. We use rhododendron clumps, arborvitae, hemlocks, and more. A good use of your old Christmas tree is to place it near the feeders. If the feeders face south and the evergreens are behind the feeders, even better. The birds can go into the evergreens and warm up and be protected from cold winds.

3. You can also use dense woody shrubs and vines for cover. In addition to the brush pile and evergreens near the feeders, we have lots of berry producing shrubs like Winterberry Holly, Highbush Cranberry Viburnum, Swamp Dogwood, Chokeberry and a few vines climbing up them. This feeds the birds, provides cover and even potential nesting spots.

4. Take comfort in the fact that the hawks do not stay around forever. Usually, after a while, the birds have so wised up to the hawks presence, it looses its advantage of surprise and it will move on.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Help Bluebirds in Winter, Here's How!

We have recently seen Eastern Bluebirds checking out some of their nesting boxes from this past breeding season. They even grab a snack of the dried mealworms if you offer it. They usually move on when the weather gets really bad.


Bluebirds may sometimes remain in some northern areas in winter, much to people's surprise. Here's some tips for bluebird enthusiasts, on how to help bluebirds survive in winter.

1. Bluebirds can roost together in bird houses to keep warm. Insulate your bird houses by closing off all cracks, drainage holes, etc., with some sort of insulating material so less drafts and cold get into the bird house. Just leave the entrance hole open. Face bird houses away from prevailing winter winds.

2. Bluebirds mainly eat fruit and berries in winter. Plant your property with an abundance of crabapples and native, berry-producing shrubs such as viburnums and hollies (like winterberry holly). Place these berry plantings in sunny, protected areas, blocked from winter winds. The bluebirds will have a warm place to eat and use less precious energy.

3. Some bluebirds will come to food such as, hulled sunflower, suet, dried mealworms, and some of the many "bluebird meal mixtures" or nuggets. Generally most bluebirds do not learn to do this. You can certainly try putting out these foods, but your best bet is to have lots of berries planted in your yard.

4. Bluebirds like water (may help with processing the berries) and will visit bird baths and heated bird baths. In general, when it is very severely cold, some people think it is a risk for birds to bathe. Holding off on the water, or placing sticks over the bird bath to only allow birds to drink, not bathe, may be a good idea in this situation. Many birds will eat snow in winter to get water.

Most bluebirds move out of the northernmost areas of their range in winter. Even ones that may linger eventually move on, once their berry sources are depleted or ice-covered. For bluebirds, and many birds, there is a trade-off of staying more north in order to be first to claim prime breeding territories, yet risking survival due to bad weather. Some of these tips may help them survive and you feel you're helping them. Bluebirds are truly beloved.

For more complete information see Stokes Bluebird Book.

For the very latest identification information and range maps on all three species of North American Bluebirds; Eastern Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird and Western Bluebird, see our new best-seller, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America and the new regional editions, The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Regions.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!


Wild Turkey

These Wild Turkeys are headed in the right direction.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

About Wild Turkeys:

* Wild Turkeys populations were once in decline but turkeys were reintroduced and have recovered and now Wild Turkeys occur in every state (but not Alaska) and in parts of Canada.

* Wild Turkeys live in forests and eat berries, buds, seeds, insects and nuts, especially acorns. They can scratch the ground to find food. They may come to bird seed under feeders.

* Wild Turkeys roam together in flocks in search of food. You may see them along roadsides and in fields and crossing roads.

* In spring, male turkeys perform courtship displays in fields. They fan their tails, puff up and strut and give their familiar gobbling calls. The female raises the young chicks, who can follow the female after hatching and soon can find food on their own.  Females and young form into groups and roam together.

Enjoy Wild Turkeys when you see them!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

White-headed Junco, Speckled Robin, what??? Leucistic Birds


House Sparrow, female, leucistic

We often get people sending us bird photos to identify, and nothing mystifies people more than seeing birds with strange white blotches. These are leucistic birds, normal species that are missing some of the pigment in their feathers. I photographed this female House Sparrow in GA.

House Sparrow, female, leucistic

House Sparrow, female, leucistic

This leucistic Dark-eyed Junco photo was sent to us by Dianne Connolly of NH.

The white blotches make an interesting pattern on its head, neck and throat.

This amazing photo of a leucistic American Robin against snow was sent to us by Bud Marschner,

of Fairbanks, AK. Bud is one of the wonderful photographers in our best-seller Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America.

Leucisim in birds, is a genetic mutation that prevents pigment, especially melanin, from being deposited in a normal way on a bird's feathers. Usually the leucistic areas are noticeable on birds with black or brown feathers, as in the above cases. Leucistic birds may have white splotches, or look paler or bleached. This is different than albino birds. Albinism is a genetic mutation that prevents the production of melanin in a bird's body. Albino birds usually appear all white with a pink eye. Scientists are still working out what these two conditions are and how they affect birds.

Birds with leucisim or albinism may have a harder time in the wild, as they may be more visible to predators and not as attractive to a potential mate.

Leucisim is very rare in birds. Thus, when 3 people living in neighboring towns in NH reported leucistic juncos to us on about the same day, we found this very interesting. 

If you see a strange looking bird with whitish areas in its plumage and you cannot identify it in your field guide, look very carefully at its size and shape and what other birds it is hanging out with. Our new field guide begins each species account with a thorough description of that bird's shape. If your mystery bird looks exactly like a robin or junco or other known species, but with weird white areas in its plumage, then it may be a leucistic bird.