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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Birding For Kids, Tips!


We always try to let kids look through our scope at birds.





We just got a nice letter from Jerry Medina, a teacher in Tucson, AZ who is encouraging his first grade class to become interested in birding and blogged about one of his budding birder students. That's so cool.

We love to encourage kids to get involved in birding activities. Kids who are interested and informed about birds become the conservation leaders of tomorrow. Here are a few tips and resources about birding for kids. Even small children can be introduced to birding. Make sure and lower spotting scopes to the proper height for kids so they can see the birds.



Our Stokes Beginner's Guide To Birds covers the 100 most common birds in the east or west and is organized by color of the bird so even children who cannot yet read, can look up a bird they see.
Older kids who are already into birding should have one of the many full size birding field guides. Kids should have appropriate sized binoculars, with smaller more compact binoculars given to smaller kids, and


full-sized binoculars for older kids, 8x10 are good

The Young Birders part of the American Birding Association website is an excellent resource for kids age 10-18. They have a Young Birder of the Year Contest with prizes in categories for keeping a field notebook, bird illustration, bird writing and bird photography. They also have kid's birding camps and kid's scholarships to those camps and other birding activities. A Bird's-Eye View bimonthly newsletter is edited and written by young birders.

This holiday season give the gift of birding to a kid by giving binoculars and a field guide, or even start them with a bird feeder. Most importantly, you can help spark an interest by taking a kid birding, whether it's your own kid, a grandchild, neice, nephew or just a friend.

Here's a link to the Young Birder's part of the American Birding Association website.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Turkey Time Humor

Today's Wild Turkey photo by Lillian, is on page 68 of our national best-seller The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America


Yup, Gryff - I think those are Turkeys outside!"

and when our field guide came out, we were sent this funny photo of 2 Vermont Corgis, Gryf and Rugby, who are ID-ing turkeys with their Stokes Field Guide.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Gray Kingbird, Yes!! Super Rarity Still in MA




The super rare (for there) Gray Kingbird being seen in Eastham, MA on Cape Cod. We went there yesterday to see it and I got these photos. Gray Kingbirds breed in Florida and may wander in migration along the southeast and Gulf coasts. This is only about the fifth or sixth time it has been seen in MA. It is hanging out on telephone wires next to a beach parking lot. So cooperative to see and photograph for all the happy birders who have gone to see it!

Friday, October 28, 2016

How To ID Sparrows At Your Feeder!! They're Migrating!

White-throated Sparrows, Zonotrichia albicollis, come in two morphs. One morph has brown head stripes, as here;

the other morph has black-and-white head stripes, as here. There is much individual variation. They all have white throats and are very common at many feeders in winter.

White-crowned Sparrows, Zonotrichia leucophrys, in their first winter have rufous brown head stripes

and no white throat. We just saw one of these in our NH yard.


The dramatic adult White-crowned Sparrow has beautiful black head stripes and a white central crown stripe.

Sparrows are migrating big time. White-throated Sparrows are coming to bird feeders across much of the country now. Somewhat less common here in NH, White-crowned Sparrows are also migrating and coming to feeders. Both these species winter across much of the country and you may have them at your bird feeders all winter. We recently had first-winter White-crowned Sparrows at our feeder amongst the many, many White-throated Sparrows.

These sparrows love to feed on the ground on millet or seed mixes containing millet. We make a special sparrow feeder by building a big brush pile and sprinkling the seed in front and under the pile. It's a sparrow magnet and provides perching spots and cover from predators. The big bonus for us is that we get to see lots of fall sparrows.

If you live in the far western part of the country, you will get lovely Golden-crowned Sparrows visiting your bird feeders. They have a golden forecrown, surrounded on the front and sides by black or brown.

All these sparrow species are in the genus Zonotrichia. We discussed the characteristics of the sparrows in the Melospiza genus as stated in our The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, the most complete photographic guide available. In our guide, p. 656, we discuss the Zonotrichia genus and say these are "large deep-bellied, broad-necked sparrows with a fairly small conical bill, rounded crown and fairly long, slightly notched tail." In addition to White-throated, Golden and White-crowned Sparrows, the Zonotrichia genus includes Harris's Sparrows.

Tip: Look at these sparrows through your binoculars at your bird feeder and learn the characteristics of the shape of each genus. You will get better at ID-ing them and it will set you up to learn the sparrows in other genera.


Sparrow ID, Melospiza Sparrows



Lincoln's Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii. Saw one recently here in our NH yard.

Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodyLots are at our bird feeders and bird bath now.

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana. Hang out in swampy areas not usually at feeders.

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Sparrow ID can be challenging, to say the least. We often see Swamp Sparrows, hanging out appropriately, in swampy areas at the edge of the water. Birds are often habitat dependent and thus the Swamp Sparrow's name.

This is a subtly beautiful sparrow with a strongly marked face, russet wash along flanks and reddish-brown on crown, wings and tail.

Swamp Sparrows are in the genus Melospiza, along with Song and Lincoln's Sparrows. In our new The Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America, in addition to individual thorough species accounts with multiple photos per species, we have colored boxes where we give helpful Identification Tips and an overview for many of the bird families. Look for these in our field guide.

For Sparrows, in the new Stokes guide p. 656, we say,

"Sparrows are small birds with short conical bills and varied-length tails. They are birds of primarily grasslands, fields, and open edges, where they feed mostly on seeds and some insects. Most are brownish with streaked backs, and they can look quite similar. Fortunately there are several large genera that have subtle but distinctive shapes. Becoming familiar with these shapes can help you place an individual sparrow into one of these groups, or genera; then you can look for plumage clues to complete your identification.

Species ID: There are 12 genera of sparrows in North America. Only 5 have 3 or more species, and these are the ones that are most useful to know to use in this generic approach.

* Melospiza: Medium-sized to large sparows with rather average proportions: they are slightly deep-bellied and have a medium-sized bill, rounded crown, and fairly long rounded tail. These sparrows are easily seen in brushy areas and marshes; when flused or curious they tend to fly up to higher perches for long periods and give short alarm calls. Some (Song Sparrow) come regularly to bird feeders. Includes Song, Lincoln's, and Swamp.

Chipping Sparrow, Spizella  passerina, adult summer. Chipping Sparrows come to feeders.

In winter Chipping Sparrows change and look like this. Chipping Sparrows are in the Spizella genus.

* Spizella: Small to medium-sized sparrows with high rounded crown, short conical bill and fairy long notched tail. These are fairly conspicuous sparrows that often feed in flocks on the ground. When disturbed they tend to fly up to higher vegetation and look around. They include Chipping, American Tree, Clay-colored, Brewer's, Field, and Black-chinned Sparrows.

In addition to the above, look for this different sparrow at your feeders,
Fox Sparrow, Passerella iliaca. These are large beautiful sparrows that can be seen in fall and winter at feeders.

Our big national book, The Stokes Field Guide to The Birds Of North America is now available for your convenience in two regional guides that are lighter and more portable. The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Regions recently came out and can be bought at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and your local bookseller. Get them for they contain multiple photos of each species of sparrow and will help you with identifying and and enjoying your sparrows more.
Our brand new guide for beginning and intermediate bird watchers is The Stokes Essential Pocket Guide to the Birds of North America, contains over 580 stunning photos, covers 250 species, and can fit in your pocket!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Super Rare Birds! There's A Gray Kingbird in MA and More!

Gray Kingbird

Rufous Hummingbird 

Western Kingbird

Rare birds are appearing in New England! In MA there's a super rare Gray Kingbird in Hyannis, and possibly 2 Rufous Hummingbirds, one in Andover and one in Westborough. Theres a Western Kingbird on the coast of NH. Birds where they should not be. For the Gray Kingbird there are maybe 3-4 previous records, one from Lynn, Oct. 23, 1869, one from West Newbury, Nov. 22, 1931, one from Martha's Vineyard, Sept. 9, 1988 and possibly one from Concord 1992. (Photos from elsewhere). Gray Kingbirds breed in Florida and may wander in migration along the southeast and Gulf coasts. Western Kingbirds breed mainly in the western part of the country but may wander in migration. Rufous Hummingbirds breed in the Northwest but are showing up with more regularity in fall in the East.



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Fox Sparrows Are Migrating Now, Watch For Them at Feeders!



Fox Sparrow photo taken at in NH

Note rufous color on body and tail


This individual has a prominent breast dot

Migration update - Fox Sparrows are on the move and are being reported from many birding list serves, including those in New England. Look for them at your bird feeders. The birds we see in NH have that wonderful foxy color. Not all subsecies of Fox Sparrow are this rufous, some are considerably darker. (See our newly published The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Regions for complete subspecies and extensive photos.) One of the eastern subspecies of Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca iliaca) is the most rufous. We're always thrilled to get a close look at these large, beautiful sparrows. Look carefully at the sparrows at your feeders and see if you have any Fox Sparrows. They like mixed seed and will often feed on the ground.

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.