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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.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Evening Grosbeaks Heading Your Way!


We keep telling you the big news in birding circles is this is going to be a big irruptive year for winter finches and others. See the Winter Finch Forecast http://jeaniron.ca/2018/wff18.htm
It's true for Evening Grosbeaks who are now being seen in NH. These birds only show up certain years when their northern winter range food crops are low. These two female Evening Grosbeaks were enjoying the sunflower seed, their favorite. Look how they dwarf the goldfinches feeding with them!
Keep a look out and your feeders well stocked with sunflower and perching room and you may see Evening Grosbeaks as well as Pine Siskins, Purple Finches and more.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Ruby-crowned Kinglets Migrating Now! Look for Them!


We're seeing a lot of Ruby-crowned Kinglets migrating through here right now. They're a cute, very small bird, as hyper as a warbler on caffeine, and give a little, high-pitched call. Note the yellow-greenish color on the edges of the wing feathers. We see them flitting along the woodland edges here. Yesterday we saw one come to our window and pick some insects off, what a treat!

They really do have a ruby crown, but they keep it mostly hidden. When alarmed they can raise their head feathers and show the ruby. They may give a  harsh chidit call or ch'ch'ch'ch. Look for them now in woods, or in your yard, they're a treat, not a trick.

Monday, October 08, 2018

How To ID Sparrows At Your Bird Feeder!


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 book, The Stokes Field Guide to The Birds Of North American 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 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 that was just published yesterday 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!

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Rare Rufous Hummingbird in New England!

Rufous Hummingbird, seen at a feeder in NH.

Note the notch in the outer edge of the tail feather closest to the central tail feathers (called r2). This clue can help distinguish juvenile and female Rufous Hummingbirds from female and juvenile Allen's Hummingbirds. In this case there is a noticeable notch. Note also the two central tail feathers have extensive rufous with greenish tips.

Here is another view of the tail. The bird was also coming to a planter of impatiens flowers on the deck.

The throat is heavily marked with dark streaks and several lower central orange-reddish feathers.


Some of the head feathers have buffy edges.

In bright light the mirror-like central throat feathers look almost copper colored.

Here is (left to right) Don, birder Kathy who came with her birder/photographer husband, Steve, who took this photo, gracious hosts Stu and Mary who had this wonderful hummingbird coming to their deck feeder, and me.
The following account is from Oct. 2, 2015 but a rare hummingbird like this could show up anytime this fall so be on the lookout.

This Rufous Hummingbird has been coming to a feeder in central NH; a rare event, as this is a western species of hummingbird whose breeding range goes as far up as Alaska. Rufous Hummingbirds have shown up in NH before (including in 2009 and 2007) and the trend is for them increasingly showing up in the eastern half of the country in fall. Adult male Rufous Hummingbirds have extensive rufous orange on their throats and backs. Females and immatures have streaked throats with variable amounts of orange and are more difficult to distinguish from similar looking Allen's Hummingbirds.

From our book, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America,
Rufous Hummingbird, "F. iridescent green above, below, orangish-brown flanks, white forecollar and central belly; throat finely streaked with bronze or green dots, often with irregular central orange-red blotch; tail with extensive orangish brown at base... Nearly identical in the field to f. Allen's and cannot be distinguished except by hard-to-see shapes of individual tail feathers. In f. Rufous, next-to-central tail feathers slightly notched on inner web, and outer tail feathers nearly as broad as adjacent ones. In similar f. Allen's, next-to-central tail feathers generally untouched, and outermost tail feather narrower than in Rufous, but difference slight. Juv. (Jun-Nov.) Like ad. f. but juv. f. may have whitish throat with few markings; juv. m. may have more heavily marked throat with larger iridescent reddish spots. Complete molt into ad. plumage occurs Sep.-Mar."

Thanks to the wonders of high speed digital cameras, I was able to capture details of the tail and plumage of this bird. The noticeable notch in the r2 tail feather is similar to the description and diagram in Pyle's "Identification Guide to North American Birds" (a manual used by bird banders) for a juvenile male Rufous Hummingbird; the juvenile female averages less of a notch. The juvenile male has the two central tail feathers "narrower and with substantial rufous at the base" the juvenile female has the two central tail feathers "broader and primarily green, without rufous or with some rufous at the base." The adult female has two central tail feathers with "greater amounts of rufous but less than in males." According to aging the Rufous Hummingbird in Pyle, the juvenile has a "crown with distinct, cinnamon edging." So basically the preponderance of clues point to this being a juvenile male Rufous Hummingbird.

Photos of mine and others are being sent to hummingbird banders for further confirmation.

We had a great time seeing and photographing this marvelous little bird and Mary and Stu were so generous to let birders visit! Thank you!