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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Prime Time For Hawk Migration watching is now! Here's How!

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.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

When to Take down Hummingbird Feeders!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at feeder

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Salvia "Black and Blue" flowers


Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Salvia "Lady in Red" flowers.

Conventional wisdom says hummingbirds will not be detained by feeders, they know when to go. A hummingbird's migration urge is triggered by hormonal changes that respond to decreasing day length. But you still need to determine when to stop filling the feeders and take them down.

When and if you remove feeders depends on where you live in the country. If you live on the West Coast, Anna's Hummingbird can be found all year. There are places in the Southwest and along the Mexican border where a few species of hummers can be found in winter.  If you live in the northern part of the country, such as here in NH, the vast majority of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are gone by the middle of Oct. If you live in some of the states in the middle section of the country, such as Kentucky, most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have gone through by the end of Oct. If you live in the Southeast in a place like Florida you could possibly have overwintering Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. In addition a number of western species of hummingbirds such as Rufous, Broad-tailed, and Calliope Hummingbirds might show up.

Interestingly there seems to be an increasing trend in western hummingbird species, such as Rufous and Allen's Hummingbirds and others, showing up outside of their normal range in fall in eastern states. NH has had a Rufous Hummingbird in 2007, 2009 and Oct. 2015 and a Calliope Hummingbird in 2013. They came to feeders but disappeared in the winter.

One of the issues of attempting to host an unusual hummingbird in areas that experience cold and harsh winters is the commitment it takes and the uncertain outcome. A standard hummingbird nectar solution of one part sugar to 4 parts water will freeze below 27 degrees. People go to lengths to warm the nectar such as attaching a flood lamp in a clamp-on reflector a few feet from the feeder, or hanging a low watt heat lamp rigged in an outdoor hanging fixture, but that will only keep the nectar unfrozen to near zero degrees. Last winter NH saw weather below zero. Remember to always keep your hummingbird feeders clean and fresh, mold can grow easily in them if you do not clean them every several days.

Our answer as to when we take the hummingbird feeders down here in NH is that we take our feeders down at the first hard frost. At that point our many hummingbird attractant flowers, such as red Salvia, succumb to the cold, and the hummingbirds are essentially gone from here.

A great place to see which and when hummingbird species are seen in your area, and to report your sightings, is the ebird website. Look under "explore data.

Here are a few photos of rare hummingbirds that have shown up in our state of NH.

This celebrity bird is a a little Calliope Hummingbird, male, a bird from the Northwest who strayed far from his usual range and migration route in Nov. 2013. He came to a feeder in Manchester, NH at the home of some very gracious birders who allowed many birders to view this hummingbird, a lifer for many! This was not the first time a Calliope Hummingbird had shown up in New England and there are records from other eastern states also. Calliopes also been reported from MA and NJ. It seems like more and more out-of-range hummingbirds are showing up in the East in fall at feeders. No one knows exactly why this occurs. Some birds' internal compasses may just direct them east instead of south. Over time that species may have a range expansion if those individuals survive and have offspring. Other people think that having more hummingbird feeders available and hardy plants in a human altered landscape may make it possible for some of these hummingbirds to be in the East in fall and winter.

The above photo is a Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorous rufous) visiting a feeder in Hollis, NH in Oct. 2009. This is a very unusual hummingbird for here. One was last reported in NH in 2007. The Rufous Hummingbird is a western species whose breeding range goes as far up as Alaska. Increasingly, Rufous Hummingbirds are showing up in fall in the eastern half of the country. This hummingbird was banded over the weekend and the bander reported it as a hatching year Rufous Hummingbird, sex could not be determined. Identification of female and immature hummingbirds can be tricky, especially telling Rufous from Allen's Hummingbirds. Sometimes only banders, holding them in hand, can tell them apart by subtle differences in the shape of the tail feathers and even then sometimes it is not possible to definitively tell their sex. The above photo shows the extensive rufous on the sides and rufous on the tail feathers.

The throat has lines of small marks, with a number of larger marks (looking dark because the sun is not hitting them) concentrated in the center and going out to the sides of the throat. Usually the immature female rufous has smaller and fewer throat marks, occasionally with a few larger iridescent marks confined to the center of throat.

The back shows little rufous coloring on this bird. Some immature male Rufous Hummingbirds can show more rufous back coloring, especially later in winter. Adult male Rufous Hummingbirds often have extensive rufous on their backs and their throats.

Good luck with your hummingbirds.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Fledgling Birds, What You Should Know

Baby American Robins about to fledge and leave the nest.

This is a very busy time of year for birds. They have nested and now many have fledglings that are out of the nest. In many cases, fledglings birds are fed by their parents for another several weeks - college age, we jokingly call it, "out of the nest but still dependent on the parents". The fledglings must learn how to feed themselves and how to avoid danger.

This photo was taken of robins in a nest over our front door. They were just about to leave the nest. The next day they were gone. We spied one of them in the middle of our driveway, then a parent robin came and fed it then it followed the parent into the woods to safer place as it could only fly a very short distance. In several days it will develop better flying skills.

So many times fledglings like this are scooped up by well-meaning people, convinced the fledgling has been adandoned. What a tragedy. If only they knew how to back up and observe from a distance, keep kids and cats indoors, and let the parents care for the fledgling and lead it to cover.



By the way, if you ever do find a truly abandoned fledgling or nestling, (confirmed by observing it for quite a while to be sure no parent is involved), you should know it is not legal for you to keep and raise a native bird. Bring the fledgling to a licensed bird rehabilitator.

Eastern Bluebird, male fledgling,  being fed at our mealworm feeder by his mother

With birds that nest in bird houses, such as bluebirds and Tree Swallows, the fledglings from the get go are better flyers than the young of birds who nest in open cups. Tree Swallows fly very well when they leave the box and are hardly fed at all by the parents, as they can catch food on their own. Bluebirds can fly somewhat when they leave the next box, usually enough to make it to the safety of trees. They are then fed for several weeks by the parents. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Go For The Gold! Attracting Goldfinches!

American Goldfinch, male, eating Purple Coneflower seeds

American Goldfinch with fledgling

Fledgling getting fed

This is the time of year our American Goldfinches are in their brightest colors. They flock to our Purple Coneflower when it starts to go to seed. Above is one very enterprising fledgling goldfinch who landed on the Purple Coneflower, begged from its father, and was rewarded with coneflower seeds fed by its dad.

American Goldfinches are late nesters. When the young have left the nest they will continue to be fed by their parents for a variable amount of time, which can be up to a month. Listen for their distinctive "chipee, chipee, chipee" calls. Eventually they will learn to feed themselves and we will see young goldfinches helping themselves to the seeds of coneflower and some of the other flowers in our garden. Purple Coneflower is such an attractive plant. We enjoy the flowers and then the goldfinches relish the seeds — win-win!

We plant our extensive gardens with many plants and flowers to attract birds. In late summer goldfinches eat the seeds of Purple Coneflower, Verbena bonariensis, rudbeckias, and sunflowers. Later they will feast on the seed heads of Joe-Pye Weed and asters.

Gardening Tip: To attract more birds leave up the seed heads of your flowers! This will attract finches and sparrows such as Chipping, Song, White-troated, and White-crowned Sparrows. Enjoy!!

Goldfinches also come to special finch feeders filled with Nyjer/thistle as well as sunflower feeders. In winter they lose their bright yellow color and turn a drab brown, molting back to bright yellow in spring.

For more ideas on bird-friendly plants see our Stokes Bird Gardening Book.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Happy 4th of July, Red, White and Blue Birds!

Happy 4th of July!!! Red, White and Blue Birds


Northern Cardinal

Great Egret

Indigo Bunting


Eastern Bluebird, male

Flowers from our garden

Here are some red, white and blue birds plus an Eastern Bluebird, male, that gets our vote for most patriotic bird as he has the combined colors in his plumage. Happy Fourth of July! Hope you have a great holiday and see some red, white and blue birds!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Eastern Kingbirds are too (two) tyrannical!


Eastern Kingbirds nest on the pond by our home.


They are large, dark flycatchers, note the white tip to their tail.


Mrs. Kingbird was incubating eggs in her nest built in a Buttonbush, right over the water.

While canoeing on our pond recently we came across nesting Eastern Kingbirds. They had built their nest in a Buttonbush shrub at the very edge of the water. Canoeists and fishermen passed by all day and the birds did not seem to mind. Kingbirds are cool birds and we love that several pairs nest on the pond in front of our home.

Eastern Kingbirds are large flycatchers, darting out from perches to catch insects. They breed in open areas, often near water, across the East and much of the West. Kingbirds have a territory of about an acre and will chase out larger birds, with the kingbirds diving at their back and chasing them much farther than the territorial boundary. We see this all the time. You don't want to mess with a kingbird, if you're another bird. The scientific name of Eastern Kingbird is Tyrannus tyrannus, so the joke goes that kingbirds are too tyrannical (two tyrannical).
Look for them when you go swimming, or boating this summer.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Happy Father's Day!

Hairy Woodpecker male, feeding his fledgling.

Happy Father's Day to all you Dads!
Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Butterflies for Birders, Learn More!

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. Check with your local nature society to see which butterfly plants are not invasive in your area. Here's a Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly on butterfly bush.


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.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Provide for Breeding Birds!

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, female, comes frequently to feeder, she may be breeding nearby.

Hairy Woodpecker, male (right) taking hulled sunflower back to his nest to feed young. Mr. Cardinal comes for a seed and feeds Mrs. Cardinal as part of courtship and breeding.

Cosy pair of Gray Catbirds, who love the oranges! We have 2 pairs of nesting Catbirds.

View of part of the hayfield.

We have Bobolinks nesting in our fields and make sure our farmer does not hay the field until late August, after all the Bobolinks have fledged.

We have 15 nesting pairs of Tree Swallows in the bird houses we provide. That's great, as this is a declining species near us.

Lots going on here at Bobolink Farm, our NH home. We feel like bird farmers. Breeding birds are everywhere, with many taking advantage of the habitat we have created, our bird feeders and bird houses. It's a great time of year to sit on our deck and watch the show around us. So many baby birds in the works. It gives us great pleasure to know we are helping so many birds, especially since many of these birds, such as Bobolinks, continue to have population declines due to lack of suitable habitat.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Can't Get Enough of Them!

Beautiful Rose-breasted Grosbeak, male, at our feeder

The shape of the red bib of the male can vary, 

making it possible to individually identify them.


Female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are more subtly colored.

Here's another example of a female.

Here's a 1st-winter male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. He looks much like the female but with a variable rosy wash on the breast. The 1st-winter female looks much like the adult female.

Can one get enough of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks? I think not. We celebrate their arrival each spring. They're strikingly gorgeous. We're lucky because we have them visiting our feeders regularly. They must be nesting nearby, although we do not know exactly where. Maybe they will bring the fledglings to the feeder as they have done in the past.
The male's plumage is so striking with the dramatic red on the white breast. One of the things we look at is the red bib of red on the male. It is a slightly different shape for each bird, making it possible to often recognize individuals. The female is not as knock-your-socks-off brilliantly colored as the male. Then again, he does not have to sit on the nest, as she does, a sitting duck for any predator. So, for her, it's much better to have subtle, more camouflaged colors. The young male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at first looks like the adult female but with a rosy wash on his breast. Eventually he will acquire the plumage of the adult male.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks breed in the upper quadrant of the eastern half of the U.S. and much of Canada and winter south of the U.S., so many people may see them during migration in many parts of the country. Attract them to your feeders with black oil sunflower seed, in the shell or shell less, their favorite. Make sure that feeders have a ledge or wide enough perching area for them to land. Enjoy your weekend, hope you see some Rose-breasted Grosbeaks!