New feeders bring in the birds

Photo by Chris Bosak – A cardinal visits a domed platform feeder by Kingsyard.

I recently received two Kingsyard brand feeders, and they are bringing in the birds at a pretty good clip. I like the platform feeder (seen above) for its partial dome cover. The cover keeps the rain out of the tray, which was a problem I had with my previous platform feeder. Birds don’t like wet, soggy seeds.

The other feeder is shaped like a house and looks nice hanging on the hook whether there are birds on it or not. Of course, it looks better when birds are on it. I also like that it has three separate chambers for the food so you can offer a mix of seeds and other foods, such as mealworms.

I’m looking forward to seeing what birds will show up over the course of the winter. #kingsyard

Photo by Chris Bosak – A tufted titmouse visits a feeder by Kingsyard.

For the Birds: A different kind of ‘feeder’ bird

I walked across the living room toward the large window that offers a view of the bird-feeding station and birdbath. I stopped dead in my tracks as a bird much larger than I expected to see was perched on the side of the birdbath.

Wisely, all of the other birds were nowhere to be seen. 

It was a Copper’s hawk, one of the hawks in New England that commonly preys on small feeder birds. The large bird of prey had no interest in the birdbath’s water — either for drinking or cleaning. It was simply using the structure as a perch to get a better look at the feeders and nearby bushes. It hopped off the birdbath and onto a hemlock branch I had discarded to give the feeder birds a place to hide. After peering through the underbrush and finding nothing, the hawk flew off.

Known as accipiters, Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks often hunt around feeders looking for an easy meal. The two accipiters are look-alikes and cause much confusion, even among experienced birders. In general, Cooper’s hawks are larger than sharp-shinned hawks, but size is not a great differentiator as female sharp-shinned hawks can be about as large as a male Cooper’s hawk. Remember, females are usually larger than males when it comes to birds of prey.

Both accipiters are blue-gray above with dark orange horizontal streaks, or bars, on the breast, and red eyes. Immature birds of both species are dark brown above with light brown streaking on buff-colored breasts. Their eyes are yellow. 

The northern goshawk is also an accipiter but is not seen as often and is larger and bulkier than the other two species. For some context, red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks and broad-winged hawks are members of the buteo family. They typically do not hunt around bird feeders.

The Cooper’s hawk I saw the other day on the birdbath was an immature bird. Of all the accipiters I’ve seen in my time outdoors and looking out at bird feeders, the vast majority have been immature birds. I’d say over 90 percent. It takes about two years for Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks to gain their full adult plumage. Either they are smart enough to not be seen by then, or many perish before reaching maturity.

I’ve had several memorable sightings of accipiters. There was the Christmas morning years ago when a Copper’s hawk devoured a mourning dove right on the other side of the sliding glass doors. Kids opening presents on one side of the door and nature on full display on the other. Then there was the time I drove home from work in a snowstorm and saw a Cooper’s hawk tearing apart a gray squirrel in the yard.

While most of my accipiter sightings have come in suburban settings, my most memorable sighting happened in a remote area of New Hampshire near the Canadian border. I was walking through a trail-less section of woods that had been clear-cut a number of years prior. The new pines were about 15 to 20 feet tall. I was looking for moose and, indeed, had found a cow and calf on that walk. I also heard a pack of coyotes not far off chasing and attacking an unfortunate animal.

I was observing a boreal chickadee in a pine when I glanced at the ground ahead of me. An immature Cooper’s hawk sat on the end of a fallen branch. The bird’s piercing yellow eyes stared right at me. With my suburban sightings, I feel as if I’m on my own turf. This time, I felt as if I was in its territory. The moose’s territory. The coyotes’ territory. It was a great feeling.

For the Birds: Blue jays and special memories

Photo by Chris Bosak A blue jay perches on a log and grabs a peanut in New England, October 2020.

I settled on the back porch of my brother’s house in western Pennsylvania and watched the blue jays hunt for acorns in an oak tree. 

Before I get into that, I wanted to acknowledge how exceptional the fall foliage has been this year. The conditions must have been just right. Oaks can sometimes go from green to burnt orange to brown quickly. This oak, and many others I’ve seen this fall, are a much brighter orange and the color is lingering longer before turning brown.

The blue jays would fly in from the surrounding areas and alight in this spectacular oak tree. The birds disappeared into the bright orange foliage and work at dislodging acorns. I couldn’t see the jays at work but the rustling of the leaves and branches let me know where they were.

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Cardinal plumages

Photo by Chris Bosak – A male cardinal visits a backyard in New England, fall 2022.

As a follow-up to my recent post on cardinals, here is a look at a male cardinal, female cardinal and immature cardinal. Note the brighter bill of the adult female cardinal compared to the young bird. Here is the original post.

Photo by Chris Bosak — A female cardinal visits a backyard in New England, fall 2022.
Photo by Chris Bosak – An immature cardinal visits a backyard in New England, fall 2022.

For the Birds: Cardinals provide the entertainment

Photo by Chris Bosak – An immature cardinal perches in a bush next to a feeder.

My intermittent foot problems have kept me grounded for the most part over the last few weeks, so I have relied heavily on my backyard birds to keep me entertained.

Thankfully, it is a great time of year to watch birds in the backyard. Just as fall migration brings many birds to our parks and open spaces, they also bring plenty of birds to the backyard.

In addition to the common feeder birds, I have seen a few surprises either at the feeder or among the bushes near the feeder. One day I was sitting outside working when a ruby-crowned kinglet flew right past my face and landed in a bush about five feet away from me. Like most kinglets, it did not sit still for very long and hopped around the branches before disappearing in a matter of seconds. It was a nice little visit anyway.

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For the Birds: The magic of fall in New England

Photo by Chris Bosak A palm warbler stands on a stone wall in New England, October 2021.

People love fall for a variety of reasons.

Cooler temperatures, Halloween decorations, fall foliage, football, and, of course, pumpkin spice. Everybody claims to hate pumpkin spice, but they wouldn’t make it if people weren’t buying it.

For me, I love fall for the bird migration – obviously. I particularly like finding fall warblers. It is especially rewarding when I stumble across a small flock of fall warblers.

Palm warblers and yellow-rumped warblers are the prime candidates to find in small flocks. Such was the case the other day when I found a group of about a dozen palm warblers eating seeds from the dying weeds and flowers in a meadow.

Large flocks of yellow-rumped warblers are fairly common to come across as well. Just be on the lookout as you never played know where you will find them. I have usually found them eating small berries of some sort.

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For the Birds: Oh yeah, it’s not a gray jay anymore

Photo by Chris Bosak A Canada jay perches in a tree in Pittsburg, N.H., November 2018.

While on my unsuccessful moose search in northern Maine recently, I came across a bird found only in points north of middle New England. 

I knew what it was and launched the field guide app on my phone to gather a little information on the species.

To my surprise, nothing showed up when I searched for the bird.

“How could that be?“ I asked myself. “I know what bird it is and I know what it’s called. Why would it not show up on a search in a field guide to North American birds?”

Then it hit me. I was searching the wrong name. The gray jay is no longer called the gray jay. It is back to being the Canada jay. It had formerly been known as the Canada jay, got switched to gray Jay, and in 2018, got changed back to Canada jay. I had known this before, and even mentioned it in a previous bird column, but had totally forgotten while I was in the field at that moment.

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For the Birds: Flickers everywhere up north

My destination was the northern part of Maine. I’m talking way north. Get to Baxter State Park and keep going for several more hours.

I drove pretty much through the night to get there. I took a few half-hour breaks to sleep and then continued on my way. I have been to northern New Hampshire dozens of times, and I have been to the middle of Maine many times. I’ve always wanted to see what Aroostook County was all about so I took the opportunity to head up there and finally see for myself.

I settled at the border town of Fort Kent where only the St. John River separates the U.S. from Canada. 

Wildlife, of course, was the driving force behind the decision to drive up there. The boreal forest, to me anyway, is a magical place filled with so many interesting creatures. Moose are my favorite creatures, but things like lynx, loons, eagles, grouse, boreal chickadees, Canada jays, and other specialty species unique through the habitat are also a draw.

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