For the Birds: More on those bluebirds

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern bluebird, Brookfield, CT, fall 2018.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers …

It’s still too early to make any official declarations, but it is looking more and more like the Winter of the Bluebird.

After last week’s hint that it might be heading in that direction I received several more emails from astute birdwatchers finding eastern bluebirds. It’s not that bluebirds are a rare New England winter sighting but it appears that more people than usual are reporting them.

Similar to the American robin, another member of the thrush family, many eastern bluebirds remain with us throughout the winter. The trick is finding them. 

Although I have still been shut out of the bluebird frenzy this winter, many others have written to tell me about their encounters. I appreciate the reports. Keep them coming.

Celia from Keene said there was “no missing the blue” of the bluebirds she saw on the rail trail in her city. She said they were the first ones she had seen during the winter. 

Celia added that bluebirds nested on her property for the first time last summer. The way she described it explains in a nutshell why I love New England so much: “We put a bluebird house up in our yard overlooking the pumpkin patch …” Who else but a New Englander could start a sentence that way?

Elena from Winchester reported that a friend of hers saw a large flock of bluebirds near the Connecticut River in the Hinsdale area. Elena, like me, has been shut out of the bluebird party this winter so far, but she did report that a small flock of red-winged blackbirds continues to eat suet and sunflower seeders from her feeders.

Marie Anne from Guilford has had bluebirds visit her backyard for the past seven winters. She has had as many as eight but this year she has four “cranky little guys arguing over the mealworm feeder.”

“Their winter presence brings me as much peace and joy as their sweet complaints do during the gardening season,” she wrote.

Last but not least, Andrew wrote to let me know that bluebirds were at Brentwood Golf Course in Keene last week. I didn’t save this sighting for last because I’m going to make a birdie joke, I’ll spare you that much, but it’s a good segue into how to find bluebirds in the winter.

Just like in the spring and summer, bluebirds are most often seen in open spaces in the winter. Golf courses and cemeteries are good places to look. For whatever reason, I’ve always had good luck finding bluebirds around playgrounds in the winter. My yard backs up to thick woods and I’ve seen them in the trees on the edge, but never very deep in the woods. 

Bluebirds are a good conservation success story. Changing landscape (fields and farms to woods) and competition for nest cavities from house sparrows and starlings depleted the bluebird population in the early 20th century. Conservation efforts and manmade bluebird boxes, thankfully, led to a strong rebound for the iconic species.

And thankfully, many of them stick with us throughout the winter. There’s nothing like seeing that bright baby blue color against the backdrop of freshly fallen snow. Well, except for maybe the red of a male cardinal against snow. Tough call.

Chris Bosak may be reached at or through his website

For the Birds: Winter of the Bluebird brewing?

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern bluebird scans a yard in Danbury, CT, March 2019.

I thought it was going to be the winter of the junco again, but it’s looking more and more like the winter of the bluebird.

Last year was the winter of the barred owl. As you recall, barred owls were being seen in great numbers all throughout New England. Experts had conflicting theories on why so many of these beautiful owls were being seen, but there is no denying that more than usual were found. On one trip to visit my brother in upstate New York, I found two barred owls. The second owl was perched atop a Welcome to New York sign on the Vermont border.

Several years ago, Christmas Bird Count results were teeming with huge dark-eyed junco numbers. Whereas there are usually hundreds of juncos in a particular count area, there were thousands that year. I dubbed it the winter of the junco and have been on the lookout for similar anecdotal phenomena since then.

Who can forget the winter of the snowy owl a few years back? I can recall robins and pine siskins being highlighted in previous winters.

As I drive to work every day, one stretch of a particular road often has a large flock of juncos. They scatter as I drive by; their white-outlined tails giving away their identity. I had seen several other large flocks of juncos in other areas so I was convinced it was going to be another banner year for the small sparrows.

As the winter progresses, however, I’ve seen fewer juncos. Meanwhile, my inbox has been lighting up with people seeing eastern bluebirds throughout New England. Personally, I haven’t seen many bluebirds this winter, but a lot of people have, that’s for sure.

Bluebirds are not a rarity for a New England winter. They are not common by any means in the winter, but a certain number each year brave our coldest seasons. I remember when I was looking to purchase a house about five years ago. It was early March and as we pulled into one particular driveway, a small group of bluebirds was resting on a blanket of fresh snow on a bush along the driveway. I ended up buying the house.

I’ve heard from several readers about their eastern bluebird sightings this winter. Marge from Sullivan wrote to say she had several bluebirds at her suet feeder one morning. Raynee from Walpole sent in a photo of a bluebird inspecting a birdhouse in her backyard. She mentioned she does not have nesting bluebirds. It could be that the bluebird was looking for suitable respite from the cold. Jane from Marlborough had a pair of bluebirds visit her feeders a few weeks ago. She sees them in the summer but can’t recall ever seeing them in the winter before.

What about you? Can you confirm more bluebird sightings or is there another surprise visitor in your yard? Drop me a line and let me know.

Susan Stevens of Portsmouth NH, took this photo of a group of Eastern Bluebirds eating hulled sunflower seeds at her window feeder in March 2015. She said the bluebirds also eat suet.
Susan Stevens of Portsmouth NH, took this photo of a group of Eastern Bluebirds eating hulled sunflower seeds at her window feeder in March 2015. She said the bluebirds also eat suet.

Camera at the ready

Photo by Chris Bosak An American robin eats berries from a cedar tree in New Canaan, CT, December 2019.

Any photographer, regardless of subject interest or specialty, will tell you about the importance of always having your camera handy because you never know when those special moments will happen. I rarely follow that advice, truth be told, even though I’ve preached that advice many times. I did, however, happen to have my camera handy at work the other day when a flock of robins gathered in a cedar tree to pick at the small, blue berries. Maybe this will be the impetus for me to have my camera at the ready more often. Time will tell.

Photo by Chris Bosak An American robin eats berries
from a cedar tree in New Canaan, CT, December 2019.

For the Birds: New Year's birding resolutions

Photo by Chris Bosak
Blue-headed vireo, Pillsbury State Park, N.H., June 2019.

Last year at this time I wrote about my New Year’s resolutions to help birds. They largely focused on citizen science projects I would either undertake for the first time or continue to be involved in.

Looking back, I could say that I did fairly well with my resolutions. Some of them, however, like most resolutions, just never came to fruition.

I did participate in a number of citizen science projects. I have done the Christmas Bird Count and the Great Backyard Bird Count for many years continuously. This past year was no exception.

Also, last year was the second year of the three-year Connecticut Breeding Bird Atlas, an ambitious project to document what birds are breeding in that state. I have an adopted area and look forward to this spring to add to my breeding bird list. I also beefed up this past year my contributions to eBird, a free app in which all reported sightings are entered into a massive database.

I fell short in a few areas. I never did take the steps to join Project FeederWatch, which I had vowed to do. Maybe this year.

I will take a slightly different approach to my bird New Year’s resolutions this year. I will continue to do the citizen science projects, of course, but will also add some resolutions of a different sort.

I have been thinking about and being encouraged to write a book or two about my birding adventures. I haven’t done so after all these years because I wasn’t sure how to go about it or even how to take the first step. Well, like anything, the first step is committing to doing it and getting started, no matter if it’s the right place to start or not. So this year I resolve to take that first step.

I also want to expand my birding network throughout New England. I have many friends in the birding community and it is a community that is open and very willing to share knowledge. This year, I hope to attend more birding events, go on more bird walks in the company of others, and visit some places I haven’t been to yet.

Many years ago, I made a resolution to learn a few new bird songs. It was so many years ago that I can’t remember if I actually did learn anything new that year or not. At any rate, I’m going to repeat that resolution. I can recognize many bird songs and calls, but there are plenty more to commit to memory. I am reminded of that every spring when the warblers and vireos start singing from the leafy trees.

Speaking of vireos … my final resolution is to learn that family of birds better. Vireos are small, migratory songbirds that return to us every spring. They are typically less colorful than warblers and hang out in the tops of trees. They do have distinctive songs that can give away their identification and I plan to learn a few more this year. I know a few of the vireos pretty well, but there are at least six that inhabit New England during the spring and summer. Now about those flycatchers …

What about you? Do you have any bird or nature-related resolutions? Drop me a line and let me know.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Blue-headed Vireo perches in a tree at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods on Sunday, May 4, 2014.

One final 2019 birding highlight

Photo by Chris Bosak
A rose-breasted grosbeak eats safflower seeds from a feeder in Danbury, Conn., May 2019.

I promise, here’s the last 2019 birding highlight that didn’t make my Top 10 list. This usually does make my yearly Top 10 list, but other highlights nudged it out this year. Last year was another great year of feeding birds and watching birds in my back yard proved to be a highlight once again. So here’s to those backyard feeder birds. OK, now on to 2020.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A blue jay checks out a box for peanuts in New England, fall 2019.

Another 2019 birding highlight left off the list

Photo by Chris Bosak A young pileated woodpecker knocks on a fallen tree trunk as it looks for insects, Danbury, Conn., summer 2019.

I couldn’t let this 2019 birding highlight go unrecognized. I, like everyone else, love any pileated woodpecker sighting. This sighting was in my backyard and featured a male adult teaching a young pileated how to look for food. Here’s the original post with more information.

Here’s the link to my 2019 top 10 list.

Photo by Chris Bosak A pileated woodpecker feeds a youngster, Danbury, Conn., summer 2019.