For the Birds: Mixed bag of birding news

Sharing some birding news from the area and beyond:

Several readers have responded to last week’s column about bluebirds. The spectacular and adored birds are becoming a common sighting in New Hampshire throughout the winter. Jim from Keene, who also made an appearance in last week’s column, wrote in this week to say he had eight bluebirds congregating around his birdhouse. The birds stayed for about 15 minutes. It was the same birdhouse that was used by bluebirds last year, so hopefully that is a good sign of things to come this spring.

I mentioned last week that eastern bluebirds were the only bluebirds that live in the East. That being said, a mountain bluebird has been seen at Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Newington, as reported on the birding news page of the American Birding Association’s website. As of this writing, the last sighting was reported on February 28. Visit for updates.

Why would a mountain bluebird, a western species, show up on the East Coast? Birds often get lost due to a variety of factors, such as weather, and end up in places where they typically don’t make an appearance. In New England, I’ve seen a painted bunting, fork-tailed flycatcher, brown booby, and other species that are not typically seen here. The Steller’s sea eagle that has been seen off and on in Maine this winter is another example.

Speaking of eagles, the ABA’s birding news web page seems to be filled with bald eagle sightings. I loosely monitor each of the New England states, and birders in each state seem to be reporting bald eagle sightings. Our national symbol has made an incredible comeback and seeing them is always a thrill. It is also nesting season for bald eagles in New England, and many are sitting on eggs already.

Unfortunately, the pathogenic avian influenza H5N1, which is also responsible for soaring egg prices at the grocery store, is taking a toll on bald eagles in the U.S. Several sources, including the Audubon Society and Smithsonian Magazine, are reporting that the bird flu is killing off bald eagles, most notably in Georgia and Florida, and the birth success rate for bald eagles is dropping dramatically in those places.

H5N1 so far has impacted larger birds more than songbirds, but that is little consolation as the National Wildlife Disease Program (operated by the USDA) has detected the virus in about 150 bird species. Ducks, geese, gulls and terns are among those most impacted. Eagles often get the virus by hunting ducks that are infected.

On a brighter note, Mary Lou of Alstead wrote in to say that she has been recording her first red-winged blackbird sighting since 1992. This year, the first one showed up on Valentine’s Day (February 14), the earliest date since she has been keeping track. I had written a few weeks ago that red-winged blackbirds have been arriving particularly early this spring.

In another response to a previous column, Cynde from Jaffrey wrote in with a fun tip for offering water to birds in the winter. I had written that offering water in the winter is important, but heated birdbaths can be pricey and bubbler systems do not always keep the water from freezing. I also mentioned that I often take pots filled with warm water out to the birdbath and repeat several times if necessary.

Cynde suggests using a heated dog bowl with a few rocks in it to make the water more shallow for the birds. Dog bowls are much less expensive than heated birdbaths. Cynde wrote that several birds visit her “birdbath,” including crows and turkeys. She also had four bluebirds at the same time this winter.

Like many of my columns, it always comes back to bluebirds.

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