For the Birds: Spring around the region

Photo by Chris Bosak A Brown Creeper finds food at the base of a tree during a cold snap in February 2016, Danbury, Connecticut.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Brown Creeper finds food at the base of a tree.

Spring has all but kicked winter to the curb for this year, but it is always interesting when winter hangs on as long as possible.

Based on my observations, and many recent emails I have received, winter is making its last gasp. The air is filled with the sounds of spring. I can’t go anywhere without hearing chipping sparrows and cardinals singing their hearts out. That is a good thing, of course. The most telling signs that spring is here are the nests being built and even the baby birds that have hatched already.

My last few walks, however, have also included juncos and white-throated sparrows, birds we usually associate with winter. I went for a bird walk the other day and, because I was planning to submit the results to eBird, I kept track of the number of species I saw and heard. I ended up with 32 species, and it was a fantastic mix of spring birds, winter birds and year-round birds.

The winter birds included the aforementioned white-throated sparrows and juncos, but also featured brown creeper and ruby-crowned kinglet. The spring birds included palm warbler, pine warbler, yellow-rumped, warbler, Louisiana waterthrush and eastern towhee. Soon, it will be only spring birds, and many of them, and year-round birds. 

Here are some other observations from readers around the state:

David, who splits his time between New Hampshire and Connecticut, noted that the loons had returned to the local lakes around Washington, N.H., a few weeks ago, even before the ice had fully melted. He enjoyed hearing the first loon calls of the year one morning at sunrise.

Any time spent outdoors is an opportunity for a good nature sighting. Kevin in Massachusetts was clearing brush in his yard when he noticed a pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers drilling holes in a tree a few feet off the ground. Kevin watched and took a few photos as the birds drank the sap running down the tree. Check out one of the photos in the “Reader Submitted Photos” section at

Bruce from Swanzey sent in some great photos of purple finches at his feeders. Purple finches, the state bird of New Hampshire, are often confused with house finches, a western U.S. transplant whose population has burgeoned over the last several decades. Purple finches are slightly larger with a thicker bill. Males are more rosy in color and the coloration is more prevalent than the red on a house finch. One of Bruce’s photos may be found at the above website as well.

Connie from the Lakes Region saw eastern phoebes, tree swallows and song sparrows one recent morning. The tree swallows, as swallows are wont to do, dive-bombed her as she unknowingly walked in the vicinity of their nest. She also had good luck scanning Lake Winnipesaukee and spotted common and hooded mergansers, wood ducks and scaup.

John and Joanne from Dover, as well as Michelle from Moultonborough, were visited by huge flocks of grackles in recent weeks. They wondered how to discourage the birds from cleaning out their feeders. A giant flock of grackles can wipe out an entire stash of food in no time.

Here are a few things to try if grackles are dominating your feeders and keeping the smaller birds away. Use thistle and safflower seeds. Thistle is too small for the grackles to manipulate and safflower is typically not a favorite of grackles. Goldfinches, chickadees and other small birds will eat thistle and cardinals and grosbeaks will eat safflower. Use a cage feeder for suet. Most birds can hang onto the cage and eat the suet, but grackles have a tough time with it. Try feeders with small or no perches, or feeders that are surrounded by a cage.

While it can be frustrating to go through so much seed in such a short time and have the smaller birds shut out of the feast, grackles typically do not stay long before moving along and continuing their journey. I have enjoyed the few times dozens, or maybe even hundreds, of grackles have invaded my yard. It’s a unique and memorable scene. Of course, they’ve always been gone by the next day, so I’ve never had to keep them fed for very long.

Grackles and many other birds form big flocks for a few reasons, the main ones being protection and finding food. Whether awake or roosting for the night, strength in numbers holds true when it comes to protecting the flock from predators such as hawks or owls.

Welcome to spring migration. Let me know what you see out there.

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