For the Birds: Readers take over again

Photo by Chris Bosak A scarlet tanager perches in an oak tree in Danbury, Conn., spring 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A scarlet tanager perches in an oak tree in Danbury, Conn., spring 2018.

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

The colors just keep on coming this spring.

I’ve been lucky enough to see two indigo buntings, three rose-breasted grosbeaks (although two were males fighting each other), a scarlet tanager, at least three Baltimore orioles, a pair of ruby-throated hummingbirds and a handful of warblers in my yard so far this spring. It’s been a welcomed color bonanza after a long winter.

Now that Memorial Day has passed and we are unofficially in summer, let’s look at what some readers have seen.

Carol from the Monadnock Region sent a photo of an oddly colored hairy woodpecker. Instead of the traditional white and black, this one was black and yellowish brown. A reader from Connecticut sent me a similar photo a few years ago.

My guess is that it is a normal hairy woodpecker with a pigment abnormality. Pigment abnormalities show up in birds every so often, such as orange house finches or white robins. Leucism and albinoism are extreme forms of pigment abnormalities, but more subtle color variations occur.

Don watched as an eagle eyed a pair of common mergansers on Granite Lake. He wondered if the eagle would try to take one of the ducks, but a loud noise distracted the eagle and it flew off. Eagles, which often scavenge for food, can take birds as big as common mergansers.

Norma from Spofford had an indigo bunting visit her feeders this spring. She has been in Spofford for nearly 40 years and has seen buntings only a handful of times.

It’s also been a colorful spring for Lenny of Greenfield, who has seen orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks and cardinals. A special treat was seeing the oriole and grosbeak at the feeder at the same time.

Dean in Marlborough reported visits from pileated woodpeckers, indigo buntings, cardinals and eastern bluebirds. Another colorful yard in the Monadnock Region.

Lida from Harrisville had a male and female oriole come to her table to feast on oranges. Another reader suggested using grape jelly to attract orioles.

I tried to attract orioles with both oranges and grape jelly this spring, to no avail.

Eric in Surry noticed the usual changing of the guard for ground-feeders as the juncos left and chipping sparrows arrived, with about a two-week overlap. He has also noticed a few warbler species, including a pine warbler carrying nesting material. The material was hair he leaves out for the birds after brushing his dog. He has also seen chickadees, phoebes and nuthatches grab some of the hair.

He had another interesting bird sighting this spring; shortly after filling in small holes in his yard, a Cooper’s hawk swooped in to grab a chipmunk. Eric has also seen a blue-gray gnatcatcher and heard an eastern whip-poor-will. It’s been years since I’ve heard a whip-poor-will so I’m glad someone is still hearing them.

Spring migration is winding down, but not over. Soon, it will give way to nesting season. Let me know what you are seeing out there in this exciting time of the year for birdwatching.

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Scarlet tanager joins the group

Photo by Chris Bosak  A scarlet tanager perches in an oak tree in Danbury, Conn., spring 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A scarlet tanager perches in an oak tree in Danbury, Conn., spring 2018.

First the rose-breasted grosbeak and the indigo bunting, now this … a brilliant male scarlet tanager visits the yard this spring. Sure, it didn’t visit the feeder, but it was in the oak trees above the house. Good enough for me. Happy birding everyone.

Good backyard visitors so far this spring

Photo by Chris Bosak A male rose-breasted grosbeak visits a feeder in Danbury, Conn., during the spring of 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak A male rose-breasted grosbeak visits a feeder in Danbury, Conn., during the spring of 2018.

We still have a few weeks left of peak spring migration, so this list is not inclusive (I hope not anyway), but the feeder has been active recently with the following birds: rose-breasted grosbeak (male and female); chipping sparrow; goldfinch; gray catbird; blue jay; cardinal (male and female); indigo bunting (first spring male); red-bellied woodpecker; white-breasted nuthatch; tufted titmouse; black-capped chickadee; downy woodpecker; hairy woodpecker; mourning dove; house finch; ruby-throated hummingbird (male and female); wild turkey; and probably one or two more that aren’t coming to mind at the moment. I bought a new oriole feeder, but no luck yet with that one. What’s been visiting your feeders? Feel free to comment with your list.

Photo by Chris Bosak  A female rose-breasted grosbeak visits a feeder in Danbury, Conn., during the spring of 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female rose-breasted grosbeak visits a feeder in Danbury, Conn., during the spring of 2018.

Stunned eastern wood-pewee survives


I found this guy on my porch as I was walking into the house this afternoon. He must have bumped into the bedroom window, and became stunned. I was happy to see that its neck looked OK. A broken neck from a window strike is fatal to birds.

Often, they are only stunned and need to collect their wits before they fly off and return to their day. I picked up the bird to keep it warm and calm. I was going to put it in a box and place it away from lurking predators. However, after a few seconds, I felt the bird try to flap its wings in my hand. I loosen my grip and the bird flew to a nearby branch. It immediately let out its trademark song, a high-pitched “pee-wee.”

It was an eastern wood-pewee and we will hear that song in the woods all summer.

Good spring for rose-breasted grosbeaks

Photo by Chris Bosak A female rose-breasted grosbeak eat seeds at a platform feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female rose-breasted grosbeak eat seeds at a platform feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in spring 2017.

I didn’t see my first one until May 17, but since then I’ve seen a good number of rose-breasted grosbeaks — always a welcomed sighting in the spring. The male is the flashy bird with black-and-white plumage and signature upside-down bright red triangle on his chest. The female is more muted in color, but still a handsome bird to see at the feeder. They both have large bills (they aren’t called grosbeaks for nothing) and easily crack the sunflower seeds offered at feeders.

I’ve also seen them at suet feeders, so those of us who feed birds into the summer (or year-round) can attract them with a variety of foods. Many people stop feeding birds in the spring. I don’t blame those who have bears to worry about, but those who stop feeding birds once the winter ends miss out on birds such as rose-breasted grosbeaks.

Above is a shot of the female at the feeder. Check out the sizable bill on her. Below is the male and female. Not a great shot, I know, but interesting to see them together. Another female was at the feeder seconds before this shot, but the female shown chased her away.

Photo by Chris Bosak A male and female rose-breasted grosbeak eat seeds at a platform feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A male and female rose-breasted grosbeak eat seeds at a platform feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in spring 2017.

For the Birds: A migratory turn of events

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

Photo by Chris Bosak A chestnut-sided warbler sings from a lower perch in Ridgefield, Conn., during the spring of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A chestnut-sided warbler sings from a lower perch in Ridgefield, Conn., during the spring of 2017.

My birdwatching fortunes this spring migration made an abrupt turn for the better last week.

The cool, wet weather – in addition to working and coaching youth baseball – had limited my time looking for birds. When I did get out there, the birdwatching was relatively slow: a towhee here, a thrush there.

I love my towhees and thrushes, of course, but the day of seeing a flurry of spring migrants had escaped me. The dry spell ended during a walk in the woods last week.

The woods themselves were alive with the sounds of ovenbirds, thrushes and even barred owls, which often sing during the day.

The ubiquitous “teacher-teacher-teacher” call of the ovenbird reminded me of a spring camping trip I did with the boys about five years ago. We canoed to a site on Grout Pond in Green Mountain National Park in southern Vermont. Once settled we walked through the woods and ovenbirds seemingly surrounded us the entire way.

It was a highlight of an otherwise, let me say difficult, camping experience. The wood was wet and wouldn’t burn, and rain fell throughout most of the cool day and cooler night. A steady wind made fishing impossible. The boys – then nine and five – fought and bickered the entire time.

I’ve had plenty of great camping experiences with the boys, but this was not one of them. I did have those ovenbirds, though.

Back to my walk Continue reading

Scarlet tanager makes spring appearance

A male scarlet tanager perches in a maple tree during spring migration 2017, in Danbury, Conn.

A male scarlet tanager perches in a maple tree during spring migration 2017, in Danbury, Conn.

It’s always nice when one of these guys lands in your yard. This is two years in a row I’ve played host to one of these flashy migrants. Now that’s a streak I hope continues.

The male scarlet tanager is arguably New England’s most brilliantly colored bird — in spring and summer, anyway. By the fall, he will molt into a much more dull plumage.