For the Birds: Spring feeding and purple martins

Purple martins with dragonflies.

I don’t see a lot of press releases now that journalism is no longer my full-time profession, but I did receive a few last week that caught my eye.

One was from Cole’s Wild Bird Products and the other from the Purple Martin Conservation Association. The topics were very different but did have one important commonality: spring.

Cole’s, which makes a red-hot blend that I’ve used and the birds loved, sent some spring bird-feeding tips. Many people stop feeding birds in the spring for a variety of reasons, including bears and not wanting birds to become dependent upon feeders, but I’m a big fan of spring bird feeding. It’s a great way to get close, long looks at birds such as grosbeaks, orioles, buntings and even a few warbler species if you’re lucky.

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For the Birds: Readers share what they’ve been seeing

Rosalie Boucher captured this photo of an American Woodcock in her yard in Norwalk, Conn., in March 2014.

Woodcock are being seen and heard at dusk, phoebes are showing up slowly but steadily, mixed flocks of blackbirds are headed north, and the weather is sunny and warm one day and freezing and wet the next. It must be March in New England.

As we get ready for migration to pick up steam, here’s what readers have been reporting over the last few weeks. Bill from Keene wrote to say he’s hearing spring songs from the woods, which is always a good sign and pleasing chorus. Spring peepers, wood frogs and some birds are starting to call. I’ve heard cardinals almost daily now, which is a most welcomed, cheerful song.

Jeannie from Marlow wrote to say she has had upwards of four red-breasted nuthatches visiting her feeders at once. I thought my two-at-a-time visits were good. Jeannie also sent along a terrific photo of a barred owl having its feathers blown around by a strong wind. The photo may be found at www.birdsofnewengland.com under the “Reader Submitted Photos” category.

Jane from Marlborough wrote, questioning whether a small bird of prey she saw take a chickadee could be a merlin. Merlins are small falcons that breed mostly north of New Hampshire, but some do breed in the state and many pass through during fall and spring migrations. So it is very possible that her bird in question was a merlin.

Here’s what the N.H. Fish and Game website says about the merlin’s range: “Expanding range southward in NH. Currently breeds in the north and at scattered locations in central and western parts of the state. Occurs statewide during migration which peaks during September and early October; occasionally winters along the seacoast or in southern suburban areas.”

Thanks to the Keene Lions Club for having me as a guest speaker via Zoom last week at its meeting. I enjoyed meeting everyone virtually and appreciated the many thoughtful questions at the end. A question was posed that I didn’t have the answer for at the moment. I had referenced early in the presentation the 2019 study that shows there has been a decline of 2.9 billion birds in the U.S. and Canada over the last 50 years. The question came up as to what percentage that number represented. I thought it was a great question as numbers are sometimes presented to show a point, but proper context is missing.

I looked back at the study and found out that the 2.9 billion missing birds represent a 28 percent decline — roughly down from 10 billion adult breeding birds to 7 billion. That is a substantial number no matter how you look at it, but when you consider birds of certain habitats have declined by more than 50, the number becomes even more stark. Grassland birds, for instance, have declined by 53 percent since 1970, according to the study. That is fewer than half of the meadowlarks, bobolinks and more of our favorite grassland birds remaining.

On the bright side, which I was reminded of when I looked back on the study, numbers of waterfowl, raptors and woodpeckers have increased in the last 50 years.

The study, by the way, is entitled “Decline of the North American avifauna” and was conducted by researchers from several organizations such as Cornell Lab of Ornithology, American Bird Conservancy and National Audubon Society.

I hope everyone is ready for spring migration. Be sure to let me know what you’re seeing.

Lots of towhees on a rainy day

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee perches on a branch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee perches on a branch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2017.

I spent some of the rainy Saturday at Bennett’s Pond in Ridgefield, Conn. I didn’t see or hear a single warbler, but I did see and hear several eastern towhees. It is a great bird with interesting plumage and a unique song.

Formerly called the rufous-sided towhee, this bird has light brown/reddish flanks. Its call is a loud and quickly uttered “tow-hee” and its song is the famous “drink-your-teaaa!” They are more often seen on the ground, scratching in the leaves to uncover food. The male is pictured in this post. The female, which I couldn’t photograph yesterday but did see, is also a handsome bird with white and reddish light brown plumage.

They were passing through in large numbers Saturday. I hope at least a few of them stick around locally to nest. It’s a great bird to see in summer when the birding can get a little slow.

You can even see the little rain drops on this guy.

Here’s one of him singing: Drink-your-teaaa!

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee sings from a perch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee sings from a perch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2017.

 

Must be spring, the phoebes are back

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Phoebe perches on a branch in Selleck's Woods in Darien, Conn., in late March 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Phoebe perches on a branch in Selleck’s Woods in Darien, Conn., in late March 2015.

A very quiet walk in a patch of woods the other day suddenly turned interesting when a lone Eastern Phoebe made an appearance. Overall, the phoebe is somewhat drab, but its habit of bobbing its tail constantly gives its identity away immediately.

I’ve always liked phoebes despite their nondescript appearance and quiet voice. Perhaps it’s because they migrate so early and offer some hope that winter is finally in the rearview mirror.

I’ve been seeing them almost daily now, so it’s nice to know spring is here. Phoebes, just like chickadees and several birds, are named after the song they sing.

 

Sibley discusses ‘Birdwatching in New England’

Well-known birdwatcher David Allen Sibley visited The Hour newspaper’s office in March 2014 shortly after the launch of the second edition of his Sibley Guide to the Birds. He sat down with Chris Bosak of The Hour and http://www.birdsofnewengland.com to answer a variety of questions of about birds. Here he discusses birdwatching in New England, where he grew up and currently lives.