Here’s our final entry in great bird vocalists for March.
This icon of northern lakes is well known for its eerie call. This weird, haunting cry which suggests someone with the wails of the insane. Hence the common phrase, crazy as a loon.
These birds are skilled at swimming and diving and unlike the vast majority of birds they have solid, not hollow bones, which makes them less buoyant and helps them maneuver through water. Their legs are set far back on their bodies which also aides their swimming but makes them very awkward on land so they spend little time out of the water, usually only going ashore to nest. Read more
We’re going to close out March with two birds with unique voices. The raucous Laughing Gull and, next week, the haunting sound of one of America’s most iconic birds.
Remember when you were at the beach and looking forward to a picnic with the soothing sound of the sea and then…Marauders arrive! Laughing Gulls along the seashore swooping in to grab a sandwich or patrolling the boardwalk snatching french fries, sometimes right out of your hand! These are bold, opportunistic birds and unlike many bird species they actually seem to like being around humans. Read more
The Yellow Warbler is the champion of yellow among warblers as well as being the most widespread American wood-warbler, nesting from Alaska to northern South America. Birders usually first seek these difficult to spot warblers with their ears, listening for their distinct song, and then searching with binoculars.
The Yellow Warbler diet consists mainly of insects and spiders which they hunt from branches and shrubs grabbing them in mid-air providing great pest control. A study in Costa Rica, where they winter, showed that the Yellow Warbler reduced the population of coffee berry borer beetles by 50%! Read more
Spending much of their daylight time in forests and bogs they are well camouflaged to blend into the forest floor and leaf debris with light brown, black, buff, and gray-brown tones. American Woodcocks spend most of their time hidden while probing the ground for food such as earthworms, grasshoppers, insect larvae, beetles, crickets, millipedes, centipedes, even spiders. Occasionally, woodcock will also consume seeds of grasses and sedges. Their food of choice is earthworms due to their high fat and protein content. Read more
Red-tailed Hawks are common throughout America. You will often see them perched on a pole, soaring overhead, or your may just hear a distant, high-pitched “kkeeer.” These raptors have extremely keen eyesight, binocular vision, and powerful talons for grabbing prey, as well as a razor-sharp beak. They can see normal colors, like humans can, but their vision extends into the ultraviolet range meaning that the hawks can perceive colors that humans cannot see.
Red-tailed Hawks are one of the largest North American hawks and obviously get their name from their rusty red tail. They were first identified in Jamaica, West Indies which is how it got its species name, jamaicensis. They are also referred to as chicken-hawks or Harlan’s Hawk. Read more
Black-crowned Night Herons are the most widespread heron species in the world and live in a variety of habitats. They breed on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Night herons get their name from their habit of feeding between evening and early morning. They have a very diverse diet that includes fish, leeches (yum!), earthworms, insects, crayfish, clams, amphibians, lizards, snakes, turtles, rodents, birds, eggs, and even garbage foraged at landfills.
Unlike other herons who generally stab their prey, The Black-crowned Night Heron will grasp it in its bills. Read more
This secretive bird is usually found in dense thickets and gets its name from the cat-like “Mew” it makes. The Gray Catbird’s song is an jaunty series of musical whistles and catlike mews mixed in with imitations of other birds’ songs. As one of the last birds to settle in for the night, you will often hear it singing until after dusk. Aside from their noted cat call, catbirds can also copy a variety of noises, including a dog’s bark and imitate other birds such as a blackbird, crow, or robin.
Although they appear to be all gray if you look closer you will see a small black cap and a rufous-brown patch under the tail. Read more
These sharp dressers have elegant plumage and a dramatically colored beak. Nicknamed the “clown of the sea” they breed in burrows on islands in the North Atlantic, and winter at sea. Due to their weight Atlantic Puffins must flap their small wings frantically to stay aloft, however, when underwater those wings become powerful flippers that allow the birds to skillfully maneuver to catch small fish one by one until they have a full beak. They are long-lived often with life spans of 30 plus years and like many seabirds with long life spans their young take several years to mature. Read more
You will usually see Barn Swallows foraging for flying insects in open areas near farm buildings, bridges, and other open-structure buildings, as well as over water. Their nests are built in a cup shape using mud and are attached to a rough-wooded beam or concrete structure. While they once built their nests in caves and cliffs, they have adopted human-built structures such as barns, hence the name Barn Swallow. Read more
This strikingly elegant bird lives in orchards, open woodlands and fruit trees often at the edge of the forest, suburban yards or fields. During the winter they are usually found in wooded areas or more open areas where berries are bountiful.
Cedar Waxwings will swarm on berry trees and shrubs calling out with faltering thin cries. Being a very sociable bird, you will rarely see a single waxwing. Another social behavior is sharing food. When the a supply of berries is on the end of a branch that only one bird can reach, members of a flock often line up and pass berries beak to beak down the line so that each bird gets to eat. Read more
Our nation’s symbol is the Bald Eagle, which is not really bald; it has white feathers on its head, neck, and tail. The word bald in the eagle’s name comes from a derivation of balde, an Old English word meaning white.
This majestic bird is a diurnal (day) hunter that can swim, fly 20-40 miles per hour in normal flight, and dive at speeds over 100 miles per hour. Eagle nests are very large, often used year after year, adding more twigs and branches each time). One nest found had been used for 34 years and weighed over 2 tons! Read more
The Acorn Woodpecker has one of the more obvious names in the avian world. This striking bird with an almost comical face has a thing for acorns. A group of these birds is called a “bushel,” a perfect description for this Western woodpecker with a most unusual habit. Read more
What looks to be a flock of goldfinches flashing yellow lands in a weedy patch on the path at the Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland. It is a popular birding and nature site that Rachel Carson often trod. I focus in with binoculars and am delighted, but confused. Some of the goldfinches have stripes on them, seem slim, and sport small, pointy beaks. My wife and I exchange excited glances and guess simultaneously. Read more
The iconic American robin is both a winter resident and spring migrant where I live in Bethesda, Maryland. In winter, there are fewer in my yard and suburban neighborhood, but the robins, classic earthworm eaters, somehow make do with the berries found on bushes and on trees. This winter, when it was often cold and rainy, I watched with delight as robins hopped and jumped and dangled from the small branches of my backyard holly tree to get to and gobble its small clusters of bright red-orange berries. Read more
I throw my old Trek bike into the back of my Prius V wagon and head for the C&O Canal National Park at Great Falls on the Maryland side of the Potomac. It threatens rain and there is a cool breeze. It has been raining steadily for days, so I fear I may soon be a soggy, muddy mess. But I have been meeting steadily with politicians, Board members, consultants, potential donors. Enough of being an office-bound environmentalist. I want, no, I need, to get out in the nature that as head of the Rachel Carson Council, I am sworn to protect. Read more
The Barred Owl is a large, rotund bird, only exceeded in size by the Great Horned Owl. It get its name from the horizontal barring on its throat and upper breast, contrasting with a pattern of irregular bold, vertical streaks just below. Barred Owls have large eyes set in a large, round head that lacks ear tufts. Unlike many bird species there are no plumage variations between the sexes.
The Barred Owl can capture and kill mammals as large as an opossum, but usually consumes smaller animals such as rabbits, squirrels, rodents, salamanders, frogs, fish, crayfish, beetles and other insects. Read more
Rachel Carson’s first book and her personal favorite, Under the Sea Wind describes the behavior of fish and seabirds in story form, often using the scientific names of species as character names. Carson said her goal in doing so was “to make the sea and its life as vivid a reality for those who may read the book as it has become for me during the past decade.” The first of her characters is introduced this way. Read more
In some Native American legends, the Blue Jay was a revered trickster who worked with foxes and coyotes. But because of their loud vocalizations, others have thought of Blue Jays as gossips, looked upon as noisy, arrogant, and selfish birds. Their flashy plumage seemed prideful as well. But either way, Blue Jays have entered the modern imagination and continue to fascinate us. Read more
This magnificent bird is the largest in United States with a wind span of around 10 feet! They are master gliders who travel great distances to feed on carcasses of deer, pigs, cattle, sea lions, and even whales.
In the 1980s they were extremely close to extinction with a population of only 22 birds. Thanks to many dedicated scientists and citizens, there are now about 275 free-flying birds in California, Utah, Arizona, and Baja California with another 160 in captivity. Lead poisoning from ammunition left in carcasses after hunts remains a severe threat to their long-term prospects. Read more
John James Audubon named this bird while he was in South Carolina.
In folk lore, their cooperative tendencies and cheery tone contribute to chickadees’ popularity as symbols of friendship and agreeability. Birds of other groups and species often find flocking with chickadees to be beneficial because of the tendency that chickadees have to sound off signals when food is found or when threats are near. Read more
This medium size hawk has several interesting attack strategies. It usually flies with a typical accipiter pattern of flap-flap-glide and will rarely flap continuously even over open areas as to not attract their prey’s attention. It has another clever strategy. It will fly fast and low to the ground and suddenly up and over an obstacle to the surprise of its prey. Read more
The Eastern Bluebird is actually a member of the thrush family and lives across the eastern United States from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River. It is the most widespread of the three bluebirds that live in the US.
When not nesting, they are usually seen roaming the country side in small flocks searching for insects and berries. A high percentage of Eastern Bluebirds in the U.S. nest in birdhouses which has helped their population rebound. Read more
This bird is so common across America, with an estimated population of 200 million, that virtually everyone has seen one. I have regular battles at my feeders with them, particularly at the suet feeder I have out for woodpeckers. Even after I installed an upside-down suet feeder which supposedly discourages starlings, these persistent birds find a way. They will flutter under the feeder and peck away pieces of the suet cake that then fall to the ground where they swoop down and gobble them up. Darwin might have remarked: “That’s some adaptation!” Read more
I don’t remember when I first encountered this magnificent bird. But it left a lasting impression, so much so that I made it part of my company’s logo. Standing 38-43 inches high and boasting a wingspan of six feet, it’s hard to miss. This is the largest and most widespread heron in North America, so it’s a good chance you may have seen it. Read more
The Great Egret, soemtimes call the Common Egret, is not a picky eater. They are omnivores who eat mainly small fish but also consume reptiles, amphibians, birds, as well as invertebrates like crayfish, shrimp, dragonflies, and grasshoppers, and even small mammals.
They employ various hunting strategies that are as flexible as their diet. They may wade in groups or alone, moving through shallow water or the may stand perfectly still waiting for their prey. This method ends with a lightening quick strike of its long bill. They may even hunt on land in grassy areas. Read more
In one of the first stories Rachel Carson wrote as a child at age 8, she detailed two wrens, Mr. Wren and his mate Jenny, searching for a house to live in. Eventually, they find a “dear little brown house with a green roof.” Carson goes on to detail their nesting habits and to document their behavior, foreshadowing the careful attention she pays to birds which leads her to write Silent Spring. Read more
In the famous Christmas carol “Twelve Days of Christmas,” one of the choruses refers to “Seven Swans A-Swimming”. The most likely candidate for this, is the Mute Swan which is a common sight in the region where this song originated. The carol words were first published in England in the late eighteenth century. Coincidently, there are seven species of wild swans in the world matching the number in the song. Read more
At another time of plague and less frequent distant travel, the cardinal was seen as extraordinary, not a cliché for cards. It was a symbol of the need to closely observe and appreciate birds and their beauty in our midst. Women writers of the Progressive Era believed our character as a person and as a nation would improve if we learned at a young age to wonder at the nature around us, especially the birds, rather than shoot, collect, or eat them. Read more
“There is probably no bird in the world that possesses all the musical qualifications of this king of song, who has derived all from Nature’s self.” — John James Audubon, Birds of America.
Mockingbirds can produce a wide variety of sounds and up to 350 unique songs! They are known for mimicking other birds, the sound of machinery, and even human music. It’s not surprising their Latin name is Mimus polyglottos which translates to many-tongued mimic, while a polyglot is a person who speaks many languages. Read more
From the 1960s through the 1970s, [Paul] Spitzer watched Ospreys disappear from Connecticut, and he pioneered experiments that helped establish DDT as a cause of their decline. He has also seen Ospreys make a triumphant recovery in the Connecticut River estuary. And with more than 300 active nests recorded in the state today, he is now turning his attention below the water, where the next challenge for Osprey is a vanishing fish. Read more
One of the most colorful birds in the U.S., the Painted Bunting, seems almost unreal, much like a Wood Duck. Its nickname in Louisiana is “nonpareil,” meaning “without equal” in French.
Sadly, they are popular cage birds and are heavily trapped in their wintering grounds, particularly in Mexico, even though international laws ban the sale of wild-caught birds from country to country, and many countries (including ours) ban the sale of wild-caught birds in pet shops. Male Painted Buntings are especially targeted. In addition to trapping, their declining numbers are a result of habitat loss and frequent window collisions. Read more
The Peregrine Falcon is the world’s fastest diving bird. It’s power dive has been clocked at 186 mph!
This agile predatory raptor lives on every continent except Antarctica and will travel vast distances between wintering grounds and breeding grounds, even between continents. They eat mostly other birds consuming a wide variety of species. In North America 450 species have been documented as prey which typically includes shorebirds, ducks, pigeons and songbirds. They will also hunt bats and steal fish and rodents from other raptors. Read more
In my senior year in high school I had the birding day of my life. I flew to Miami to stay with my grandparents for a week and took a bus to the Everglades. Being the unique environment that it is, almost every bird I saw that day was a new species for my “life list.” Among the standouts were the Roseate Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork, Anhinga, and the curious, yet adorable Purple Gallinule.
The Purple Gallinule is a fairly large aquatic bird with a thick bill, red eyes and bright red bill with a yellow tip. They have specialized yellow legs and feet that enable them to walk on lily pads and swamp vegetation. Read more
The Red Knot stands out for its truly epic annual migration gathering each spring along the Delaware Bay in New Jersey—a phenomenon not seen anywhere else in the world.
Red Knots fly more than 9,000 miles from south to north every spring and repeat the trip in reverse every autumn, making this bird one of the longest-distance migrants in the animal kingdom. Read more
Why do you stand on the air and no sun shining?
How can you hold yourself so still
On raindrops sliding?
They change and fall, they are not steady, But you do not know they are gone. Read more
Having been an avid birder since my early teens I now find new sightings few and far between. I haven’t experienced the thrill of seeing a new species of bird and marking it off on my “life list” in years and yet…
On a recent weekend on a local nature trail the unexpected happened. My wife and I were enjoying a beautiful day of hiking, stopping now and then to investigate which bird was doing the singing or flitting through the brush. Nothing eventful so far. We reached a rise on the trail that leads to a walk around a very large pond when I saw a trio of Eastern Phoebes sitting in plain view. Read more
Do you have a bird feeder in your backyard? Then it’s likely you’ll see this perky little visitor, a distinctive gray, black and white bird that is common in United States where its nasally call can be heard all year long.
Because the White-breasted Nuthatch wedges its excess food into tree bark crevices, this distinct bird is often spotted in densely wooded areas or open spaces with large trees. Read more
Contrary to popular lore, Benjamin Franklin never publicly voiced opposition to the bald eagle as a national symbol, nor did he ever publicly suggest the turkey as a national symbol.
The Wild turkey is an upland ground bird and a United States native. It’s the heaviest member of the diverse Galliformes (a group of game birds which includes grouse, pheasants, and partridges) and is the same species as the domestic turkey, which was originally derived from a southern Mexican subspecies of Wild turkey. Read more
The ornate beauty of this bird is breathtaking. At my first sighting of a pair of Wood Ducks by a nearby creek I was awestruck by the male’s shimmering feathers in green, violets, browns and black outlined with white. One of the most stunning birds in America, the male Wood Duck almost seems dressed for a special occasion. The female, although less colorful has a beauty all its own. Read more