Bird of the Week Archive

Prior years: 2022  2023

Great Crested Flycatcher

This flycatcher spends almost no time on the ground mainly because it cannot walk or even hop! It spends almost all its time high in the treetops chasing insects by swooping out for prey from a hunting perch with an unobstructed view and unobstructed flight paths.

It hunts high up in the tree canopy which helps cut down on direct competition. Great Crested Flycatchers prefer hunting using multiple dead branches that have foliage around them for cover. Read more


Cinnamon Teal

The male of this dabbling duck species lives up to its name with rich cinnamon coloring. It also displays an eye-catching blue wing patch. The female has more subdued brown markings. The Cinnamon Teal is found in central and western America near freshwater marshes, ponds, flooded fields and small streams.

Like Killdeer and other birds if danger threatens the female will put on the broken-wing act to distract the predator. Read more


Chimney Swift

This medium-sized aerial acrobat was first described in 1758 by the Swedish botanist and physician Carl Linnaeus who believed it was a swallow. John James Audubon called it the “Chimney Swallow.” These birds used to nest in old growth hollow trees. When these trees were lost to logging, the birds adapted to using chimneys to nest and roost.

The Chimney Swift is a tireless flyer often spending all day flying in search of flying insects and airborne spiders, only coming down at night to roost. It is an important predator of the pest species red fire ants. It has the nickname “cigar with wings” first used by the famous ornithologist and bird illustrator Roger Tory Peterson. Read more


Common Grackle

The Common Grackle was first described in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish biologist and physician, who formalized the modern system of naming organisms.

It is a species native to the United States and belongs to the Icterid family which includes orioles and meadowlarks.

This bird is a talented and aggressive opportunist that will eat almost anything. As its formal name indicates, it is a fairly common bird across America and can be seen striding across lawns in search of insects as well as vising feeders for seeds. It has a very diverse diet that includes spiders, crayfish, frogs, minnows, small rodents and grasshoppers, as well as berries, seeds, grain and acorns. Read more


Scarlet Tanager

There’s no mistaking this brilliant red bird with black wings and tail but it can be hard to spot staying high in the forest canopy. Until recently the Scarlet Tanager was placed in the tanager family, but it and other members of its genus are now classified as belonging to the cardinal family. To make matters more confusing the female Scarlet Tanager has yellow-olive plumage.

They are often victims of nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds. If they spot one near their nest they will defend it vigorously but if they miss the intruder they end up incubating the cowbird’s egg. They apparently can’t tell the difference! Read more


Phainopepla

This uniquely colored bird with a unique name looks like an all black cardinal with red eyes. When in flight they show stunning white wing patches.

The Phainopepla also has a unique gizzard mechanism that shucks berry skins off the fruit and packs the skins separately from the rest of the fruit into the intestines for more efficient digestion. This is the only known bird able to do this. They are especially fond of desert mistletoe berries. A member of the silky-flycatcher family, they will also catch insects from perches, returning to the same perch after they snag a morsel. Read more


Northern Parula

This plump, tiny wood-warbler is roughly the size of a kinglet, about 4.5” in length, with a sharp bill and a short tail. Males are beautifully colored in blue-gray with a bright yellow chest and throat and very distinctive white eye crescents.

The Northern Parula forages through the upper story of the forest, flitting and hopping in search of insects favoring small beetles, flies, moths, caterpillars, ants, bee, wasps and spiders. It primarily captures prey from vegetation by a hover-glean method, but it shows great versatility in its methods. It may make short flights from a perch to snatch prey in mid-flight or even hang upside-down to forage. Read more


Caspian Tern

The world’s largest tern is named after the Caspian Sea which is the planet’s largest inland body of water. Early ornithologists associated it with this body of water where it was common. Sporting sleek white, black and gray plumage and a bright orange dagger of a bill, this bird has an extensive breeding habitat covering most of the eastern half of the United States and the West Coast. It is at home near fresh or salt water.

The Caspian Tern feeds on fish, which they dive for, hovering over the water and then plunging down. It eats large insects, eggs, and the young of other birds and rodents. It also swallows whole fish headfirst! Read more


Yellow-billed Cuckoo

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a shy bird that is often hidden behind thick vegetation and difficult to locate unless you hear its loud “Kowlp” cry (“ka, ka, ka, ka, ka, kow, kow, kowlp, kowlp”).

Like most secretive birds, its migration and wintering habitat needs are not well known. Migrating yellow-billed cuckoos have been spotted in coastal scrub, second-growth forests and woodlands, hedgerows, and forest edges. Read more


Black Rail

The rail family is notoriously elusive but the Black Rail is the most elusive of them all. Its dark colors blend into marsh shadows where it stalks small invertebrates. Black Rails are easier to hear than see especially during spring nights when you can hear males repeating their ick-ee-kerr call. Their small sparrow-like size also makes them difficult to find.

Black Rails prefer shallower water than other rails in North America, resulting in less competition. The downside to this preference is that there are more land predators in shallow water. Black Rails are so secretive that their feeding behavior is poorly known, but it’s thought that they feed on a variety of insects, spiders, snails and small crustaceans. Read more


Golden Eagle

While the Bald Eagle gets most of the press, the Golden Eagle is equally magnificent and fierce. It also claims the title of being the most widely distributed species of eagle, living on every continent except South America and Antarctica.

Golden Eagles’ agility and speed combined with powerful feet and large, sharp talons, enables them to hunt a variety of prey, including hares, rabbits, marmots and ground squirrels. Golden Eagles will even attack large mammals including coyotes and bears. They are one of the largest, nimblest, and fasted raptors in America with a wingspan of nearly 8 feet. Read more


Hooded Merganser

The Hooded Merganser has a really standout profile with its prominent crest, white and black on males and a rich cinnamon on females. It also sports a fairly unique bill that features serrated edges which helps it hold its often slippery and wiggling meals. Megansers are the only ducks that specialize in catching fish.

Their diet also consists of aquatic insects, fish, and crustaceans which are caught by sight under water. They have the ability to change the refractive properties of their eyes to improve their vision underwater. Read more


Canada Goose

Maybe not the rarest or flashiest, but almost everybody knows this familiar bird. Vee-shaped flight squadrons inspire us to think of spring or fall as they migrate.

One of the most adaptive members of the bird world, Canada Geese are at home both in the wild and in city lakes and parks. They thrive in very diverse habitats nesting on tundras, in marshes and lakes near wooded areas. Read more


Glossy Ibis

This long-legged bird may appear dark at a distance but when seen in good light shows vibrant “glossy” colors of maroon, bronze, violet and emerald. It can be found in South, North and Central America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Glossy Ibises are nomatic and will spread out after nesting season. This habit has helped expand their range from the Southeastern US to much of Eastern North America. Read more


American Oystercatcher

There’s no mistaking this dramatically colored shorebird with an obvious name that is indeed an expert at dining on shellfish of all kinds. It relies on two methods of opening shells. If it finds a partly opened mussel for instance, the oystercatcher will jab its bill into the opening and snag the meal. The second method requires way more work. It simply hammers repeatedly on the shell to break it open. The American Oystercatcher is exclusively coastal, favoring beaches that offer shellfish and other invertebrates. Read more


2023
Wood Stork

Storks often represent new beginnings in folklore so to start the New Year we have the Wood Stork. They were a symbol of new beginnings in Christianity as well as Ancient Egyptian and Native American cultures.

Because storks have lived on Earth for roughly 50 million years, they’ve appeared in many ancient cultures. In Christianity, several folklores discuss storks delivering babies. There are even paintings that depict these birds delivering baby Jesus to Mother Mary and so many ancient Christians saw storks as a symbol of new hope and life. In Egyptian mythology, Goddess Isis, the deity of fertility and motherhood, was portrayed with a stork by her side. Native American tribes see storks as a symbol of fertility and new beginnings. Read more


Northern Cardinal

The star of many a holiday card, the Northern Cardinal is so popular it’s the U.S. state bird for 7 states; Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia, more than any other bird! Adding to its popularity is its combination of being conspicuous and its intense red colors.

Cardinals mainly eat seeds and fruit but will also eat insects. They use their large bill and tongue to get to seeds by cutting or crushing the shells. Read more


Whip-poor-will

Eastern Whip-poor-wills are renowned in literature, poetry and folk song for their repetitive song. A member of the Nightjar family, they are easy to hear but their perfect camouflage makes them very hard to see. Their plumage is a perfect match for the forest floor and leaf litter where they roost and breed.

Whip-poor-wills feed on insects that they vacuum up with their large mouths. It’s believed that they locate insects by seeing their silhouettes against the sky using eyes that have a reflective structure behind the retina that is suited to low light conditions. Sadly this iconic bird is becoming locally rare. Reasons for the decline are loss of early successional forest habitat, habitat destruction, predation by feral cats and dogs, and poisoning by insecticides. Read more


Purple Martin

Purple Martins are the largest member of the swallow family. These aerial acrobats feed on insects caught on the wing and they also get their water the same way, by scooping it up in their lower bill in flight.

People building martin houses was once so common that John James Audubon chose his lodgings based on their martin houses. “Almost every country tavern has a martin box on the upper part of its sign-board; and I have observed that the handsomer the box, the better does the inn generally prove to be.” Read more


Eastern Screech-Owl

This diminutive owl’s name is somewhat misleading as it does not really screech. It “whinnies” and calls with soft trills. Adults range from 6.5-10” in length and have piercing yellow eyes and prominent ear tufts. It prefers open mixed woodlands, parklands, deciduous forest and even wooded suburban areas and avoid areas known to have larger owls.

The Eastern Screech-Owl’s call is a tremolo with a descending, whinny-like quality, like that of a miniature horse. It also produces a monotone purring trill lasting 3–5 seconds. It is strictly nocturnal and usually solitary, nesting in tree cavities, either natural or excavated by a woodpecker, particularly Pileated Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers. Read more


Northern Flicker

This dapper bird with a loud call of “wicker, wicker, wicker” is also known for its long continuous drumming. Males often return to their favorite drumming spot that is the loudest.

Northern Flicker’s favorite food is ants and more ants. Wielding a worm-like tongue with a hard sharp tip that can be extended far beyond the end of the bill they easily spear insects in a hole. The body of the tongue is covered with sticky spit to capture ants and other small insects. They will also search the ground for ant hills. They also eats a variety of other insects, fruit, sumac and poison ivy! Read more


Fulvous Whistling-Duck

This stocky duck’s name comes from its tawny coloration (fulvous) and its whistling call. Perfect naming except for the standout blue legs and feet.

Once known as the Fulvous Tree Duck this is one of the most widely spread waterfowl in the world. These ducks consume a diet rich in aquatic plant seeds; such as rice seeds and aquatic invertebrates whilte dabbling at or below the water level. Read more


Sanderling

“The flats took on a mysterious quality as dusk approached and the last evening light was reflected from the scattered pools and creeks… Sanderlings scurried across the beach like little ghosts…” – Rachel Carson

These tiny sandpipers run back and forth chasing the waves in search of a meal usually in search of sand crabs and other invertebrates. Sanderlings live near beaches, lake shores and tidal flats preferring sandy beaches swept with waves. Their coloration is well matched to sand especially in pale winter plumage. Read more


American Bittern

Unlike Victorian era children, this bird is most often heard and not seen. One of the great camouflage experts, this shy bird is also known for its booming call that resembles a far away foghorn. The low-pitched call carries over long distances and allows them to communicate while remaining hidden.

American Bitterns prefer fresh water wetlands with tall vegetation. They have adapted so well to this environment that when they feel threatened they will perform what’s called “bittering,” where they look skyward and stretch out their necks mimicking the reeds and marsh plants around them. Read more


Greater Roadrunner

Famous as a cartoon character who always outwits the coyote, this speedy runner hits 20 mph or faster in spurts. Instantly recognizable by its large crest and long tail the roadrunner will hunt by walking rapidly and then making a fast final dash to catch its prey which includes reptiles, rodents, large insects and even scorpions and tarantulas. Yum!

The Greater Roadrunner lives mostly in desert climes and brushy country from California to Texas although at the edges of its range it can be found in dry grasslands and the edges of forests. Read more


Green Heron

Green Herons are typically seen foraging in marshes and at the margins of streams, lakes and ponds. They are hard to spot since they move slowly or stand still. While hunting, a green heron is smooth and quiet, then lightning-fast and astoundingly accurate as it darts for prey. They are fond of crustaceans but will also hunt for aquatic insects, grasshoppers, frogs, rodents and snakes.

One of the rare bird species known to utilize tools, the Green Heron will drop tiny items onto the water’s surface like feathers, twigs, or insects to attract fish. Read more


Eastern Phoebe

This active little bird with a bobbing tail sings out its name noisily and constantly. You will probably hear its “fee-bee,” “fee-bee” before you ever see this modestly colored member of the highly territorial Tyrant Flycatcher family that actively defends its nesting grounds.

Eastern Phoebes use the sit and wait hunting strategy. Sitting on a high perch they pursue their prey on the wing, deftly snatching an insect and often returning to the same perch seconds later. They favor beetles, sawflies, wasps, bees, moths, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and crickets. Read more

Downy Woodpecker

Sometimes bigger isn’t better and that’s certainly the case with this diminutive woodpecker that is fairly common across America. Its small size gives it an advantage over its larger and heavier woodpecker cousins by allowing it to forage where they can’t. Downy Woodpeckers can look for food on slender branches, shrubs and even weeds!

They have other clever strategies for getting an easy meal such as following larger woodpeckers and finding insects they might have overlooked. They also have been seen following White-breasted Nuthatches to their seed caches and making off with the goods. Read more


Limpkin

This large wading bird lives mostly in wetland Florida and Georgia. It takes its name from its seeming limp when it walks.

Limpkins feed mainly on snails, particularly apple snails and have a specialized bill that is is slightly open near the end, which gives it a tweezers-like ability to remove snails from their shells. The bill also curves slightly to the right matching the shell of the apple snail!

They’re known for their piercing, eerie wail usually heard at night. Read more


Laysan Albatross

One of the great soaring birds in the world is the Laysan Albatross. Their range encompasses the entire Pacific Ocean but the Hawaiian Islands are home to 99.7% of the population. They were first described in 1893 by Lionel Rothchild based on a specimen from Laysan Island from which they get their name.

With the largest wingspan of any living bird, around 80 inches, they are able to travel hundreds of miles per day with nary a wingbeat. These masters of the air have made documented journeys of over 4,000 miles across the Pacific! Read more


Blackburnian Warbler

Named after a English botanist, Anna Blackburne, this warbler sports a brilliant orange throat and a strong black and white pattern that is without rival in the warbler world. In his book Washington in Spring, RCC President Bob Musil writes “…a burst of color flashes somewhere far above my head. I lift my binoculars nearly vertical…I see nothing but an eyeful of magnified, far-off leaves. Then out of nowhere a sudden tiny burst of orange flame appears.”

You will find these warblers high in the tree canopy during summer, though like many warblers, they are difficult to see amongst the leaves. Listen for the buzzing song of the male with its high ending note. Read more


Bobolink

The Bobolink is a small New World blackbird and the sole member of its genus. They are also known as the “rice bird” because of their proclivity to graze on farmed grains during the winter and migration. Bobolinks breed in the summer in the United States and Canada, and winter in southern South America. Migration is an impressive 12,500 miles!

They sing a cheery, bubbly song and are related to blackbirds. Usually polygynous with clutches of eggs laid by a single female with multiple fathers. Read more


Roseate Spoonbill

It’s easy to see how this bird got its name with its rosy coloring and a spoon shaped bill. Modern field guide author Kenn Kaufman once said: “Roseate Spoonbills are gorgeous at a distance and bizarre up close.” This unique bird has striking pink plumage that became so popular on women’s hats in the 1800s that hunters almost drove them into extinction. They were able to recolonize in the early 1900s and slowly increased in number. Modern threats are mostly habitat loss. Read more


American Kestrel

This small member of the falcon family has a very distinctive, elegant look. Roughly the size of a Mourning Dove they are fierce hunters who prefer to grab their victim from the ground but will also nab them on the wing.

You will usually see them perched on wires or rapidly beating their wings, hovering over an open field searching for prey. Kestrels are cavity nesters often using dead tree snags as nesting sites. They will also use nesting boxes. Read more


Tufted Titmouse

This active little bird is a regular at backyard bird feeders, especially during winter. Known for their echoing voice, bright black eyes and perky crest, the Tufted Titmouse is common in deciduous forests and at backyard feeders.

They are cavity nesters but can’t excavate their own cavities so they rely on natural holes and cavities left by woodpeckers. Pairs stay together all year but when winter arrives they will join small flocks which break up in late winter. Read more


Ruddy Turnstone

The Ruddy Turnstone’s name is a perfect match for its appearance and feeding behavior. It literally turns over stones and debris in search of food on the beach and sports a lovely ruddy color on its wings.

A striking bird that resembles a calico cat, this long-distance migrant breeds in the Arctic tundra and then spends its “off-seasons” on the coasts of North America. Fattening up is critical to these shorebirds in preparation for their long migration. Those that don’t get plump enough delay their flight and some don’t make it to the breeding or wintering grounds. Read more


Eastern Towhee

My poor aging field guide just can’t keep up with bird name changes. This bird, once known as the Rufous-sided Towhee has been split into two species, the Eastern Towhee and the Spotted Towhee out west. This tale of two towhees is made even more confusing by the fact that they are virtually identical except that the Spotted Towhee has small white spots on its wings. Read more


Harlequin Duck

The male’s striking, almost theatrical, plumage gives it its common name.  These are the daredevils of the avian world prefering difficult and often dangerous environments such as rocky coasts with rough waters where they can be seen bobbing on the waves. This “lifestyle” choice contributes to their high rate of fractures. They suffer more broken bones than any other species!

They gather on the rocky shores of the Pacific Northwest and the Atlantic Northeast. The rough coast of Maine is estimated to be home to more than half of the eastern population. Read more


Northern Harrier

For most of my “birding career” this bird was called a Marsh Hawk. This seemed to make sense as it was a hawk and it preferred marshy areas. But in 1982 the American Ornithologists Union (A.O.U.) decided to change the name officially to Northern Harrier to eliminate the confusion of its common name.

These harriers can be seen all across the United States and have adapted so well to wetland and marshes that they make their nests on the ground. Unlike most “hawks” they prefer to stand on the ground instead of landing on high structures like telephone poles and trees. Read more


Northern Bobwhite

The distinctive call of the Northern Bobwhite was once a common sound throughout most of America. Sadly their numbers have plummeted over the last 50 years mostly due to the usual culprits, habitat loss and pesticides. It is estimated the number of these members of the quail family have declined by a whopping 85% according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Read more


Red-winged Blackbird

It’s said the Robin is the harbinger of spring but there’s another sure avian sign of spring and that’s the Red-winged Blackbird singing out it’s raspy “conk-a-ree” call.

Males and females are not only very different in appearance but also fulfill distinctly different roles with the male singing ceaselessly and chasing away intruders while the female stays mostly hidden in the vegetation stealthily building the nest and incubating the eggs. Read more


Double-crested Cormorant

Most paleontologists today consider birds living dinosaurs because of the key shared traits such as skeletal features and nesting behaviors. Double-crested Cormorants certainly have a prehistoric look with a serpentine neck and intense blue eyes.

They are a common sight near both salt and fresh water and attract attention with their habit of spreading out their wings to dry.

They are expert divers capable of diving to depths of 35 feet feeding on mostly small fish. Cormorants spend a lot of time in the water but since their feathers have less preen oil than other birds they must spread out their wings to dry. Although this would seem strange for a diving bird, the wet feathers give them added agility and speed under water. Read more


Common Yellowthroat

This is the secret agent of the warbler family staying mostly out of sight in low vegetation and reeds. Recently while on a hike for Father’s Day, my wife and I heard them repeatedly, but no sightings. Drat! They really stay “undercover.”

Its nesting behavior is secretive as well. The nests are built on or near the ground and The Common Yellowthroat parent have a sneaky method of feeding their chicks. They will land in the thickest brush near the nest and furtively move to the nest, feed the chicks and then leave by a completely different route. Read more


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

First of all, it did not get its name from a cartoon or an old time comedian but from its appearance. Like many woodpeckers, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has graphic black and white feathers and a jaunty red cap. Its name comes from the faintly visible yellow on its belly.

If you see rows of shallow holes in a tree, it’s the work of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. A pine in my front yard has been targeted for many years. The holes provide leaking sap and trapped insects which the sapsucker laps up with its barbed tongue. It is the only woodpecker that drills a series of horizontal holes. Read more


Willet

Humble in appearance, the Willet is one of the largest members of the sandpiper family with drab brown plumage during breeding season and gray colors in winter. It has a piercing call “pill-will-willet” that mimics its name.

They are a common sight on eastern US shores, scuttling about in search of  fiddler crabs and other crustaceans as well as small fish. The Willet’s drab appearance changes dramatically when they fly and flash bands of white and black on their wings. Read more


American White Pelican

This is one of America’s largest shorebirds with a length of about 5 feet and a impressive 9 foot wingspan, second in size only to the California Condor! American White Pelicans are very gregarious and nest in large colonies. They are snowy white with black flight feathers that are only visible when they fly. During breeding season they develop a yellow crest and a brilliant orange bill. Unlike Brown Pelicans, they don’t dive for fish, instead they float on the surface of the water submerging their heads to scoop up fish. Read more


Wood Thrush

The Wood Thrush sings beautiful, flute-like liquid notes that inspired Henry David Thoreau to once write, “Whenever a man hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of heaven are not shut against him.” Thrushes have a complicated syrinx (song box) that allows them to sing two notes simultaneously, allowing them to harmonize with their own voice. Read more


Kirtland’s Warbler

This is one of the rarest songbirds in American with one of the smallest breeding ranges of any bird in the U.S. Kirtland’s Warblers breed almost exclusively in northern Michigan and winter in the Bahamas. These reclusive warblers make their nests on the ground and are very picky about where they breed. Kirtland’s Warblers only breed in young jack pine forests that are 5 to 20 years old. Read more


Loggerhead Shrike

Looking like a black-masked bandit this distinctive bird is also known as the “butcherbird” because of its habit of skewering its prey on thorns or barbed wire before it eats it. Planning ahead, they will amass prey as security against leaner times.

The “shrike” part of its name is derived from an Old English work for “shriek” which is a reference to its harsh sounds while the “loggerhead” part is a reference to the large head in relation to its body. Read more


Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are unmistakable with their graphic black and white plumage and brilliant rose-pink breast feathers. They get the “grosbeak” part of their name from the French term grosbec, meaning “large beak” and exhibit what is called sexual dimorphism meaning the male and female have very different plumage. Read more


Pileated Woodpecker

One of the largest and most impressive forest birds on the continent, the Pileated Woodpecker has a flaming-red crown and is almost as big as a crow. It is black with prominent white stripes along the neck. Pileated Woodpeckers leave distinctive rectangular holes in the wood (as opposed to its round nest holes), as they whack at dead trees and fallen logs with a powerful chisel-shaped bill in quest of their primary meal, carpenter ants. Read more


Belted Kingfisher

Patrolling rivers and lakes, this shaggy-crested bird with a bayonet for a bill is often heard before seen, calling out with a chattering call.

The Greek word halcyon, meaning kingfisher, is where the kingfisher gets its species name. The mythical figure Alcyon was the daughter of Aeolus, the god of wind. She and her husband angered Zeus and were drowned; other more compassionate gods then turned the devoted couple into kingfishers. Read more


Golden-crowned Kinglet

This tiny, hyperactive bird is one the smallest perching birds in the world with a weight about equal to two pennies. Its genus name Regulus translates to “little king”, a reference to its golden colored head feathers. These feathers will be raised when kinglets are alarmed making a “back-off!” punky mohawk of orange and yellow. Read more


Whooping Crane

Before humans began altering their habitat, it is estimated there were 15,000 to 20,000 Whooping Cranes. By the 1800’s and early 1900s, hunting and habitat loss began to reduce their numbers drastically. By 1860 there were only about 1,400 and in 1941 their population had fallen to the shockingly low number of 15! It seemed they were on the verge of extinction. Read more


Killdeer

First described in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae, the killdeer’s common name comes from its often-heard call.

These long-legged birds are the largest and most familiar member of the ringed plover family. Although it’s classified as a shorebird, the Killdeer typically makes its summer home on golf courses, lawns, fields and even parking lots. Killdeer are ground nesters and the male will make the nest by scraping the ground into a rough bowl shape with his feet. After the eggs are laid he will add small stones and vegetation. Both male and female build the nest and incubate the eggs. Read more


Common Loon

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


Laughing Gull

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


Yellow Warbler

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


American Woodcock

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 Hawk

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 Heron

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


Gray Catbird

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


Atlantic Puffin

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


Barn Swallow

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


Cedar Waxwing

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


Bald Eagle

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


Acorn Woodpecker

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


American Goldfinch

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


American Robin

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


Baltimore Oriole

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


2022
Barred Owl

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


Black Skimmer

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


Blue Jay

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


California Condor

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


Carolina Chickadee

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


Cooper’s Hawk

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


Eastern Bluebird

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


European Starling

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


Great Blue Heron

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


Great Egret

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


House Wren

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


Mute Swan

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


Northern Cardinal

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


Northern Mockingbird

“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


Osprey

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


Painted Bunting

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


Peregrine Falcon

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


Purple Gallinule

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


Red Knot

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


Ruby-throated Hummingbird

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


Solitary Sandpiper

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


White-breasted Nuthatch

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


Wild Turkey

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


Wood Duck

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