Bird Findings

Pileated woodpecker

Remember your first sighting of a Pileated Woodpecker or a Peregrine Falcon? Or maybe your childhood discovery of a robin’s nest, or, sadly, the broken little blue eggshells beneath it?

Robin nest

The late-nineteenth century bird writing pioneer, Olive Thorne Miller, discovered a new bird species and wrote about it in the popular magazine, the Atlantic Monthly. She was then scolded publicly by the noted male ornithologist, William Brewster, for reporting her finding in a mere magazine instead of a proper scientific journal. He was embarrassed because well after her discovery he had announced in the Auk that he had found the new species. In a polite riposte, Miller wrote, “I should take pleasure in “sharing my discoveries’ were I so happy as to make any; but to me everything is a discovery; each bird on first sight, is a new creation; his manners and habits are a revelation, as fresh and interesting to me as if they had never been observed before.”

Fox sparrow

Rufous-sided Towhee

Northern cardinal

It is this joy, the feeling of revelation that is the essence of seeing live birds, whether for the first time, in some special setting, doing something you have never noticed before, or after a long, long absence. RCC Bird Watch and Wonder co-editor, Bob Musil, has noted his own joy at the rare appearances of a Fox Sparrow or a Rufous-sided Towhee jumping backwards in the leaf litter left beneath an azalea in his yard. He was even moved to reflect on his love for the common cardinal when one hopped off his small, stone St. Francis feeder onto his kitchen windowsill and peered through the glass as if to offer thanks.

Eastern bluebirds

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Bluebirds may be giving thanks, too, as they gathered for mealworms put out for them by Dale Mangum who sent us this happy group photo from Patuxent, Maryland. Bird watchers, of course, also note the numbers of birds they see at Christmas and other collective counts that are a key part of citizen science. We report the most interesting and important findings here, along with the arrivals of migrating birds tracked at places like Hummingbird Central, or your own observations of the first junco or whitethroat of winter, or the first Red-winged Blackbird or robin of spring. The mass arrival of some species also marks seasonal celebrations like those of the return of Turkey vultures to Hinckley, Ohio.

Dark-eyed Junco

Red-winged blackbird

Sometimes the wonder of birds comes from hearing them, whether you can identify the sound or not. Rachel Carson is best known for her exposé of the chemical industry in Silent Spring. But it is the loss of bird song that gives the book its title and its power. “On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.”

Painted bunting

Carolina wren

Whether it is this wren you can hear that was part of Rachel Carson’s “dawn chorus,” a report or photo from you, from one of our followers across the nation, or a rare glimpse of a Painted Bunting in Maryland, you will find it here.

We think you will agree with Olive Thorne Miller, that each sighting, each finding, will be a true joy, a true discovery.

The Latest on Bird Findings

This Year’s Bonanza of Boreal Birds Once Again Bears Out the Winter Finch Forecast
As predicted, grosbeaks, crossbills, and other northern birds are on the move, visiting feeders and delighting birders. Prognosticator Tyler Hoar explains what goes into the annual projection.

For a certain type of birder, the Winter Finch Forecast is a highlight of the year.

Canadian naturalist Ron Pittaway pioneered the forecast in the 1970s and ‘80s, using the abundance or scarcity of seeds, berries, and other wild crops in the North Woods to predict the cold-season movements of nomadic birds like crossbills, grosbeaks, and redpolls that roam the continent in search of food. He expanded and formalized the forecast over the ensuing decades, reaching a growing audience of finch fans. Read more


Harsh Mountain Winters Have Made Chickadees Smarter
A decade of research has revealed how the cognitive abilities of chickadees are shaped by their surroundings. Now scientists have begun to peer inside the black box of genetics, uncovering the variations in the birds’ DNA that made these adaptations possible.

It’s January in California’s Sierra Ne­vada mountains, and scientist Carrie Branch is on snowshoes, trudging up­hill through several feet of fresh powder. Her destination is a backcountry bird feeder in the Tahoe National Forest, accessible only by driving up six miles of forest roads and then bushwhacking in. Read more


Climate Reshapes Life For Tenacious Gannets on Quebec Isle
On Quebec’s Bonaventure Island, the ghosts of human habitation from years past and the birds that breed there now in extraordinary numbers tell the same story: of lives lived hard in a place of fairy-tale beauty. You see this from the tender ages on the family gravestones of islanders who scratched out a living from the late 1700s to when Bonaventure went entirely to the birds a half century ago. Read more


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