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

Some Birds Are Laying Eggs Earlier. Scientists are Paying Attention.
Climate change may be causing birds that migrate to travel earlier to nesting areas.

During a birdwatching stroll last spring, John Bates spotted a newly hatched killdeer chick. Common in North America, the long-legged birds often dart across the ground hunting for insects. Bates noted the date: April 30. Killdeer eggs take about 24 days to hatch, so this youngster must have come from an egg laid at the beginning of April. That’s roughly one month earlier than birds were laying eggs a century ago — a big difference, says Bates. He is curator of the Division of Birds at Chicago’s Field Museum. (A curator oversees the collection and handling of historical items. Read more


Why do flocks of birds swoop and swirl together in the sky? A biologist explains the science of murmurations
A shape-shifting flock of thousands of starlings, called a murmuration, is amazing to see. As many as 750,000 birds join together in flight. The birds spread out and come together. The flock splits apart and fuses together again. Murmurations constantly change direction, flying up a few hundred meters, then zooming down to almost crash to the ground. They look like swirling blobs, making teardrops, figure eights, columns and other shapes. A murmuration can move fast – starlings fly up to 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour). Read more


Birds of the U: Capturing a natural aviary in our own backyard
At the brightest hours of the day, some students may spot something quite incredible at the heart of campus. Looking across Lake Osceola from the entrance to Eaton Residential College, next to the School of Architecture, a lucky few will find a magnificent osprey perched atop the roof’s edge of the Donna Shalala Student Center. Such a graceful yet powerful apex predator will occasionally swoop its way across the lake to a nearby tree, protecting its nest and warning others with a series of intense chirps. Read more


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Past Issues of the RCC Bird Watch and Wonder

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