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Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Snowbirds Have Arrived!! Welcome Them At Your Feeder

Dark-eyed Junco

Yesterday we noticed large flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos coming through on their migration. We had some birder friends from AZ visiting and everywhere we looked clouds of juncos were fluttering up. Another friend of ours asked, "since the snowbirds are here does that mean its going to snow??"
Oh no, not yet, not the "s" word. It will snow this winter. Just because the "snowbirds," (another name for juncos), are here, doesn't mean it's going to snow now.
Dark-eyed Juncos are named snowbirds because of their plumage colors of gray and white. They have "gray skies above and snow below." In other areas of the country juncos may look slightly different.
Some juncos may stay and winter with us here, in NH. Others will continue their migration and may show up at your feeders, so start looking. Juncos like to feed on the ground or from low platform feeders and come to millet and mixed seed.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Short-eared Owls are Migrating Now!



Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owls are migrating now and one was recently seen on the NH coast. Interesting that in the past just about this time (Oct. 27th 2013) we were at our nearby hawk watch site, Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory in southwest NH, and saw a Short-eared Owl migrating, a first record for that site. It was migrating during the day and popped up above the mountain in the midst of some ravens. Much excitement at seeing the first one there and it was a thrill. Recently on NH birds list serve, a Short-eared Owl was reported from migrating on the NH coast, a more common place to see this uncommon owl.

Little is known about Short-eared Owl migration according to the authoritative source on bird behavior, The Birds of North America online.

The Short-eared Owl is one of my favorite owls. This medium-sized owl lives in open habitats, such as tundra, grasslands, fields, marshes, prairies and savannas, where it hunts small mammals. It breeds mostly in the far North and parts of the West and can be seen in winter in many parts of the country.

All the photos above, except the small bottom photo which is of the owl over Pack Monadnock, are of a Short-eared Owl I saw on Christmas several years ago in the marshes of Salisbury Beach, MA. This owl mostly hunts at night, sometimes during the day. I was lucky it was out and gave me photo ops. This owl flies erratically, like a moth, and courses low over the ground. 

So keep your eye and ears open for Short-eared Owls and you may add to the information on its migration.

NO Birds At the Feeder?? Here's Why!

Dark-eyed Junco

Many people have been reporting a lack of birds at their feeders and right now we are not going through the bird seed as we were in later summer when the baby goldfinches were gobbling all.

The main reason for birds not being as abundant right now at feeders here in New England is because this has been wet year and mild fall and there seems to be a superabundance of wild food available, including pine cones, other cones, seeds, fruits, berries. The birds just don't need the feeders, plus since it has been warm their calorie requirements are lower. As you know, birds in the wild do not ever get all their food entirely from feeders. They go around their winter ranges each foraging in their own species way. Chickadees stay in a small fixed flock in a winter range of about 20 acres and glean insects and larvae from bark, as well as eat nuts and seeds. They visit feeders in their winter territory. In extremely severe weather however, when wild food has been depleted and or is covered with ice, then chickadees will visit feeders more and sometimes it can be life-saving.
For those of you, including us, that are addicted to seeing birds at our feeders, there are some birds coming to feeders now and here's how to entice them.
Dark-eyed Juncos are one of the most common feeder birds in the country. These northen breeders come down into the U.S. in winter. By us, some stay the winter, some migrate farther south. Juncos are a type of sparrow and love eating at or near the ground.

We built this brush pile and placed it about 15 feet from our bird feeder. It is about 4 feet high and 12 feet wide, made of saplings and even seed heads from our perennials. We sprinkle millet on the ground in front of it and in it. The Juncos and White-throated Sparrows just love it and visit often. These species naturally feed on the ground in the wild, and this set-up simulates their wild feeding situation plus gives then the cover of the brush pile to hide from predators. Millet is a tiny white seed enjoyed by sparrow species. It is not the favorite food of chickadees (black oil sunflower is). Even though we sprinkle it on the ground we monitor it and clean up any old seed. Mostly all our seed is in feeders and seed cleanliness is very important to the birds. We also put millet in platform feeders, and sometimes the juncos and other ground feeding species feed there. The brush pile also offers protection from predators to all the other birds who visit the feeders.

Blue Jay

Blue Jays also are coming to feeders now big time. You'll also see them flying across highways as you drive around. Jays have a habit of carrying off seeds and acorns in fall to cache (hide) them for later use. Jays have a mixed reputation; they can eat birds eggs, but they are also great alarmists, warning of hawks, and other birds may benefit from that. We enjoy their beautiful colors against the late fall landscape.
Meanwhile, have patience and keep feeders clean and filled, you want the winter feeder regulars to know you're there when they need you. Once the weather turns cold your feeder regulars will be back.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

How to Help Bluebirds Survive Winter!

We have Eastern Bluebirds visit us occasionally in late fall and even check out some of their nesting boxes from the past breeding season. They even grab a snack of the dried mealworms. They usually move on when the weather gets really bad.


Bluebirds may sometimes remain in some northern areas in winter, much to people's surprise. Here's some tips for bluebird enthusiasts, on how to help bluebirds survive in winter.

1. Bluebirds can roost together in bird houses to keep warm. Insulate your bird houses by closing off all cracks, drainage holes, etc., with some sort of insulating material so less drafts and cold get into the bird house. Just leave the entrance hole open. Remove insulation in spring before breeding. Face bird houses away from prevailing winter winds.

2. Bluebirds mainly eat fruit and berries in winter. Plant your property with an abundance of crabapples and native, berry-producing shrubs such as viburnums, dogwoods and hollies (like winterberry holly). Place these berry plantings in sunny, protected areas, blocked from winter winds. The bluebirds will have a warm place to eat and use less precious energy.

3. Some bluebirds will come to food such as, hulled sunflower, suet, dried mealworms, and some of the many "bluebird meal mixtures" or nuggets. Generally most bluebirds do not learn to do this. You can certainly try putting out these foods, but your best bet is to have lots of berries planted in your yard.

4. Bluebirds like water (may help with processing the berries) and will visit bird baths and heated bird baths. In general, when it is very severely cold, some people think it is a risk for birds to bathe. Holding off on the water, or placing sticks over the bird bath to only allow birds to drink, not bathe, may be a good idea in this situation. Many birds will eat snow in winter to get water.

Most bluebirds move out of the northernmost areas of their range in winter. Even ones that may linger eventually move on, once their berry sources are depleted or ice-covered. For bluebirds, and many birds, there is a trade-off of staying more north in order to be first to claim prime breeding territories, yet risking survival due to bad weather. Some of these tips may help them survive and you feel you're helping them. Bluebirds are truly beloved.
For more complete information see our best-selling Stokes Bluebird Book.

For the very latest identification information and range maps on all three species of North American Bluebirds; Eastern Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird and Western Bluebird, see our best-seller, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, the most complete photo guide to birds of NA, and the new regional editions, The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Regions

Monday, October 30, 2017

Real Halloween Bats!!

Eastern Red Bat

Eastern Red Bat

Eastern Red Bat

Just in time for Halloween, a bat appeared in our yard several years ago. I just photographed this migrating Eastern Red Bat in flight as it foraged over our house. We watched it for about 10 minutes as it swooped over the trees and fields, catching insects. So cool!! But what is even more fun is looking at the photos. In the middle photo you can see the ear, lit by the sun. In the bottom photo you can see the outline of the bones.

These bats live in trees in wooded areas and roost up in the foliage curled up in their furry tail membrane. They are mainly solitary, just getting together to mate and during migration. They eat lots of moths as well as other insects. They live throughout the eastern half of the country. In fall the more northern ones migrate to southern areas, often using the same migratory routes along the eastern seaboard as some birds do.
We were so lucky to see it!

To learn more about bat conservation go here



and see out Stokes Beginner's Guide to Bats, written by Rob Mies and Kim Williams.

To learn more about birds see our best-sellers, the most comprehensive photo guides,


The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How to ID and Attract Sparrows at Your Bird Feeder Now!

White-throated Sparrows, Zonotrichia albicollis, come in two morphs. One morph has brown head stripes, as here;

the other morph has black-and-white head stripes, as here. There is much individual variation. They all have white throats and are very common at many feeders in winter.

White-crowned Sparrows, Zonotrichia leucophrys, in their first winter have rufous brown head stripes

and no white throat. We just saw one of these in our NH yard.


The dramatic adult White-crowned Sparrow has beautiful black head stripes and a white central crown stripe.

Sparrows are migrating big time. White-throated Sparrows are coming to bird feeders across much of the country now. Somewhat less common here in NH, White-crowned Sparrows are also migrating and coming to feeders. Both these species winter across much of the country and you may have them at your bird feeders all winter. We recently had first-winter White-crowned Sparrows at our feeder amongst the many, many White-throated Sparrows.

These sparrows love to feed on the ground on millet or seed mixes containing millet. We make a special sparrow feeder by building a big brush pile and sprinkling the seed in front and under the pile. It's a sparrow magnet and provides perching spots and cover from predators. The big bonus for us is that we get to see lots of fall sparrows.

If you live in the far western part of the country, you will get lovely Golden-crowned Sparrows visiting your bird feeders. They have a golden forecrown, surrounded on the front and sides by black or brown.

All these sparrow species are in the genus Zonotrichia. We discussed the characteristics of the sparrows in the Melospiza genus as stated in our The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, the most complete photographic guide available. In our guide, p. 656, we discuss the Zonotrichia genus and say these are "large deep-bellied, broad-necked sparrows with a fairly small conical bill, rounded crown and fairly long, slightly notched tail." In addition to White-throated, Golden and White-crowned Sparrows, the Zonotrichia genus includes Harris's Sparrows.

Tip: Look at these sparrows through your binoculars at your bird feeder and learn the characteristics of the shape of each genus. You will get better at ID-ing them and it will set you up to learn the sparrows in other genera.


Sparrow ID, Melospiza Sparrows



Lincoln's Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii. Saw one recently here in our NH yard.

Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodyLots are at our bird feeders and bird bath now.

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana. Hang out in swampy areas not usually at feeders.

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Sparrow ID can be challenging, to say the least. We often see Swamp Sparrows, hanging out appropriately, in swampy areas at the edge of the water. Birds are often habitat dependent and thus the Swamp Sparrow's name.

This is a subtly beautiful sparrow with a strongly marked face, russet wash along flanks and reddish-brown on crown, wings and tail.

Swamp Sparrows are in the genus Melospiza, along with Song and Lincoln's Sparrows. In our The Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America, in addition to individual thorough species accounts with multiple photos per species, we have colored boxes where we give helpful Identification Tips and an overview for many of the bird families. Look for these in our field guide.

For Sparrows, in the new Stokes guide p. 656, we say,

"Sparrows are small birds with short conical bills and varied-length tails. They are birds of primarily grasslands, fields, and open edges, where they feed mostly on seeds and some insects. Most are brownish with streaked backs, and they can look quite similar. Fortunately there are several large genera that have subtle but distinctive shapes. Becoming familiar with these shapes can help you place an individual sparrow into one of these groups, or genera; then you can look for plumage clues to complete your identification.

Species ID: There are 12 genera of sparrows in North America. Only 5 have 3 or more species, and these are the ones that are most useful to know to use in this generic approach.

* Melospiza: Medium-sized to large sparows with rather average proportions: they are slightly deep-bellied and have a medium-sized bill, rounded crown, and fairly long rounded tail. These sparrows are easily seen in brushy areas and marshes; when flused or curious they tend to fly up to higher perches for long periods and give short alarm calls. Some (Song Sparrow) come regularly to bird feeders. Includes Song, Lincoln's, and Swamp.

Chipping Sparrow, Spizella  passerina, adult summer. Chipping Sparrows come to feeders.

In winter Chipping Sparrows change and look like this. Chipping Sparrows are in the Spizella genus.

* Spizella: Small to medium-sized sparrows with high rounded crown, short conical bill and fairy long notched tail. These are fairly conspicuous sparrows that often feed in flocks on the ground. When disturbed they tend to fly up to higher vegetation and look around. They include Chipping, American Tree, Clay-colored, Brewer's, Field, and Black-chinned Sparrows.

In addition to the above, look for this different sparrow at your feeders,
Fox Sparrow, Passerella iliaca. These are large beautiful sparrows that can be seen in fall and winter at feeders.

Our big national book, The Stokes Field Guide to The Birds Of North America is now available for your convenience in two regional guides that are lighter and more portable. The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Regions recently came out and can be bought at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and your local bookseller. Get them for they contain multiple photos of each species of sparrow and will help you with identifying and and enjoying your sparrows more.
Our brand new guide for beginning and intermediate bird watchers is The Stokes Essential Pocket Guide to the Birds of North America, contains over 580 stunning photos, covers 250 species, and can fit in your pocket!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Yellow-rumped Warblers are Migrating Now!

This is a Yellow-rumped Warbler in winter plumage with the tell-tale yellow rump. They're migrating  now so watch for them in your garden. Get to know this bird since it is one of the most common fall migrating warblers. Photo is from our new The Stokes Essential Pocket Guide to Birds of North America, which was recently published!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hummingbird Migration now

Young Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Hummingbird migration is happening now! Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are migrating all across the eastern half of the country on their way across the Gulf of Mexico to Central America. Help them fuel up by keeping your hummingbird feeders clean and full and by planting LOTS of red tubular flowers such as this red salvia. They will return next spring. Bye-bye.