Monday, March 28, 2011

Bird of the Week XXVl - Monday, March 28th, 2011

This week's "Bird of the Week" is the American robin. The Robin is the first true sign of spring for many people. The American Robin is a familiar sight pulling up worms on suburban lawns. The Robin is a large thrush with gray back and wings and red underparts. It has a dark head with white eye crescents (marks above and below the eye). The males and females look alike with the female paler, especially on the head.

The American Robin eats both fruit and invertebrates. Earthworms are important during the breeding season, but fruit is the main diet during winter. Robins eat different types of food depending on the time of day; they eat earthworms early in the day and more fruit later in the day. Because the robin forages (eats) largely on lawns, it is vulnerable to pesticide poisoning and can be an important indicator of chemical pollution. Robins will occasionally winter over here in Reading, surviving on berries.

In early spring, Robins can often be seen a big flocks in grassy fields feeding.

Robins have adapted very well to human-modified habitats. I bet you have seen and heard Robins in your yard, and maybe even have found a Robin nesting in a bush or shrub in your yard. Robins mate in the spring from April through July and may have as many as three broods (families). Their loud, musical, whistled song sounds like, "cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up."
Photos from All About Birds.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bird of the Week XXV - Monday, March 21st, 2011

This week's "Bird of the Week" is a bird you probably haven't seen before, but does nest here in Reading. It is the American woodcock. The American woodcock is a shorebird that lives in forests! The American Woodcock is most frequently encountered at dusk when the male's chirping, peenting aerial displays attract attention. Otherwise the superbly camouflaged bird is difficult to discover on the forest floor where it probes for earthworms. The flexible tip of the American Woodcock's bill is specialized for catching earthworms. The bird probably feels worms as it probes in the ground. A woodcock may rock its body back and forth without moving its head as it slowly walks around, stepping heavily with its front foot. This action may make worms move around in the soil, increasing their detectablity.The Woodcock is plump, with a round head, no apparent neck, and a long bill. It's coloring is shades of brown, buff, and gray which allows it to camouflage itself quite nicely. The American woodcock is a gamebird, meaning that it can be leagally hunted.
The male American Woodcock has an elaborate display to attract females. He gives repeated "peents" on the ground, often on remaining patches of snow in the early spring. After a time he flies upward in a wide spiral. As he gets higher, his wings start to twitter. After reaching a height of about 300 feet,  the twittering becomes intermittent, and the bird starts chirping as he starts to descend. He comes down in a zig-zag, diving fashion, chirping as he goes. As he comes near the ground he silently lands, near a female if she is present. Then he starts peenting again. You can observe this spectacular courtship display at the Bare Meadow Conservation Land, off of Pearl St. here in Reading. They display just before dawn and again at dusk.  To listen to a brief podcast entitled, "Woodcock's Sky Dance", click here and then click Play MP3.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bird of the Week - XXlV - Monday, March 14th, 2011

This week's "Bird of the Week" is the Carolina wren. Twenty years ago, it would have been very rare to see a Carolina wren in Reading. Now, they are fairly common around town. This bird is a great example of range expansion, that is living organisms expanding the range in which they live. The Carolina wren is a bird of the Southeast but now can be found in all most all of Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire and southern Maine. It can be found in a wide range of habitats, from swamps to forest to residential area. They requires moderately dense shrub or brushy cover. They eat primarily insects, but can be found around winter bird feeders eating suet.

The Carolina wren is a small, buffy, songbird with rusty colored underparts. It oftens holds it tail in the upright position and it has a white eye stripe. The sexes look alike with the male slightly larger. The Carolina wren's song is a very loud, clear, 3-syllabled chant, like "tea kettle - tea kettle - tea kettle." It is one of the few birds that will sing in the dead of winter.
The Carolina wren is quite creative as to where it will nest and roost at night. It will nest in hanging plants, tipped over flower pots, nest boxes, it will even nest in garages if the door or window is kept open. Last winter, I had a Carolina wren roost (sleep) in my Christmas wreath hanging on my front door! Here are plans you could follow to build a shelter box for Carolina wrens, or other small birds, to use at night.
Photos taken from Cornells All About Birds

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bird of the Week - XXlll - Monday, March 7th, 2011

This week's BOTW isn't one bird, but two!  Red-winged blackbirds and Common grackles are two of the earliest returning migratory birds to our area and serve as signs of spring.
Perhaps the most abundant bird in North America, the Red-winged blackbird is one the the earliest returning migratory birds in our area. After spending the winter in the southern part of the United States, they arrive back here in Reading from the end of February through early March. Saturday (Feb.26th), I observed a flock of 11 Red-winged blackbirds, with several of them singing.
The Red-winged blackbird is a medium-sized songbird that has a moderately long, slender bill and a medium length tail. The male is black with a bright red to reddish-orange patch on it's wings. The female is totally different appearance, looking a lot like a large, dark sparrow. It's song is a harsh, gurgling trill described as "kon-ka-reee".

Red-winged blackbirds breed in a variety of wetland and grassy areas, including swamps, marshes, meadows, and fields. The male Red-winged blackbird flashes and displays the red patches (epaulets) on it's wings to attract a mate. The males vigorously defend their territory, chasing any birds that comes into it, trying to drive them away.
About 75% of the Red-winged Blackbird diet is seeds. During the breeding season, they also eat insects, especially dragonflies, mayflies, and caddis flies as they emerge from their aquatic larval stage. In winter, grain is an important source of food, and many birds feed on corn stubble and at feedlots.
The Common grackle is a large blackbird, approximately 12 inches long with a wingspan of about 16 inches. It is an iridescent black all over with a long tail that looks keel-like in flight. It's eyes are yellow and it has a fairly long, black bill. The head, neck, and breast are a glossy, purplish-green or blue. The female is slightly smaller and less glossy than the male. It's song is a harsh, unmusical "readle-eak," like a rusty gate.

It spends the winter in southern United States and is one of the earliest returning migrant birds, often returning in March along with flocks of Red-winged blackbirds. It forages (eats) on ground, often in large flocks with other blackbirds where it will eat insects, other invertebrates, grain, seeds, acorns, and fruit. The Common Grackle is an opportunistic forager (hunter of food), taking advantage of whatever food sources it can find. It will follow plows for invertebrates and mice, wade into water to catch small fish, and sometimes kill and eat other birds at bird feeders.

The Common grackle breeds in much of central and eastern United States and Canada, living in a variety of open areas with scattered trees, including open woodland, boreal forest, swamps, marshes, agricultural areas, urban residential areas, and parks.
Photos from All About Birds and