Birds

Cedar Waxwing bird in tree with berries
Cedar Waxwing (NPS Photo Credit K Jones)

Year of the Bird

2018 is the Year of the Bird! Parks, conservationists, organizations, and nature lovers all around the world are teaming up to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever passed. Join us in committing to protect birds today and for the next hundred years. Visit the National Geographic's Year of the Bird page.

As a national park unit whose mission is to interpret the history of conservation and stewardship, we recognize the protection of birds was and continues to be a critical component to protecting our planet's biodiversity. Over the next year, we will be sharing insights into the world of birds at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park. Stay tuned for updates on the birds you can find within our 550 acres of forests, as well as evidence of an affinity for birds by the generations of conservationists that have called the property home over the last 200 years.
 
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe (NPS Photo Credit Ed Sharron)
A number of bird species live within the park boundaries. These range from seasonal visitors, to others just passing through, to those species that live year round in Vermont. A number of different song birds can be heard during the summer, including the Hermit Thrush, Vermont's state bird. On the Pogue, the park's 14-acre pond, Great Blue herons fish for bass. At night, the forest is the home of many different owl species, including the Barred owl, which is commonly seen in the park.


Print out a Bird Checklist grab your binoculars and put your results into eBird after exploring the park’s trails and birds!


Thanks to the NPS Inventory and Monitoring Program's Northeast Temperate Network (NETN), we now have a bird checklist for the park in a downloadable pdf file. The data for the checklist came from the Network's breeding bird monitoring program, the NPSpecies database and hundreds of eBird checklists for the park. Way to go Northeast Temperate Network and citizen scientists! The park has a wide variety of habitats and birds and great trails to hike to to get to them. Our forestry program ensures habitat for some early successional species as well as conserving forest bird habitat.

► Read NETN article: Citizen Scientists Help Track America's Rarest Thrush

 
Golden-crowned Kinglet 400x300 Wikimedia Commons
Golden-crowned Kinglet
(Credit Wikimedia Commons)

October Bird of the Month - Golden-crowned Kinglet

These round birds have fairly short wings and a long skinny tail. Their generally large heads look even larger compared to their small beaks. The Golden-crowned Kinglet ranges in size from 3.1” to 4.3” and only weighs between 0.1oz and 0.3oz. These birds are a light olive green color on their backs and a light gray color on their underside. The bright yellow-orange crown on the top of the bird’s head is where its name comes from. These territorial kinglets will actually use this crown to warn intruders to back off if they get too close!

The ideal summer habitat for the Gold-crowned Kinglet is a coniferous forest as they prefer to nest in spruces and firs. They build their nests 50ft up in the air almost exclusively in balsam firs and white spruces. In winter however, these birds are far less picky when it comes to habitat. They can survive nights that drop below -40oF by huddling together and live anywhere from sea level to 11,000 feet in elevation.

Insects make up most of this bird’s diet. They like to glean small arthropods and their eggs off of branches or leaves. Grasshoppers, lacewings, beetles, crickets, lice as well as other flies are perfect meals for this kinglet! In winter when insects are scarce, these birds are forced to feed more on seeds and berries. The song of the Golden-crowned Kinglet is heard far more often than their call. Listen for their high thin “seet-seet-seet” song next time you’re out on a walk!"

 
Black-capped Chicadee Credit Ed Sharron
Black-capped Chicadee
NPS Photo Credit Ed Sharron

September bird of the month - Black-capped Chickadee

September’s Bird of the Month is a favorite among New England birders, the Black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)! This is a year-round resident here in New England that frequents backyard bird feeders making it commonly seen and identified.

This tiny bird has a short neck and large head which gives it a fairly spherical shape. The black-capped chickadee gets its name from the black coloration of the top of its head. The black cap extends down over the eye where it meets a bright white cheek and a black bib.The gray back blends into the gray and white wings and long narrow tail.

The black-capped chickadee uses its very small beak to eat seeds and berries as well as small insects. In the winter, these birds prey equally on plants and animals. In the spring, summer, and fall, insects make up for 80-90% of this chickadee’s diet. This is an extremely social and very curious bird. They will often associate with other birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, and warblers.

Black-capped chickadees build cavity nests in any small nook that they can find. Many chickadees construct their own nests by pecking away at loose or rotting wood. Sometimes a chickadee builds a home when it comes across an abandoned cavity left behind by a small animal or even another bird.

If you have walked through mixed deciduous forests in the summer then you have most likely heard a chickadee’s song. Their song consists of 2 or 3 notes sounding like “fee-bee” or “hey, sweetie”. Their call is the famous “chickadee-dee-dee” and this is usually used to warn others of danger. Researchers discovered that the number of “dees” in a call coincide with the level of danger. Other animals have learned to listen for the chickadee’s warning call to let them know that there is danger nearby."
 
Red-eyed Vireo bird on branch Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

August Bird of the Month - The Red-eyed Vireo

The Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) is our Bird of the Month for August. These birds can be anywhere from 4.7 inches longs to 5.1 inches long and can weigh between 0.4 and 0.9 ounces.

The Red-eyed Vireo has a deep olive green color on its back, as well as its wings. Its belly and throat are a bright white, contrasting nicely with the green. Their heads have a gray crown with a white eyebrow stripe and a dark line that goes through their eye. The eyes on this bird are perhaps the most interesting - in adults they are a bright amber red color!

These birds like to forage in green canopies of deciduous and mixed forests. Generally, they prefer open forests with some understory saplings. They feed mostly on small insects, caterpillars, as well as a wide variety of seeds and berries.

In the summer, these birds are easily recognized by their continuous singing and calling. If you listen, you can hear their repetitive “cherr-o-wit, cheree, sissy-a-wit, tee-oo”. These birds are only summer residents in this area, as they migrate to tropical forests in South America in September. Later, they return to North America in spring to breed. Each female can produce 3-5 eggs for which they incubate for 11-14 days."

 
American Goldfinch Credit E Sharron 400x300
American Goldfinch
NPS Photo Credit E Sharron

July Bird of the Month - the American Goldfinch!

This month, we celebrate the American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis. This small, compact finch may be easily identified in the breeding season by the brilliant yellow and black plumage put on by males. Females and non-breeding males, though duller in color, may still be identified by two conspicuous pale bars on their wings.

American Goldfinches have an undulating flight pattern, meaning they frequently dip and rise as they fly. An easy indication that goldfinches are near is their flight call, a bright per-chik-o-ree or, more whimsically, po-ta-to-chip. The song of the American Goldfinch is light and complex, made up of many whistles and warbles that are variable and seemingly random. Individuals will continue to learn and change their songs throughout their lifetimes!

While the American Goldfinch does migrate, its path and preferences are irregular, often lingering in the North when food resources are in good supply. Here in the Park, American Goldfinches are a familiar sight and sound all year long, and can be seen foraging for seeds on thistles, grasses, and trees such as alder, birch, and elm.

 
Bobolink 400x300
Photo taken by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employee

June Bird of the Month - the Bobolink!

Our Bird of the Month for June is the Bobolink! This medium-sized relative of blackbirds and orioles prefers damp, unmown meadows and natural prairies. During breeding season, the male--whose unique black-and-white coloring across its back has been described as a “backwards tuxedo”--can be heard singing from the tops of grass stems and during display flights across fields.

Like blackbirds, Bobolinks are often polygynous, meaning that male Bobolinks can have several mates each breeding season. Furthermore, female Bobolinks can also be polyandrous, which may result in each clutch of eggs laid by a female Bobolink having multiple fathers! When the young hatch, both males and females help feed the young in their primary (and sometimes secondary) nests!

Despite the ability to mate with multiple partners in a single breeding season, Bobolink populations have declined significantly in the past few decades--one possible cause is the decline in the Bobolink’s preferred nesting habitat. Bobolinks generally nest in slight depressions in the earth hidden in tall, dense grasses, where they construct a shallow open cup of stems lined with finer grasses.

After mating, breeding, and raising their young, male Bobolinks molt into a buffy dark-streaked plumage closely resembling that of the females as they prepare to fly south for the winter--sometimes over 5,000 miles!

While a rough Anglicization of its bubbling, tinkling song has given the Bobolink its common name, its song has also been compared to another far-traveling conversationalist--R2-D2!

As you wander near hay fields, pastures, and other agricultural fields in our galaxy this summer, keep an ear out for the gurgling, whistling call of the Bobolink!

 
Small gray bird sits on a branch with blue sky behind
Image accessed through Wikimedia Commons

May - Bird of the Month is the Eastern Wood-Pewee

This May, we’re highlighting the Eastern Wood-Pewee! Generally found in eastern and central North America during breeding season, this olive-brown member of the Tyrannidae family loves to perch on branches in the mid-canopy and surprise its prey--flying insects.

While it can be difficult to spot the Eastern Wood-Pewee or differentiate it on sight from other members of the tyrant flycatcher group--like the Olive-sided Flycatcher and the Greater Pewee--the Eastern Wood-Pewee’s call is unmistakable. Listen for its slurred “pee-ah-weeee!” or “PEE-weee” in woodlands, groves, and forest edges this summer as it mates, breeds, and nests!

 
Dark-eyed Junco sits on a branch
Dark-eyed Junco (NPS Photo Credit Ed Sharron)

March - Bird of the Month is the Dark-eyed Junco

The Dark-eyed Junco is our Bird of the Month for March. A medium-sized sparrow, the dark-eyed junco can be found flitting through the trees in conifer and mixed wood forests or foraging on the ground for seeds and insects.

While this flashy little sparrow does come in various color patterns, those seen East of the plains are generally slate-colored, with crisp markings are bright white tail feathers (as portrayed in the photo below). One of the most commonly recorded birds in our park, the dark-eyed junco is known for its twittering call and same-pitched trilling song.

While they are quite common, the presence of large populations of dark-eyed juncos can indicate a robust seed crop!
 
Hairy Woodpecker on log feeder
Hairy Woodpecker (NPS Photo Credit: K Jones)

February - the Bird of the Month is the Hairy Woodpecker!

A member of the Picidae family, the hairy woodpecker can be identified by its squarish head, stiff tail feathers, and chisel-like bill. A hairy woodpecker’s bill has been known to be nearly the same length as its head--a useful fact to remember when trying to differentiate between the hairy woodpecker and its smaller cousin, the downy woodpecker!

Hairy woodpeckers can be found in deciduous, coniferous, and mixed forests. They tend to be permanent residents, but some hairy woodpeckers do migrate from the northern range in the winter. Easy to spot by their contrasting black and white coloring--adult males also sport a spot of red at the back of the head--the hairy woodpecker is often quite easy to hear as well. Known for a loud, sharp “peek” and single-pitch rattle, you can also hear the drumming of the hairy woodpecker as it excavates its nest in a tree trunk in warmer months. In later years, the nest a hairy woodpecker excavates may serve as a home for wrens, chickadees, and other small birds!

 
Red Crossbill bird on tree branch with blue sky background
Red Crossbill (Photo taken by park visitor, Marv Elliott)

January - To kick off the Year of the Bird, we are highlighting the Red Crossbill!

Generally measuring 5.5 - 6.5 inches with a large head and short tail, this bulky little member of the Finch family gets its name from another physiological feature--its crossed mandibles! This distinctive feature helps the Crossbill crack open evergreen cones while feeding. In fact, it's often easier to detect the diminutive Red Crossbill by the sound of cracking cones or their hard "jip-jip-jip" call than by sight.

Variations in bill not only hint at which cone is its preferred food source, but--along with noted changes in calls--have also led researchers to believe there may be as many as 10 different varieties of the Red Crossbill in North America! To learn more about the debate and the effect it may have on your birding checklist, follow this link. A hardy, nomadic species, at least one variety of Red Crossbill has been spotted enjoying the conifer stands in our park this winter!

Northeast Temperate Network (NETN) article - Species Spotlight - Red Crossbill

 

Northeast Temperate Network (NETN) Program

The Northeast Temperate Network (NETN) monitors a variety of natural resource indicators, called vital signs, for 12 parks in the northeast and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Find additional NETN reports, briefs and information on birds.

Read a variety of interesting NETN Species Spotlight articles below.

 
Great Horned Owl Photo by Greg Lilly

Great Horned Owl - Species Spotlight

With its large size, long ear tufts, big yellow eyes, and classic hooting call - this is the quintessential owl.

Credit Doug Greenburg

Species Spotlight Turkey & Black Vulture

The Black Vulture, along with its close relative the Turkey Vulture, provides the invaluable service of cleaning up our roadsides & forests

Sharp-Shinned Hawk sits on branch Photo Credit Ed Sharron

Species Spotlight Sharp-Shinned Hawk

“Sharpie’s” are the smallest of three North American agile hawks known as the accipiters (ah-sip-it-ers).

Ruby-throated Hummingbird on a branch credit Ed Sharron

Hummingbirds - Species Spotlight Article

Possessing the ability to hover, fly forwards, backwards, straight-up, even upside-down, and at speeds up to 60 miles-per-hour when diving

American Woodcock blends into the forest floor Photo Credit Steve Valasek

Species Spotlight - American Woodcock

The American Woodcock is a stout, short-legged shorebird with a long and straight bill.

Hermit Thrush with open beak on tree Photo Credit Minder Cheng

Species Spotlight - Hermit Thrush

The state bird of Vermont and a little smaller than a Robin, the Hermit Thrush has grey-brown upper parts and a contrasting white underside.

Last updated: October 29, 2018

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