2018 Year of the Bird (cont.)

Visit the Birds page for more information about Shenandoah's birds, including access to a species list.

“If you take care of birds, you take care of most of the environmental problems in the world.” –Thomas Lovejoy

Did you know that 2018 is the Year of the Bird? Although we celebrate birds every year here at Shenandoah National Park, this year is exceptionally special for our feathered friends. 2018 marks the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act—a U.S. law in convention with Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Russia to protect migratory birds from being harmed, imported, and/or exported. In honor of this milestone, National Geographic, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, BirdLife International, the National Audubon Society, the National Park Service and 100 other organizations have taken the pledge to highlight the importance of birds and to commit to protecting birds today, the next hundred years, and another hundred years after that.

In celebration of the Year of the Bird, Shenandoah National Park will feature a resident or visiting bird to the Park every week on Feathered Friends Fridays at the Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center, Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (in-season), here on the official Shenandoah National Park webpage and on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages!

If you would like to take the pledge to #BirdYourWorld and learn more about how you too can participate, please visit the official Year of the Bird Webpage (www.birdyourworld.org).

A large brown bird with a yellow hooked beak and red streaks on its belly perches on a tree branch
Red-shouldered Hawk

Andy Morffew

Week Fifty-two: Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

The red shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) is a niche species in the East. It prefers deciduous forests, often near streams and swamps. This allows them to stay far enough away from the more common and aggressive red-tailed hawk which prefers more open agricultural areas. In the Park, you can sometimes spot these striking hawks at Big Meadows where there’s the perfect mix of forested and wetland habitat. Their call is a distinctive and sometimes persistent “kee-yaw.” They can be quite vocal during breeding season (April) and again during/after young fledging. These hawks are generalists and feed on a variety of small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

A large, chicken-like brown bird with a white belly and dark streaks stands upon a rock wall.
Ruffed Grouse


Week Fifty-one: Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)

In Shenandoah National Park, Ruffed Grouse are occasionally seen walking slowly on the forest floor, shopping for seeds, buds, leaves, acorns, insects and salamanders. But you're more likely to hear them drumming.

During courtship, a male Ruffed Grouse will stand on a stump or log and pump his wings rapidly back and forth. The low, thumping sound he creates is like a motor starting up, getting faster and faster and quickly winding down. Other courtship behavior includes strutting around with tail feathers fanned out like a turkey, and extending long black feathers to form an attractive ruff around his neck (hence the name).

A small bird with a white belly and blue wings perches on a tree branch with bright pink flowers. In its beak is a moth that it has caught.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

NPS | Neal Lewis

Week Fifty: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)

Their breeding range includes Shenandoah National Park, and we can’t wait to see them again! During the breeding season, pairs will actually construct a series of different nests to keep eggs and young birds safe from predators. Materials such as plant down, grasses, hair, and feathers are reused each time a new nest is built. Nests are decorated with lichen and pieces of bark held in place with spider webs or caterpillar silk

A medium-sized bird with black streaks across a white breast stands on the ground
Northern Bobwhite

Week Forty-nine: Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus)

This species of quail is one of the most easily recognizable birds in the park because, like the eastern pewee and Carolina chickadee, it calls out its own name: a sharp, whistling "Bob-white!" Unlike the pewee and chickadee, however, Northern Bobwhites are much less likely to be heard or seen these days. Once common in the eastern U.S., their population has sharply delcined in the last 50 years, mainly due to habitat loss.

These ground-feeding birds pick seeds and insects from shrubby areas, grasslands and overgrown fields. They often travel in groups of 12 to 16 birds, scurrying from the shelter of one shrub to another. If alarmed, they may explode out of the vegetation for a short flight and run for the nearest cover on landing. At night, they often roost together on the ground, forming a tight circle, facing outward. This formation helps to keep them warm and provides a guard against predators such as foxes and bobcats.

A white bird with brown streaks perches on a stick with a green background behind it
Pine Siskin

NPS | Neal Lewis

Week Forty-eight: Pine Siskin (Spinus pinus)

Pine Siskins are cold weather-loving birds, so spend their summers in the northern US and Canada. Although a few can be found in this area every winter, siskins are “irruptive”, which means their winter movements are erratic. Only during one out of every two to three winters do large numbers of siskins move south to the Central and Southern US. During these “irruption years”, Shenandoah provides a safe winter home for large numbers of these tiny finches!

A bird with a brown back, black wings, yellow belly, and bright red wing spots perches on a tree branch.
Cedar Waxwing

NPS | Brett Raeburn

Week Forty-seven: Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Cedar Waxwings may be found year-round in Shenandoah National Park. The Park makes the perfect home for them: a variety of habitats, such as streams heavy-laden with aquatic insect larvae that emerge from the water as flying insects – a protein-rich food for these birds. Shenandoah also provides many plants that produce berries and other fruits for Cedar Waxwings to eat.

A tan bird with a bold, black bar on its neck perches among bare tree branches
Northern Flicker

NPS | Jodi Davis

Week Forty-six: Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Like all woodpeckers, Northern Flickers can be found in forested areas. However, since they also forage on the ground, they can be found in a wider variety of habitats, including meadows with scattered trees, suburbs, and yards! They frequent recently burned areas, so they are often one of the first birds to return to an area after a wildfire here in Shenandoah.

During breeding season, rival male flickers may face off in a “fencing duel” display to attract nearby females. The two males perch on a branch, facing each other, and make loud vocalizations while drawing a figure-eight pattern in the air with their beaks during this display!

An owl with a large, flat face and white and brown streaks on its breast.
Northern Saw-whet Owl seen at Stony Man.

NPS | Dale Meyerhoeffer

Week Forty-five: Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)

Say what?! The Northern Saw-whet Owl is Virginia’s smallest owl species, growing up to about 8 inches tall and weighing not more than 2-5 ounces! It was only recently discovered that they are winter residents of Virginia--the Northern Saw-whet Owl’s migration is rather mysterious, as they prefer to fly under cover of darkness on cool, calm nights with no moon.

A close-up of a large, brown eagle with a yellow beak and golden eyes
Golden Eagle

Week Forty-four: Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

Although the Bald Eagle won the race for the national animal of the United States, the Golden Eagle wins the race of being the most common national animal in the world by representing Albania, Germany, Austria, Mexico, and Kazakhstan. The Golden Eagle also wins the race for being the largest bird of prey species in the entire US! Since the females are larger than the males, some may refer to a female Golden Eagle as 'the bird queen'. These majestic beasts can be found throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia soaring through the air and diving at speeds of 150 mph in search of prey and places to breed. Golden Eagles will eat a variety of prey and are known for taking down animals much larger than them, including: domestic livestock, mountain goats, bobcats, coyotes, and even seals! Golden Eagles are one of three raptor species in America who have legs feathered all the way to their toes

A bird with a white belly and a dark brown back stands on a patch of snow.
Snow Bunting

Week Forty-three: Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)

The snow bunting is a rare visitor to Shenandoah National Park, but now is the time to be on the lookout for this arctic migrant. This species breeds farther north than any other songbird, nesting on the open tundra of the high arctic, from Greenland to Alaska to Russia. Males stake out their territories in March, when the ground is still covered with snow and temperatures can dip to -22 degrees F. Females arrive 3 to 4 weeks later and nest deep in rock crevices, out of sight of predators.

Snow buntings migrate hundreds of miles south during winter, sometimes arriving at Shenandoah in late October or November. They can easily be distinguished from other chunky, sparrow-sized birds by the large amount of white coloring, mixed with light and dark brown. In spring, the breeding plumage of males changes to mostly white. This is not due to molting, however. The birds rub their bellies and heads in the snow and actually wear away the brown colors!

In addition to the Big Meadows area, snow buntings have been seen in the past along high-elevation overlooks, rock walls, and gravel fire roads, picking around for seeds.

A bird with a white-belly, a yellow back, and a brown streak down its side perches in a tree among green leaves
Chestnut-sided Warbler

Week Forty-two: Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica)

Meet the Chestnut-sided Warbler! This distinctive warbler species uses the Appalachian Mountain range as its southernmost breeding area and can often be found in Shenandoah National Park in the spring and summer. The Chestnut-sided Warbler was not well known in the 1800s, as the only record was in 1808 by John James Audubon. This is now a very common warbler species found in the Eastern US and interestingly enough, it is all due to human impact. Increased cutting of forests, which usually causes declines many other bird populations, has increased the Chestnut-sided Warbler population significantly. This species needs a brushier habitat, which is created when forests are cut. This is a benefit of forest cutting and just goes to show that balance is key for survival. The use of sound conservation methods aids in maintaining a balance of nature and avoiding the complete destruction of wild spaces. The National Park Service advocates preservation, so that there will always be wild spaces for generations to come!

A dark gray bird with a white belly perches on a stick with snow covering the ground
Dark-eyed Junco

NPS | Neal Lewis

Week Forty-one: Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)

As fall turns to winter and the leaves begin to drop, birders in the mid-Atlantic and the southern Atlantic coasts look for the arrival of the Dark-eyed Junco. This cold weather bird is one of the heralds of the season change. But here at Shenandoah if you are using the departure of the Dark-eyed Junco to know that spring has arrived, you might be waiting a long time. Unlike most of their brethren, the Dark-eyed Juncos that make Shenandoah NP their habitat will stay here year-round. The commonly seen on the forest floor, and even around the visitor centers, foraging for their next meal. So keep an eye out for a small grey bird hopping along the ground on your next visit to the park!

A small blue and brown hawk perches on a log and looks back over its shoulder
American Kestrel

NPS | White Sands National Monument

Week Forty: American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

If you drive around the countryside, almost anywhere in the United States, seeing a bird on a telephone wire is a fairly common sight. Take a closer look though, and that bird that looked like it was just a common dove or pigeon may actually be one of the smallest birds of prey in the world. The American Kestrel, while it may not be a frequent inhabitant of the park, it can be occasionally seen in the meadow and around the boundary of the park. It loves to hunt for small rodents using its ability to see in ultraviolet and its ability to hover in mid-air. The falcon’s vibrant chestnut and slate blue colorations are quite distinctive, so next time you are sitting in a car watching the miles go by take a second and see if you can spot this bird!

A blueish gray bird with a white belly perches on a stick with its beak wide open
Tufted Titmouse

NPS | Neal Lewis

Week Thirty-nine: Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

Did someone just call for Peter? Well, if you happen to be hiking in Shenandoah National Park they just might have! The Tufted Titmouse is a very vocal bird and can be identified by its echoing “Peter, Peter, Peter” call. This little gray bird can be found year-round in eastern forests eating seeds, nuts, and berries and is known to hoard food during the fall and winter months. The Tufted Titmouse is quite the gymnast and can be observed hanging upside down and sideways looking for insects on branches and leaves. In the spring, Tufted Titmouse pairs will build nests in the cavities of trees, often in holes created by woodpeckers. The nest is constructed out of leaves, bark, and grass and then lined with soft materials including bits of cotton or fur. Sometimes, Titmouse pairs even pluck fur from living animals! Leaving dead trees with cavities in your yard will ensure Titmouse pairs have a great place to build their nests

A large bird with long, brown tail feathers stand on top of a rock wall.
Wild Turkey


Week Thirty-eight: Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

Turkeys are often what comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving, but actually can be spotted year-round in Shenandoah National Park. These large, yet beautiful birds are the iconic sound of fall with their gobbles echoing in the woods. Benjamin Franklin referred to the wild turkey as “a bird of courage” and was referred to as a “more respectable bird.” It was in the running to become America’s National Bird and ultimately, the wild turkey fell short by only one vote, coming in second to the Bald Eagle. Across the country, wild turkeys came close to extinction during the early 1900’s due to habitat loss in addition to over harvesting as a result of unregulated hunting. Turkey populations were brought back from the brink of extinction with trap-and-relocation programs across the United States. The invention of the net cannon made this very successful capture technique possible. Today, as you travel Skyline Drive and spend time in the park, keep an ear open just in case you hear the familiar vocalizations of Shenandoah’s largest gallinaceous bird.

A large group of hawks circle high above in the air, appearing as black dots in the sky.
A kettle of broad-winged hawks

NPS | Gabriel Mapel

Week Thirty-seven: Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)

Broad-winged Hawks are one of the most common raptor species in Shenandoah National Park during the summer. At this time of year, they are flying in large groups, or "kettles", (of up to 1,000 hawks) over the Park, as they migrate to South America. While migrating, a group of Broad-winged Hawks gains altitude in a thermal (a column of rising warm air) and then flies south, losing altitude until they find another thermal, but they hardly flap their wings at all. By repeating this process, they can get to South America while expending as little energy as possible!


Last updated: January 31, 2019

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