Hermit Thrush
Hermit Thrush
What inquisitive child isn’t captivated by seeing or holding a fuzzy baby chick in their hands? In adult life, I’ve had several opportunities to hold wild birds in my own hands under several sets of different circumstances. Let’s view three species I’ve encountered and consider them from their divergent ecological perspectives.

Our state bird, the Black-Capped Chickadee, is perhaps the most appealing feathered creature I know. They exude vigorous confidence and trust and often approach within a few feet as I refill my bird feeders. Despite occasional fall wanderings to points farther south, most chickadees remain in permanent territories throughout their lifetimes. Male and female siblings depart their separate ways to avoid genetic inbreeding. By being so familiar with local habitats, chickadees are central members of roving guilds of winter nuthatches, nuthatches, titmice and small woodpeckers. Chickadees are often the instigators of mobbing actions against predators arriving on the scene.

The chickadee photo? I stood near an alder thicket where several chickadees were localizing. On a whim, I decided to offer them bits of crumpled breakfast cereal that I keep at the ready in my car. Jutting forth my open hand while making some inviting “spishing” sounds, one bird approached and perched to snatch up the morsels. I felt his light grasp of my fingertips and became like a fascinated kid again!

One early October dawn I discovered a Hermit Thrush huddled along a busy roadside pavement. The motionless bird appeared to be stunned, but showed no visible signs of injury. I shrouded him in a protective towel and drove home, where I placed the bird inside a lined cardboard box for further evaluation. When his physical status and energy rebounded two hours later, I watchfully released him into the woods.


This rufous-tailed thrush is a common Maine summer resident. A mid-distance migrant that typically winters south of New England, it is the earliest of the brown-backed thrushes to arrive each spring. Its haunting flute-like song is a sustained whistled note followed by softer, echo-like tones. Behavior-wise, the Hermit raises and lowers his tail in a slow mechanical fashion.

My third photo is a Semipalmated Sandpiper that I found at roadway at Weskeag Marsh. Unable to gain flight, the tiny migrant shorebird fluttered weakly near the ground and scampered to avert his capture. Once I had him in hand, I?could feel that his feet had a rubberized texture, a waterproof coating that allows shorebirds to stand or even roost in shallow water for extended periods.

Perhaps a hunting raptor had nicked the sandpiper during an aerial pursuit or maybe it had collided with an automobile. Later that day I transported the ailing piper to Avian Haven for medical assessment and possible treatment.

Aptly named, this species is characterized by the short webbing (“semi-palmations”) between its toes. It is the most numerous member of the Calidris genus of small shorebirds that nests on Canadian and Alaskan tundra. Weighing an ounce or less, it is a long-distance migrant that journeys two thousand miles between continents. In late summer, birds from the eastern populations make nonstop transoceanic flights from New England and southern Canadian shorelines to South America.

This amazing feat is fueled by heavy fat reserves that shorebirds accumulate over a 10- to 14-day period of gluttonous feeding. Body weight is approximately doubled as birds exploit the daily tide cycles to access nutrient-rich coastal mudflats. Upon southern departure, flocks circle briefly to orient themselves onto a course leading to South America.