Bluebird
Bluebird
2
3
4
Mid-February’s sub-freezing temperatures and whipping winds created some tough birding conditions at times. To meet those challenges, I opted for comfortable “windshield appraisals,” scanning for birds from the warm inner sanctum of a vehicle. That convenient heat resource established a marked contrast between me and rafts of hardy loons, gulls and sea ducks bouncing nonchalantly on icy, crested waves at Pemaquid or Port Clyde’s Marshall Point.

Surveying bird activity from my living room window was a second winter-friendly option, as colder temperatures and a cover of snow gave birds extra incentives to come visit. At feeders, we typically see a consistent procession of daily birds, with extended opportunities for detailing their relative sizes, shapes and behavioral routines between species. Two nuthatch species, white-breasted and red-breasted, chisel away at the suet blocks hanging in my yard. Viewed side-by-side, the red-breasted is actually about 25% smaller.

Male American goldfinches are now turning a golden color, donning their yellow summer plumages. These changes result when the surfaces of grayish winter feathers abrade, gradually revealing the brighter tones beneath. On one day I noticed a similar, but somehow different, bird amongst a party of swarming finches. Faint, blurry streaks on its light yellow breast provided some clues. It was a pine warbler. As warblers go, this species arrives in Maine earlier than most of its neo-tropical counterparts, and occasionally appears at winter feeder stations.

A group of five Eastern bluebirds has also settled into my neighborhood to take advantage of any remaining berries. These compact relatives of American robins have also developed an appetite for my offerings of suet, peanuts and dried mealworms. With resurgent populations, bluebirds are more readily found during Maine’s winter months. And speaking of robins, flocks, some exceeding 100 individuals, are working on latent fruits and berries in many coastal locations. Certain richly colored individuals, with darker napes, crowns and backs, are likely members of the Atlantic Canada race, sometimes called Newfoundland robins. An ultra-rare redwing, a European thrush, is currently lingering at Portland’s Capisic Park. With large print–sized blurry striping on its underparts, the thrush’s red flanks and armpits are obvious on the ground or in flight. The closest-known breeding range to Maine is in Iceland. Careful checks of migrant American robins later this spring could pay dividends. In April 2017, another wayward European thrush, a fieldfare, was discovered among robins in Sheepscot village.

I’m fortunate to have two Carolina wrens wintering around my feeders. Wren populations tend to rise and fall in our northern sector, decreasing after harsh winters. A robust wren, Carolinas are known for their distinctive white eyebrow and prominent, decurved bill. With a reddish-brown back and buffy undercarriage, this wren is a beauty! Like most wrens, these are frequently vocal. Both males and females give out alarm calls, but only males sing to advertise a territory. Hearing the male’s vibrant, rolling “teakettle, teakettle” song these early mornings, I feel assured that spring lies ahead.

Two common redpolls showed up the other day. Of the roll call of birds within my window view, the redpolls are definitely the long-distance champs. Named for their red crown, these tiny striped finches nest in high Arctic tundra. A pouch inside their throat can store food for up to several hours, allowing them to feed rapidly and then digest over an extended period at a warmer, more hospitable location. I urge readers to access a window of their choosing and just watch birds!