Tag Archives: Birds of Eastern Massachusetts

WHEN SWANS DRINK SALTWATER, WHAT HAPPENS TO THE SALT?

Several weeks ago, in response to a question sent in by a reader that asked can swans drink seawater, we responded yes, because just above the eyes and under the skin, they have a gland that removes salt from their blood stream and concentrates it in a solution that is excreted from their nostrils. In the photo below, you can see sunlight coming through the nare holes, which are near the base of the bill. When the swan shakes its head, the salt is removed through the nares. Most species of birds have nare holes, which lead to the nasal cavity within the skull, which is part of the respiratory system.

Swan Nare holes male Cygnus olor www.kimsmithdesigns.com 2016

Please join us Thursday night at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck. For more information on my illustrated talk “Beautiful Birds of Cape Ann” visit this post here.

What To Feed Everyday Backyard Birds

During this snowiest of winters, we’ve been refilling the bird feeders several times a day. We usually only purchase safflower seeds because squirrels do not much care for the hard shell seeds. Recently though I thought that with all the snow cover, our little bird friends would benefit from some variety and decided to add black oil sunflower seeds to the mix. What a colossal error! This morning at the feeder a fight broke out over the sunflower seeds, with no less than five squirrels defending their new found cache. The sunflower seeds also drew two fat black rats to the feeders last night. We’re back to strictly safflower seeds!

The following are eight common birds that we see at feeders at this time of year and these eight species are content with the safflower seeds provided.

Male Cardinal ©Kim Smioth 2015Male Cardinal

Song Sparrow ©Kim Smith 2015Song Sparrow

House Sparrow ©kim Smith 2015House Sparrows 

Mourning Dove ©Kim Smith 2015Mourning Dove

Caroloina Wren  bird bath ©Kim Smith 2015Carolina Wren

White-breasted Nuthatch ©Kim Smith 2015White-breasted Nuthatch

Black-capped Chicadee ©Kim Smith 2015Black-capped Chickadee

Tufted Titmouse ©Kim Smith 2015Tufted Titmouse

Safflowers seeds are available in bulk at the Essex Bird Shop.

What to Feed the Robins

American Robin in the Snow ©Kim Smith 2014The robins in our community have several different habits for surviving winter. There are year round resident robins that breed throughout Cape Ann during warmer months and also spend the winter here.  A second group only breeds in our region, then migrates further south during the winter months. A third group, the robins that we see flocking to our shores beginning round about January 28th, are migrating from parts further north. They are very hungrand are looking for berries, fruit, and small fish.

In early spring, robins begin to disperse from flocks. The ground thaws and worms, insects, and snails once again become part of the robin’s diet. In early spring, too, is when we begin to hear the beautiful liquid notes of the male robin. He is singing to attract a mate. The robin’s song is one of the of most beloved and it is his music with which we associate the coming of spring.

With several edits and updates since I first wrote the following article, I think you’ll find the information helpful in knowing what to feed and to plant for the robins.

American Robin Sumac ©Kim Smith 2014Flock of American Robins Eating Sumac, Halibut Point Rockport

Food for the American Robin

During the winter months Cape Ann often becomes home to large flocks of robins, and we have had the joy of hosting numerous numbers in our garden. I can’t help but notice their arrival. Their shadows descend, crisscrossing the window light, followed by a wild rumpus in the ‘Dragon Lady’ hollies. This pair of hollies is planted on opposing sides of the garden path, alongside my home office. I have learned to stealthily sneak up to a window, as any sudden activity inside startles birds that are investigating our garden, and they quickly disperse. Dining not only on berries of the ‘Dragon Ladies’, but also the ‘Blue Princess’ Meserve holly and winterberry bushes, I find dozens of noisy, hungry robins.

These winter nomads flock to trees and shrubs that hold their fruit through January and February, feasting on red cedar, American holly, Meserve hollies, chokecherries, crabapples, sumac, and juniper. Robins traveling along the shores of Cape Ann also comb the shoreline for mollusks, and go belly-deep for fish fry. Depleting their food supply, they move onto the next location. Gardens rife with fruiting shrubs and trees make an ideal destination for our migrating friends.

Year round resident robins will call your garden home when provided with trays of chopped fruit and raisins, supplemented with meal worms.

What to Plant for Robins

The garden designed to attract nesting pairs of summer resident robins, as well as flocks of winter travelers, would be comprised of trees and shrubs for nest building, plants that bear fruit and berries that are edible during the summer and fall, and plants that bear fruits that persist through the winter months. Suburban gardens and agricultural areas provide the ideal habitat, with open fields and lawns for foraging insects as well as trees and hedgerows in which to build their nests.

The following plants, suggested with robins in mind, will also attract legions of songbirds and Lepidoptera. The list is comprised primarily of indigenous species with a few non-native, but not invasive, plants included.

Trees for nesting ~ American Holly (Ilex opaca), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).

Summer and autumn fruit bearing trees, shrubs and vines for robins ~ Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Blackberry (Rubus spp.), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Gray Dogwood (C. racemosa), Red-osier Dogwood (C. sericea), Silky Dogwood (C. amomum), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Apple (Malus pumila), Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana), Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Wild Grape (Vitis spp.).

Trees and shrubs with fruits persisting through winter ~ Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana), Crabapple (Malus spp.)Sargent’s Crabapple (Malus sargentii), American Holly (Ilex opaca), Meserve Hollies (Ilex meserveae), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra), Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).

American Robin winter crabapple turdus migratorius, americanus ©kim Smith 2015American Robin Eating Crabapples

I Love Sumac

Worms!

The American Robin and Bird Food

Birds of New England: Yellowlegs and the Boreal Forest Biome

Lesser Yellowlegs Massachusetts © KIm Smith 2014.What a treat to happen upon this pair of yellow-legged shorebirds feasting on tiny invertebrates in the mudflats at Henry’s Pond.
Lesser Yellowlegs Pair Massachusetts © KIm Smith 2014

The yellowlegs were foraging companionably alongside the Mallards, American Black Ducks, plovers, and Kildeers. I returned the following dawn and they had already departed for parts warmer. Perhaps we’ll see them again during their spring migration as they journey north to breed in the boreal bog forests of Canada and Alaska.

Lesser Yellowlegs Massachusetts  © KIm Smith 2014 -.Lesser Yellowlegs Preening

Here on Cape Ann, we are fortunate to catch fleeting glimpses of species such as yellowlegs during the the great annual fall migration. The map below shows the boreal forest biome (biome is another word for ecosystem), which lies to the south of the tundra and the north of deciduous forests and grasslands. The ground in the boreal forest is damp and boggy because of snowmelt and little evaporation due to cooler summer temperatures. The moist ground and long day length at northerly latitudes during the summer makes for explosive plant growth–Think Bird Food!–not only in the wealth of plants, but myriad insects attracted!

taiga_500Boreal Forests

I believe the pair to be Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes). I am by no means a bird expert and imagine they could also possibly be Greater Yellowlegs. If any of our wonderful expert bird lovers would like to weigh on this, I would be grateful. Songbirds and shorebirds that I have filmed on Cape Ann are featured in my Monarch film and I am in the process of writing the script. I want to insure that all the bird identifications are 100 percent accurate..

Map courtesy google image search.