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Two goldfinches sitting at bird feeder

Birds to Look For During Bird-a-thon

May 14, 2020

Some birds are common in many habitats, like Northern Cardinals and American Robins, but others can only be found in specific habitats. Here's a round up  of  feathered friends you are likely to see (or hear!) in specific habitats across Massachusetts, along with some fun facts. 

Urban Habitats

  • falcon flying through the air
    Peregrine Falcon ©Tom Skala
  • Two Turkey Vultures sit atop the marsh overlook at Barnstable Great Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary.
    Barnstable Great Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, Barnstable, MA © Lisa Irwin
  • Mourning Dove perched on branch
    Mourning Dove
  • Crow looking down from branch
  • Shiny grackle standing on ledge
    Common Grackle © Jonathan Model
  • Peregrine Falcons are found on all continents except Antarctica. They are also the fastest bird in the world! 
  • Turkey Vultures find their carrion meals by smell as well as sight. When threatened, a Turkey Vulture will projectile vomit to defend itself.  
  • Mourning Doves are known to make nests in odd places. A nest on top of an upside-down push broom leaning against a wall was once reported to our Wildlife Information Line. 
  • American Crows congregate in large numbers (sometimes up to a million birds or more!) to sleep together in the winter. One such roost has been common in Lawrence, MA. 
  • If you look closely at a Common Grackle in the sunlight, you’ll see that it has quite beautiful iridescent feathers. 

Suburban Habitats

  • Carolina Wren perched on ledge
    Carolina Wren © Sharon Siter
  • White-breasted Nuthatch sitting on a tree stump
    White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Gray Catbird on ground
    Gray Catbird
  • A Red-bellied Woodpecker standing on a branch, look over its shoulder.
    Red-bellied Woodpecker, © Cheryl Rose
  • Chipping Sparrow on branch
    Chipping Sparrow © Ian Lee
  • Carolina Wrens are also known to nest in odd places when living in suburban areas, like in an old boot, or in a mailbox. 
  • White-breasted Nuthatches, like other nuthatches, can move head-first down tree trunks and are frequently seen in that upside-down pose.
  • The Gray Catbird’s song may last up to 10 minutes. 
  • Sometimes, Red-bellied Woodpeckers wedge large nuts into bark crevices, then whack them into smaller pieces using their beaks. They also use cracks in trees and fence posts to store food for later in the year. 
  • In 1929, Edward Forbush (MA ornithologist) described the Chipping Sparrow as “the little brown-capped pensioner of the dooryard and lawn, that comes about farmhouse doors to glean crumbs shaken from the tablecloth by thrifty housewives.” 

Forest Habitats

  • Northern flicker bird on tree bark
    Northern Flicker
  • Eastern Towhee on a branch
    Eastern Towhee © Scott Kelly
  • Close up of a Wood Thrush in a tree
    Wood Thrush
  • black and white warbler on side of tree
    Black-and-white Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler © Carol Ansel
    Yellow-rumped Warbler © Carol Ansel
  • Although they can climb trees and hammer like other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers prefer to find food, like ants, on the ground.
  • The Eastern Towhee’s song sounds like they are saying “drink-your-tea.” 
  • Wood Thrush can sing two parts at once. In the final trilling phrase of their three-part song, they sing pairs of notes simultaneously, one in each branch of its y-shaped voicebox. The two parts harmonize to produce a haunting, ventriloquial sound. 
  • The scientific name for Black-and-white Warblers is Mniotilta varia meaning “moss-plucking,” after their habit of probing bark and moss for insects. 
  • The yellow patch just above the Yellow-rumped Warbler‘s tail gives them the nickname “butter butts.” 

Grassland or Open Field Habitats

  • Two Tree Swallows on Nest Box
    Tree Swallows
  • Back of bluebird perched on small branch surrounded by fall leaves
    Eastern Bluebird
  • An American Kestrel sits on a branch.
    American Kestrel © Brian Rusnica
  • A Bobolink on top of a dead stem.
    Bobolink © Alan LaPierre
  • eastern meadowlark on the grassy ground
    Eastern Meadowlark © Amy Tripp
  • Tree Swallows are one of the best-studied bird species in North America, helping researchers make major advances in several branches of ecology. Despite this, we still know little about their lives during migration and winter. 
  • Eastern Bluebirds typically have more than one successful brood per year. Young born in early nests usually leave their parents in summer, but young from later nests frequently stay with their parents over winter. 
  • American Kestrels can see ultraviolet light, which allows them to see the urine trails that voles leave as they run along the ground. These bright paths help kestrels find prey. 
  • Bobolink songs sound like R2D2’s voice from Star Wars.
  • Male Eastern Meadowlarks can sing several variations of its song. Scientists analyzed one male meadowlark and found he sang more than 100 different song patterns. 

Freshwater Habitats

  • Belted Kingfisher perched in tree
    Belted Kingfisher
  • Wood Duck on water
    Wood Duck ©Emanuel Soza Foias
  • Great Blue Heron flying over tall grass with wings extended.
    Joppa Flats, Newburyport © Richard White
  • Spotted sandpiper beyond out of focus grass
    Spotted Sandpiper ©Eliana Dai Zhou
  • Hooded Merganser male © Walter Keenan
    Hooded Merganser male © Walter Keenan
  • Fossils of Belted Kingfishers dated to 600,000 years old have been found in Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, and Texas. 
  • Wood Ducks nest in trees ranging from directly over water to over a mile away. After hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest tree and make their way to water. The mother calls them to her but does not help them in any way. Ducklings may jump over 50 feet without injury. 
  • Green Herons are one of the world’s few bird species who use tools. They often create fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, and feathers, dropping them on the surface of the water to attract small fish. 
  • Unlike most birds, Spotted Sandpiper females establish and defend the territory, arriving to the breeding grounds before males. Males then take the primary role in parental care, incubating the eggs and caring for chicks. 
  • Hooded Mergansers find their prey underwater by sight. They can actually change the refraction properties of their eyes to improve their underwater vision. Plus, birds have an extra eyelid called a “nictitating membrane,” which is transparent and helps protect their eyes while swimming, like a pair of goggles. 

Coastal and Saltmarsh Habitats

  • A Piping Plover sits on the the sand, with one chick nestled under her wing and another pecked at a pile of sticks
    © Jason Goldstein
  • American Oystercatcher on rock
    American Oystercatcher © Craig Gibson
  • Group of Double-crested Cormorants on rocks. One gull also among the birds.
  • Common Eider in water
    Common Eider
  • A Great Egret balancing on a log jetting out of marshy waters, its wings in the air. One foot slips off another log.
    Great Egret © Kimberly Robbins
  • Piping Plovers will sometime use a foraging method called foot-trembling where they extend one foot out into wet sand and vibrate it to scare up food like marine worms, insects, and crustaceans. 
  • Unlike most shorebirds, American Oystercatcher chicks depend on their parents for food for at least 60 days after hatching. 
  • Double-crested Cormorants often stand in the sun with their wings outstretched to dry. Cormorants have less oil on their feathers so their feathers can get soaked rather than shedding water like a duck. Having wet feathers probably make it easier for cormorant to hunt underwater. 
  • Common Eider mothers and chicks form groups called “creches” that can include over 150 chicks and include non-breeding hens as protection. 
  • During the Great Egrets breeding season, a patch of skin on its face turns neon green and long feathers called aigrettes grow from its back. These feathers were prized for ladies’ hats in the 19th century and inspired Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna B. Hall to form Mass Audubon to protect them.


So, this Bird-a-thon, find out what birds call the different habitats of Massachusetts home! Learn more about the birds found in Massachusetts and support our annual fundraiser and birding competition by donating today. 

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