Monthly Archives: June 2014

At last, a sparrow


I’m not very good with sparrows, but I’m pretty sure this is a Chipping Sparrow. It’s nibbling some Agway blended bird seed from a tube feeder.

A crisp, pretty sparrow whose bright rufous cap both provides a splash of color and makes adults fairly easy to identify.


In 1929, Edward Forbush called the Chipping Sparrow “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.”

Actually, the female has a white throat

female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The name really only applies to the male of the species. The female has a creamy white throat and belly.

They are amazing little animals.

As part of their spring migration, portions of the population fly from the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico across the Gulf of Mexico, arriving first in Florida and Louisiana. This feat is impressive, as a 800 km (500 mi), non-stop flight over water would seemingly require a caloric energy that far exceeds an adult hummingbird’s body weight of 3 g (0.11 oz). However, researchers discovered the tiny birds can double their fat mass to approximately one gram in preparation for their Gulf crossing, then expend the entire calorie reserve from fat during the 20 hour non-stop crossing when food and water are unavailable.

Hummingbirds have one of the highest metabolic rates of any animal, with heart rates up to 1260 beats per minute, breathing rate of about 250 breaths per minute even at rest, and oxygen consumption of about 4 ml oxygen/g/hour at rest. During flight, hummingbird oxygen consumption per gram of muscle tissue is approximately 10 times higher than that seen for elite human athletes.

They feed frequently while active during the day. When temperatures drop, particularly on cold nights, they may conserve energy by entering hypothermic torpor.


Muscles make up 25–30% of their body weight, and they have long, blade-like wings that, unlike the wings of other birds, connect to the body only from the shoulder joint. This adaptation allows the wing to rotate almost 180°, enabling the bird to fly not only forward but fly backward, and to hover in front of flowers as it feeds on nectar or hovers mid-air to catch tiny insects. Hummingbirds are the only known birds that can fly backward.

During hovering, (and likely other modes of flight) ruby-throated hummingbird wings beat 55 times per second.

Mealworms for bluebirds

nestling bluebirds

Eastern Bluebird nestlings, Day 12.

We won’t look in the nest box anymore because now they are feathered and we don’t want to surprise them into flying before they are ready, in about a week. Although they do look pretty relaxed in this photo.

blue dad

Here is the bluebird dad looking for a perfect peanut in the bird food mix I tossed into a ceramic bowl and left on the porch railing.

He is a lively fellow. After a good feeding, and when he has helped mom bluebird feed the babies, he enjoys dive bombing squirrels and bluejays.

Young Eastern Bluebird

Here is one of the two fledglings from the first brood that still come around.

They and their parents and their little brothers and sisters have been thriving on backyard bugs, plus peanuts, suet, dried fruits, and their favorite food of all: live mealworms.


Mealworms are the larvae of darkling beetles.

When I ordered these online they arrived in a box marked “Live Animals.” I stowed them in the refrigerator overnight (cold slows them down), then gently shook them out of their tasty newspaper and sawdust food/bed onto a baking sheet, then pushed them into the plastic container I have marked “Worms.”

I keep them in the fridge and they go kind of dormant – until feeding time when I put them outside in the bluebird feeder and they warm up and start wriggling irresistibly.


Okay, maybe it’s a little weird to order live mealworms to feed the birds. But how can I resist this little charmer?

Info from, Feeding Mealworms to Bluebirds

It’s possible (though not proven) that baby bluebirds fed mealworms fledge earlier, are healthier, and have a higher survival rate when receiving a steady diet of mealworms for the first two weeks after hatching. Adults also need extra food during the breeding season due to increased exposure and the energy drain associated with feeding young. 


Storing Mealworms: As long as the worms are at least 1″ from the container, and the sides are vertical and slippery (glass or plastic), they won’t get out. Store the worms in the refrigerator, where they go somewhat dormant and will last for several months. If your family is too grossed out by the concept, you can keep them in a small dorm-sized refrigerator. If you store them outside of the refrigerator, don’t put them in too small of a container as they will overheat and die. Also, if the weather is warm, they will pupate and turn into beetles.

Dinner on the deck

Hairy Woodpecker

A Hairy Woodpecker gloms on to a suet cake. The red mark on its head identifies it as a male.

Hairy Woodpeckers and and their smaller cousins Downy Woodpeckers are abundant around here, bold around people, and sometimes comical in their maneuvers.

Here’s a short video from last night: a Hairy Woodpecker visits the platform feeder and a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird sips sugar water nearby. Both are females.

I bought the platform feeder recently to try to accommodate as many different kinds of backyard birds as possible.

It is made of recycled plastic, has coated steel cables and a metal hook for hanging and a metal screen bottom.

platform feeder

On the menu: raw peanuts, suet nuggets, and Audubon Workshop Premium Mix for Fruit and Nut Lovers.

On the menu for us humans: sausage on the grill, wild rice, collard greens from our garden cooked with bacon, onions, apple cider vinegar.


The view on Friday evening.

I love summer.

Recommended: Woodlink Audubon Going Green Platform Feeder

Recommended: Aspects HummZinger HighView 12 oz Hanging Hummingbird Feeder

For size comparison, a photo of a Downy Woodpecker and a Hairy Woodpecker, taken last winter…

Downy Hairy

The larger of two look alikes, the Hairy Woodpecker is a small but powerful bird that forages along trunks and main branches of large trees. It wields a much longer bill than the Downy Woodpecker’s almost thornlike bill. Hairy Woodpeckers have a somewhat soldierly look, with their erect, straight-backed posture on tree trunks and their cleanly striped heads.

Baby bluebirds are nine days old

Bluebird nestlings

Five baby bluebirds are nine days old! Second brood of the season.

My husband is holding the Gilbertson nest box while I take a quick photo. And don’t worry, according to

MYTH: If you open the bluebird box, or touch the nest or babies, the parents will abandon the nest.

REALITY: Don’t worry that monitoring will make the parents desert the nest. Bluebirds are very tolerant of human presence. Touching the nest or birds will not make the birds leave–your mother just told you that to keep you from harassing them.

The way it is hard to tell where one nestling begins and another ends reminds me of the tessellations of M.C. Escher.

birds mc escher

Two doves and a rabbit

rabbit and mourning doves

A night visit from a raccoon makes a bird food mess. Mourning Doves and a fat rabbit are happy to clean up.

Doves seem to prefer feeding on the ground. Rabbits love the clover taking over our imperfect lawn.

rabbit and doves

We haven’t seen so many rabbits – one or two a day, mornings and evenings – for many years. I think the predator population, coyotes especially, is at a low point.

I don’t know if this is a mated pair of doves, but there has been much mating of doves around here lately – with all the wing-whistling flappings and flutterings that go with the courtship dance of Zenaida macroura.

The mourning dove is monogamous and forms strong pair bonds. Pairs typically reconvene in the same area the following breeding season, and sometimes may remain together throughout the winter.

Ah the wonders of YouTube. Here is a pet ring-necked dove having a bath in a kitchen sink.

Little beggar

Fledgling Eastern Bluebird discovers live mealworms.


2 hens

Bright and early, two Gallus domesticus head for the woods’ edge. By 6:30 a.m. I had identified 11 wild bird species too.

I have been using since January 2014 to record the birds I see. (Wild, not domestic!) I have been able to identify 43 species in my backyard and 87 species so far. Yes, I’m a beginner.

I submitted an eBird checklist this morning…

Location: North Hampton backyard, Rockingham County, New Hampshire, US
Date and Effort: Mon Jun 16, 2014 5:30 AM
Protocol: Stationary
Party Size: 1
Duration: 1 hour
Observer: Amy Kane
Comments: Heard the wood thrush at 5 a.m. Put the feeders out at 5:30 a.m. (we keep them inside at night due to raccoons). Drank coffee in bed while watching the bird feeders on back deck from 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. A large doe wandered into the backyard too and nibbled on some hostas.

11 species total

1 Mourning Dove
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
1 Hairy Woodpecker
2 Blue Jay
1 Black-capped Chickadee
2 Eastern Bluebird
(Adults visited early. The 2 fledglings showed up later, after my official count. Female sitting on new clutch of 5 eggs in nearby nest box.)
1 Veery
(Heard not seen. We used to call this bird “the Liquid Crystal Warbler” before we learned to match the song to the bird. A favorite sound of summer.)
1 Wood Thrush
(Heard not seen. Very clear and close to bedroom window. Lovely way to wake up.)
1 Gray Catbird
4 Common Grackle
1 American Goldfinch

Are you submitting a complete checklist of the birds you were able to identify? Yes

What is eBird?

A real-time, online checklist program, eBird has revolutionized the way that the birding community reports and accesses information about birds. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides rich data sources for basic information on bird abundance and distribution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales.

Read more about eBird here.

My Flickr photo albums: Backyard birds 2014Backyard bluebirds and Birds of Caye Caulker.

We live with Tree Swallows

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow perches companionably with a Purple Martin decoy.

We bought our “Purple Martin House” from S & K Manufacturing. Attractive and well-built, and probably perfect for Purple Martins.

Too bad the Tree Swallows get there first every spring.

Tree Swallow

They are beautiful birds and not spooked when I just stand there and stare at them. They swoop down near me and the dog when we walk across the field, but not like they are trying to chase us away  – more for fun, I think.

Handsome aerialists with deep-blue iridescent backs and clean white fronts, Tree Swallows are a familiar sight in summer fields and wetlands across northern North America. They chase after flying insects with acrobatic twists and turns, their steely blue-green feathers flashing in the sunlight.

tree swallow

Only drawback: Tree Swallows do not share the empty rooms in their spacious aerial apartment building with martins. And martins nest only in manmade housing now.

From Martin Competition

… if a pair of bluebirds or Tree Swallows has begun nesting in one compartment of a new or unestablished martin site they will try to defend the entire housing complex against other birds, which discourages Purple Martin “scouts” from settling at the new locale.

There are ways to handle this, involving a level of early to mid-spring observation and nest box guardianship that we have never been able to manage. So we live with Tree Swallows. They are pretty, inspiring to watch, and they eat a lot of bugs.

tree swallow

Here is a photo from April three years ago – different martin house, same location in our back field, maybe the same Tree Swallows or relatives.

What bird would you be if you could be a bird for a day? Tree Swallows are near the top of my list because of their fantastic flying skills.

Zen bird

Mourning Dove

Mourning Doves look like they are wearing blue eye shadow.

Zenaida macroura are members of the Columbidae, or dove, family. I think they are a very pretty gray-brown color. I would paint a room – maybe a study – in “Mourning Dove.”

mourning dove

A photo I took in February.

I feel calm when I look at a calm dove.

They like sunflower seeds, millet and corn. They like to feed on the ground, but sometimes I see them relaxing in the tray of the tube feeder, nibbling a seed or two, or just staring off into space.

They get along with my chickens. Last night I watched two feeding with a fat brown rabbit under the pole feeder. They stuff their crops (just like chickens) then go roost and digest their meals.

Child With a Dove Picasso

Child With a Dove, Pablo Picasso, 1901

Henri Matisse sketching a dove. Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Dove in Rhodes

I took this photo of a dove a couple of years ago in Rhodes, Greece.