Monthly Archives: January 2015

Turkeys in the snow

atlantic turkeys

After more than two feet of snow from Winter Storm Juno Monday night through early Wednesday, then 3 or 4 more inches yesterday (Friday), I spotted a flock of wild turkeys in someone’s plowed driveway on Atlantic Ave. in North Hampton.

atlantic turkeys 2

Where do they go, what do they eat, how do they get around in deep snow?

I submitted a report to the NH Fish and Game Winter Turkey Flock Survey.

This year’s New Hampshire winter wild turkey flock survey runs from January 1 through March 31. We need you to report flocks you see! Your observations will help Fish and Game biologists assess the impact of winter weather on our turkey population. Thank you for volunteering to help in this effort as a “citizen scientist.”

Goldfinches in disguise

pine siskins

Pine Siskins persist.

Audubon Field Guide: Pine Siskin

Although it is patterned like a sparrow, its shape, actions, and callnotes all reveal that this bird is really a goldfinch in disguise.

pine siskins and goldfinches

Pine Siskins feeding with American Goldfinches during Winter Storm Juno.

After nesting in the conifer woods, Pine Siskins move out into semi-open country, where they roam in twittering flocks. They often descend on fields of thistles or wild sunflowers, where they cling to the dried flower heads, eating seeds. In winter they sometimes invade southward in big numbers, with flocks coming to feeders along with American Goldfinches.


Courtship and formation of pairs may begin in winter flocks; male displays by flying in circle above female, with wings and tail spread widely, while singing.



Very erratic in its winter occurrence, coming south in huge numbers some years, very scarce in others. After big invasion winters, a few may remain to nest south of normal range.

That would be nice.

Sparrow, House

house sparrow

“Mom, there’s some kind of bird… like a sparrow… it’s fighting with the bluebirds. Check it out.”

I joined my daughter at the kitchen window.

“What? I think that’s a house sparrow! I’ve never seen one here before. That’s it. It’s all over. We’re the suburbs now.”

“That’s dramatic. It’s just a bird. And there’s only one of them.”

house sparrow

“One bird, but maybe the first bird. The explorer. They are coming to settle new territory. They are invasive and aggressive and compete with native birds like bluebirds for food and nest boxes. We don’t like them.”

“Well, it’s still pretty cute.”

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: House Sparrow

You can find House Sparrows most places where there are houses (or other buildings), and few places where there aren’t. Along with two other introduced species, the European Starling and the Rock Pigeon, these are some of our most common birds. Their constant presence outside our doors makes them easy to overlook, and their tendency to displace native birds from nest boxes causes some people to resent them. But House Sparrows, with their capacity to live so intimately with us, are just beneficiaries of our own success.

Things we love

female eastern bluebird

Bluebirds in the afternoon, Monday’s calm before the storm.

They catch my eye when I’m in the kitchen or passing the sliding glass door and send a bright little bolt of happiness my way. Zing!

I am not the only birdwatcher besotted with bluebirds.

From Why we get goopy over bluebirds, by E.A. Zimmerman

Bluebirds are associated with hope, happiness and things we love. WL Dawson wrote “Reflecting heaven from his back and the ground from his breast, he floats between sky and earth like the winged voice of hope.” They have probably appeared in more songs, poems and literature than any other bird.

male bluebird dome feeder

Bluebirds are family oriented. The courting male dotes on the female, waving his wings, enticing her to select a nest site, and offering her treats. He courageously guards the box during nest construction. He delivers food to the incubating female, and participates equally in feeding nestlings and fledglings. Both parents will die defending their young from House Sparrows. After fledging, young birds tend to stay with their parents, begging for food, and sometimes altruistically helping tend to siblings in a second brood.


Their song is enchanting. The velvety undertones are “…so soft and gentle; they sing to no one save themselves. Not loud and boastful like the mocker; not full of chatter like the purple martin. The bluebird song is a kind and personal “I love you” that one must be close and quiet to hear.”


Bluebirds do no harm. In the days before pesticides, farmers put up nestboxes around their fields, as they were aware that bluebirds eat many insects, and the fruit they eat during the winter is not of the cultivated variety. While bluebirds will compete for nesting sites and defend their own abode, they do not maliciously attack other birds, eggs or nests.


Attracting bluebirds is a challenging hobby. Since the number of natural cavities has dwindled and competition from exotic species like House Sparrows and starlings is severe, bluebirds depend on humans to survive and thrive. Because of this, we feel an almost parental sense of ownership and satisfaction when we enable successful nesting. Bluebirding taps into problem solving skills and creativity, scientific curiosity, and a love of nature and the outdoors.


Bluebirds are friendly. They seem to almost enjoy human company. They display no fear of nesting near human habitation. They tolerate monitoring of their nests as we peek in to see their fuzzy-headed hatchlings. They quickly learn an association, whether it be a whistle or a banging door, with a mealworm feeder being filled, and instantly show up to investigate. If we do not fill the feeder in a timely manner, they may follow us around the yard, warbling away.

So true! I am goopy over bluebirds too.

Blizzard in the forecast


Goldfinches during our Saturday snowstorm.

Another storm is coming…


WMUR: Storm to bring significant snowfall, strong winds

A system arriving Monday night could easily be the biggest storm of the winter, and it is likely to bring significant snowfall with strong winds.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Rockingham County and Strafford County for Tuesday. The strongest winds will likely be at the Seacoast and range from 40 to 60 mph.

How to Provide Shelter for Winter Birds

eNatureWhere do the birds go for protection during severe weather such as blizzards, hurricanes, and tornadoes?

Garden Walk Garden Talk: How Do Birds Keep Warm in Winter?

The birds of (winter storm) Iola

Northern Cardinal

And it snowed and it snowed yesterday.

Blue Jay

I cleared railings and feeders every hour or two, fed the birds all day, and took a few pictures through glass too.

Flickr photo album: Winter Storm Iola and feeders

The Snow-Storm
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden’s end.
The steed and traveler stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Come see the north wind’s masonry
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer’s lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer’s sighs; and, at the gate,
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structure, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.


Juncos do look best in snow


I have been trying to get a good shot of a Dark-eyed Junco. They flit faster than I can catch them.

They are here all winter, but mostly down on the ground. But when the ground is fast covering with snow, as it is today (“Winter Storm Iola,” says The Weather Channel) they get closer, looking for seeds on the deck railing (I clear it regularly) or platform feeder.

Wikipedia: Dark-eyed Junco Taxonomy

The dark-eyed junco was described by Linnaeus in his 1758 Systema naturae as Fringilla hyemalis. The description consisted merely of the laconic remark “F[ringilla] nigra, ventre albo. (“A black ‘finch’ with white belly”), a reference to a source, and a statement that it came from “America”.

Linnaeus’ source was Mark Catesby who described the slate-colored junco before binomial nomenclature as his “snow-bird”, moineau de neige or passer nivalis (“snow sparrow”) thus:

“The Bill of this Bird is white: The Breast and Belly white. All the rest of the Body black; but in some places dusky, inclining to Lead-color. In Virginia and Carolina they appear only in Winter: and in Snow they appear most. In Summer none are seen. Whether they retire and breed in the North (which is most probable) or where they go, when they leave these Countries in Spring, is to me unknown.”

Still, at least the slate-colored junco is unmistakable enough to make it readily recognizable even from Linnaeus’ minimal description. Its modern scientific name means “winter junco”, from Latin hyemalis “of the winter”.