Monthly Archives: January 2016

North America’s smallest diving duck


A tiny, tiny duck.

Bufflehead female on Eel Pond a few days ago.

Bufflehead are North America’s smallest diving duck; they benefit by using old flicker nests that larger ducks such as goldeneyes and mergansers cannot fit into. In winter they occur mainly near the coast (although they can be found in smaller numbers inland). They use shallow, sheltered coves, harbors, estuaries, or beaches, avoiding open coastlines.

Robins at dawn


Flocks of fat American Robins perching to face the sunrise, then moving through the trees, high and low, plucking winterberries from gray branches, leaving birdy footprints in the last white patches of melting snow as they pursue the fallen berries.


It is much easier to notice robins in winter. There are more of them, in their foraging flocks, and they are not down in the dirt, devoted to pulling worms. The ground is mostly frozen and the worms are… sleeping? What happens to earthworms in winter, I wonder.

Cinnamon-crested ducks


A couple of Hooded Mergansers at Eel Pond, in Rye. These two are females.

Adult males are a sight to behold, with sharp black-and-white patterns set off by chestnut flanks. Females get their own distinctive elegance from their cinnamon crest. Hooded Mergansers are fairly common on small ponds and rivers, where they dive for fish, crayfish, and other food, seizing it in their thin, serrated bills.

A guy around the house


The elusive MALE Red-bellied Woodpecker, in the big oak tree in our front yard.

We have a female that visits our covered tray feeder (or porch railing) in the backyard at least every other day, but I almost never see the/ a male.


My daughter spotted him on a suet cake cage I had hung from the gingko tree in the front yard a few days ago. By the time I got my camera he was up in the tree.

The male has a red head from his beak to the back of his neck, but the female’s red starts further back on her head. They both have a red spot on their bellies that is not easy to see, so it’s kind of a dumb name.


The female, pictured above, during our last snow. She grabbed some peanuts from the porch railing.


The big old red oak tree is a favorite place for many birds including, it seems, the male Red-bellied Woodpecker.

These birds mainly search out arthropods on tree trunks. They may also catch insects in flight. They are omnivores, eating insects, fruits, nuts and seeds. Their breeding habitat is usually deciduous forests. They nest in the decayed cavities of dead trees, old stumps, or in live trees that have softer wood such as elms, maples, or willows; both sexes assist in digging nesting cavities. Areas around nest sites are marked with drilling holes to warn others away.

From Cornell Lab of Ornithology

You may sometimes see Red-bellied Woodpeckers wedge large nuts into bark crevices, then whack them into manageable pieces using their beaks. They also use cracks in trees and fence posts to store food for later in the year, a habit it shares with other woodpeckers in its genus.


Backyard Tips

Red-bellied Woodpeckers bring bright colors and entertaining action to bird feeders. If you live near any wooded patches, you may be able to attract them using feeders filled with suet (in winter), peanuts, and sometimes sunflower seeds. They’ve even been spotted drinking nectar from hummingbird feeders. Dead trees may encourage the birds to forage naturally or even nest in your yard, and they may feed on berry trees such as hawthorn or mountain-ash in fall or winter.

Goldfinch at the thistle feeder


American Goldfinch in snow.

Thistle seed (nyjer) is a favorite food for these little guys.

The seed of the African yellow daisy Guizotia abyssinica, Nyjer is known by many names. Originally called niger in reference to Nigeria and the plant’s origin, the name was trademarked as Nyjer ® in 1998 by the Wild Bird Feeding Industry to clarify pronunciation. Many backyard birders also call the seed thistle, but in fact Nyjer is not related to thistle plants or seeds.

It’s been cold and windy, and a little snowy. Not too snowy. But a nor’easter blizzard may be on its way for the weekend.

Finch, House


Hello little bird up on a branch, with your little red bib matching the winter buds of the red maple tree.


I think you are a House Finch… is this so? You are a bit more orangey-red than the raspberry red of a Purple Finch, with brown and white stripes on your belly.

House Finches have blurry grayish streaking on the belly and flanks, unlike either Cassin’s Finch or Purple Finches. Bill shape is distinctive for House Finches: it’s fairly blunt, and rounded, without a sharp tip.


A pose! so I can get a good look.

Tricky bird IDs: Cassin’s Finch, House Finch, Purple Finch

Yes, I am counting you a House Finch for my Project Feederwatch count days this week, Sunday and Monday. You visited Sunday. It snowed overnight, bringing more birds Monday.

I think I saw a female House Finch too, but I wasn’t sure enough to include her in the count.


The count for January 17-18:

Mourning Dove 9
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 5
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Blue Jay 5
Black-capped Chickadee 7
Tufted Titmouse 3
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Eastern Bluebird 3
European Starling 1
American Tree Sparrow 6
Dark-eyed Junco 6
White-throated Sparrow 1
Northern Cardinal 6
House Finch 1
American Goldfinch 5