Sunday, March 28, 2021

Bird box photos, Jericho, VT


Build a bird box. That sounds like a good idea. There are easy-to-follow instructions on Audubon and Cornell and other websites. The recommended dimensions are listed for each species of cavity-nesting bird that nests in our area. And there are recommendations on where to place the box, the height off the ground, and the direction to face them.

Only one problem. It requires building a box. A box with a roof and floor and walls that all come together and will not fall apart or be invaded at the first squirrel inquiry. 

Now, I can put a nail or screw into a section of the board, I can almost cut a straight line, I can drill a hole, I can measure at least down to 1/4", and I have put things like my kids' bikes together, though as I recall it took nearly the whole week before Christmas. But let's face it, my woodworking would make a carpenter roll on the floor in laughter. 

Fortunately, the birds don't appear to be too fussy. In fact, after following the dimensions recommended in building a bird box, I often go the extra step of writing the name of the species the box is designed for on the front of the bird box - just in case the product of my carpentry does not quite look like the ideal nesting site the birds are looking for.

If you are concerned with your building skills, let me put that to rest. Though only a few of my bird boxes are occupied in any given year, at least a few usually do get used to raise chicks, as do snags we leave standing. Last year we sat many a summer day watching a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers raise a brood in a tall dead tree (they drilled their own motel) in the backyard.

Here is the kicker. In the past, one box designed and labeled for a nuthatch was used by a Downy Woodpecker, while a nuthatch nested in a wren box. I guess being exact on dimensions is helpful but not always necessary. 

One word of caution: I built a bird box to the dimensions for a Northern Flicker, then took a black magic marker and wrote FLICKER on the front of the box in large letters. However, my spacing left the letters very close to each other. The letters L and I ran together making them look like a U unless you were close to the box. So it looked like I was advertising the box (bird motel) for Fu_ _ ers instead of Flickers. OOPS. Never did see any birds using that box, though the squirrels sure chewed out the opening. Perhaps the birds are more discriminating than I think. 

This spring we wanted to add a screech owl or saw-whet owl box to our list of bird motels in the backyard. Not having the appropriate lumber and due to Covid not willing to go into a box store to get some, I placed a request on Front Page Forum.

Three generous offers came in. We ended up with a board and other materials to build one or more bird boxes, and even received a kit entirely cut out, and drilled, ready to assemble owl box. What a great community we live in, filled with talented, caring, and generous people! 

Dan T. of Jericho provided us with the owl box kit. He writes, "It was my pleasure! My son, Ben-6, helped and he and I will assemble ours soon. I’ll be sure to stay in touch with you about its occupancy." 

Brian C. of Jericho left us lumber for another bird box build. And Jeff E. of Jericho left other materials for bird box installations. Jeff also shared photos of his owl box build and installation. 

Below are some of our installed bird box motels with a current vacancy.

Designed and built for a Pileated woodpecker.

Maeve's [store-bought] wren box is used for multiple nestings nearly every year.

Build it, clean it out each spring and fall, and momma and papa birds will nest in your backyard.

Enjoy your backyard observing nature. She has a great deal to offer.

View the Owls of Vermont presentation by  Zac Cota, sponsored by North Branch Nature Center and Green Mountain Audubon recorded Feb 26, 2021. OR access the recorded presentation (and others) on the North Branch Nature Center web site at presentations. Five Hundred people (the Zoom limit) joined in to listen and watch this presentation on Feb, 26. 


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Jericho VT Backyard Bird Journal


COMING SOON to a backyard near you - Birds, Songbirds, Corvidae, Strigidae (owls), Raptors, and more. Birds of all colors, sizes, silhouettes, and songs.

Slow birding in one's backyard is IN. At least, it has been during Covid times (since March 2020). 

Such as it is, we begin our backyard bird journal to share our sightings, our observations, our joy in time spent in our backyard and in our kitchen looking out into our backyard. 

May 8, 2021

F.O.Y. Baltimore Oriole, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Welcome back to our backyard!

May 4, 2021

F.O.Y. Ruby-throated Hummingbird

April 9, 2021

Crows visit the yard fairly often, mostly to check if there's anything new in the compost bins. This morning, we noticed two together in one of the butternut trees. One had a beak-full of thin sticks - and then the second also began breaking off and gathering sticks. A few minutes later, the pair flew off together, carrying the nesting material. 

Crows can be seen nesting anytime between late March and early July. Both members of a breeding pair work on nest-building, and they're often joined in their endeavors by some of their young from the previous year. 

This kind of help is often seen in avian species that take a few years to mature. Crows don't usually breed until they're two-four years old, so they often hang around their parents and help with their younger siblings. This behavior is in keeping with the general family-loving and sociable nature of crows!


April 8, 2021 

My first spring 2021 backyard bird sit. In little less than one hour:

Watched a pair of Hairy woodpeckers copulate. Hope they nest in the yard. We had a pair raise a brood in the yard last year. 

Viewed a pair or nuthatches staying tight together. One fed on seed pods on a Locust tree. Twice spotted and heard, a FOY (first of the year) for me, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Watched two crows chase a hawk from our neighbors' tree line. 

Viewed and listened to (the sound and sun were uplifting) redpolls, grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, downy, Song Sparrows, and doves. Also viewed robins and juncos. 

Watched an as yet unidentified mammal the size of a woodchuck stroll across the border stone wall. Observed spiders, flies, moths, and a very small green insect, ID TBD. 

Later in the day, a Fox Sparrow (rust brown almost to orange-brown) visited us. This is the fifth Fox Sparrow sighting in our backyard in six days, and also our first for the year female Red-winged Blackbird. ~Bernie

Red-winged blackbird

April 4, 2021

When crows and jays start yelling, go check it out!

Early in the afternoon, Bernie noticed four crows lined up like clothespins along our neighbor's split rail fence. It was an odd sight, but Bernie was intent on building new raised beds for ever-bearing strawberries ... so he went on his way.

An hour later, there was a tremendous ruckus across the street. Three or four crows were whirling, diving, yelling, filling the yard with movement and sound. 

And then Maeve saw a much larger shape, first in the middle of the crow whirlwind and then escaping to a nearby tree. The crows followed, circling in front of the bigger bird, diving at it in short attacks, backing off to mount another attack.

The big bird was a raven, and it was holding something small and bloody between its talons. Apparently unconcerned by the still complaining crows, the raven pulled apart and ate the small creature.

Later, we wondered if the crows and raven alike had been attracted by some roadkill, if the fence-sitting crows had been taking turns eating until the larger relative swooped in.

Ravens are wonderful birds: smart, playful, devoted to family, and creative. Here's a photo from a New Mexico birding expedition.

There are so many things going on around us, other creatures living other lives. Our own lives are greatly enriched whenever we notice them! ~Maeve

March 26, 2021 

For the second day in a row, a Fox Sparrow has delighted us with its visit. 

Fox Sparrows show up in Vermont during spring migration and again during fall migration - usually a single bird at any one location, and usually only for a day. We were lucky this year to see one of these beauties (the same one?) two out of three days.

These large chestnut and gray sparrows nest in central to northern Canada, most of Alaska, and down the spine of the Rocky Mountains. They spend our winters in parts of the southern half of the U.S. and along the coast of California. ~Maeve

We see White-breasted Nuthatches all the time in our yard, but their diminutive cousins are rare visitors.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

March 25, 2021

Oh come all ye faithful, join in adoration, spring is here; let the buds burst open, the insects awaken, bluebirds rejoice in song, but stay resolute ye spring-spirited folk, for beware the March folly that often dumps cold white blankets over the parade.

Be resolute, resilient, sustain this early joy, for she will soon be well entrenched less a brief repose or two. ~Bernie

March 24, 2021 Our first backyard Journal entry.

We thought the single redpoll at the feeders this morning was a sign the others (we have been viewing upwards of 40 to 100 at a time) had decided it was time to fly home to northern Canada. 

However, this afternoon, very soon after adding more shelled sunflower seed to the tray feeders, around 40 redpolls fell out of the oak tree and crowed the tray feeders, and littered the ground. 

Then to add frosting to our cake, two, instead of the much-appreciated single visitor we have been viewing over the last few weeks, two red-breasted nuthatches dropped in for a peanut. (We set out unsalted peanuts as well as the sunflower seed.)

What are you seeing in your backyard for birds, and bird behavior? Let us know and we will add your comments to our posted journal.

Bernie & Maeve

Here is more about Slow Birding from Bridget Butler at
Slow Birding on the ABA Podcast: 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Pine Grosbeaks Technology Park SB VT


So many birding "hotspots" are lovely and relaxing. They're scenic, with open fields or hushed forests or sparkling water. 

But there's one place in South Burlington that's often a hotspot in late winter and early spring - even though it's surrounded by big blocky buildings, and has huge paved parking lots, and the constant background noise is the sound of cars rushing by on the interstate.

Adult female Pine Grosbeak

immature male Pine Grosbeak (hatched last summer)

Technology Park is distinguished by several ornamental crab apple trees. Winter softens all that fruit, and the tiny soft apples are irresistible to several kinds of fruit-loving birds. This year, right now, the park is  hosting good-sized flocks of Pine Grosbeaks, Bohemian Waxwings, and Cedar Waxwings,  along with many American Robins and European Starlings. The first two birds show up in this area only every now and then, so the trees have been attracting not only birds but also birders and photographers! 

Bohemian Waxwings

For optimum photo quality viewing (though w.o the text) click on the first photo, then view the rest.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Pine Grosbeak (Immature) photos, Vermont

Apple pie is not just for July or so say these Pine Grosbeaks on one very cold day (~27 degrees Fahrenheit and 10+ mph wind) at Technology Park in South Burlington, Vermont.  
      We were happy they were there to entertain us while we waited for the car.                  Car inspections should never come due in February in Vermont!

The fruit on the vine is just fine.

Mmmm, the fermented squishy, juicy, red ones make me tipsy. 
Industrial beak.

These robins know spring is around the corner.
They also know it is a long, long corner.

The tameness and slow-moving behavior of the Pine Grosbeak prompted locals in Newfoundland to affectionately call it a "mope."
Pine Grosbeaks other names: Durbec des sapins(French), Camachuelo Picogrueso (Spanish) 

A cold Vermont day is nothing to crow about, especially when you are treated with Pine Grosbeaks quite happy to have you pull up a chair at the table and enjoy a slice of apple pie with them. 

photos and text by Bernie