Tag Archives: birds in New Jersey

Feeding Time

There are many hungry baby birds around, keeping their parents very busy. Here are a few photos of feeding time.feeding time

swallow2

food

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A Dove’s Springtime Nap

The springtime sun sure feels good after a long, cold winter. Why not enjoy the weather fully by finding a nice comfortable sunny spot to relax in? This mourning dove took that advice and was tucked away in a secluded corner of our backyard.
mourning dove
But after the dove starts enjoying the warmth and comfort…
mourning dove
…naturally it begins to feel sleepy, very sleepy.
mourning dove
There’s no fighting that sleepy feeling. It’s time for a springtime nap!
mourning dove nap

Hawk’s Breakfast

hawk with grackleA few mornings ago, I walked into the backyard to put something away; suddenly a hawk flew from the grass, right in front of me, up into a tree branch. The spot where he had been on the lawn was covered with the feathers of a grackle. The feathers were fresh. I left momentarily to get my camera and returned to take a few photos of the hawk in the tree before it decided to fly away. I didn’t realize until I downloaded the pictures (and could look at them closely) how fresh those grackle feathers really were — the grackle’s body was being firmly held underneath the hawk. I had interrupted the hawk’s breakfast. The grackles had only returned to our backyard in the past week or so after being absent all winter. The hawk must have been thrilled with their recent return!
hawk with kill

Woodpecker Glimpse

So happy to catch a glimpse of a pileated woodpecker the other day. He was busily moving up and down a large tree trunk in the woods, but I wasn’t able to get an unobstructed photo. They truly are the jackhammers of the forest.pileated woodpecker

Pothole Bathing

pothole bathrobin bathWe have two areas in our yard where birds in the neighborhood can get freshened up on a dusty day. In front, there is a large stone birdbath. In the rear, we have a small pond with a very shallow stream of water running over a ledge. Many birds land by the pond and walk over to the ledge for a quick rinse. By far, however, the all-time favorite bathing spot is the pothole in the street in front of our house. Every time it rains and water collects in the hole, a variety of birds come – some solo, some in small groups – to bathe. Maybe the hole is the perfect depth and width to attract them, or maybe they just like muddy rainwater, whatever the reason, it attracts more visitors than the birdbath and the pond.grackle bath

Identifying the Red Tail

Are they red-tailed hawks?

Are they red-tailed hawks?

The  red feathers are starting to fan out

The red feathers are starting to fan out

Notice the distinctive red tail feathers

Notice the distinctive red tail feathers

I have trouble identifying hawks because they all seem to look so similar. Looking for clues to a raptor’s identity — by zeroing in on features such as size, shape, coloring, stripes on the feathers or behavior — doesn’t always help me figure out what I’ve seen. Factor in distance or poor lighting and it’s even more difficult; if the hawk is a fledgling or a juvenile, “fuh-gedda-boud-dit!” The young ones are almost impossible for me to distinguish. Despite my difficulty ID’ing hawks, there is one type that is not too difficult to determine from the rear.

The red-tailed hawk is aptly named for its distinctively colored reddish tail feathers. Like many other hawks, the body and wings are brown and the breast is lightly speckled, but the color of the tail really stands out. It’s especially noticeable when the feathers are fanned in flight.

About a month ago, I saw two hawks perched high in a tree. I was uncertain about their identity, although I assumed they were red-tailed hawks because they are so common in my area. Once the hawks began to fly though, the red-brown tail was clearly evident. When you are out and about, look for the red tail to identify the red-tailed hawk.

One Loud Wren

wren We only have one wren that visits our backyard, but he makes his presence known very loudly!

See other “One” photos at: Weekly Photo Challenge.

Waiting Motionlessly

heron by fenceAt the corner of the reservoir, in a secluded spot, the hunter (a.k.a. great blue heron) waits motionlessly for a morning meal. Linking to “Friday’s Fences” at Life According to Jan and Jer.

Blue Jays Back


bluejay pic
As I sit at the laptop and type, I am listening to a cacophony of blue jay calls in the backyard. Lately, I’ve been noticing groups of blue jays banding together in sound and purpose just about everywhere. Blue jays have always been one of the staple backyard birds of my New Jersey upbringing. I have a vague remembrance of my father being dive-bombed by a blue jay as he mowed the lawn – perhaps he ventured too close to a nest. During the last year, blue jays seemed noticeably absent. I would glimpse an occasional lone jay but, for the most part, the usual crowd at our feeders included sparrows and finches, eating their seeds without verbal interference from blue jays.

After experiencing firsthand some of the effects of Hurricane Sandy last year, I wasn’t surprised when I read recently about the impact the storm had on birds, mostly because of storm damage to either the bird’s habitat or food sources. An article from the National Wildlife Federation specifically mentions blue jays as one of the species that flew south in search of food after the storm. Based on my own casual observations, I think they’ve now returned back to the north!

Thistles and Goldfinches

Female goldfinch on thistle

Female goldfinch on thistle

Male goldfinch eating thistle seed

Male goldfinch eating thistle seed

Thistle flowers before turning to seed

Thistle flowers before turning to seed

Thistledown everywhere!

Thistledown everywhere!

Think back to the days of your youth (or maybe it was just the other day). Did you ever pick dandelions after they became seeded, blowing on them to make the fluffy seeds fly into the air? Or, did you wave them rapidly back and forth for the same effect? We called the seeds “wishies.” Sometimes we’d randomly see “wishies” floating by and try to catch them, storing up as many wishes as possible. I don’t think we ever thought about the fact that we were helping to disperse dandelion seeds into the manicured lawns of the neighborhood. Some of those “wishies” we caught might not have been from dandelions; they could have been from thistles.

Thistle seeds are similar in appearance to dandelion seeds. Before seeding, the thistle has a beautiful purple flower, as well as spiny leaves to give the plant some protection. When the thistle flower turns to seed, the seedheads are larger than dandelions but with the same whitish, feathery appearance. The thistledown, attached to the seeds, gives them their airy abilities. The thistle also gets a little help in the dispersal process from goldfinches who love its seed. We have a birdfeeder in the backyard just for thistle seed; the goldfinches visit this feeder almost exclusively.

While at the park the other day, I saw goldfinches going crazy over the thistle that was growing in a field of wildflowers. From plant to plant, the birds were picking at the thistle seeds. As they feasted, they were causing the thistledown to fly all over the place. Some of the goldfinches were covered in thistledown. It made me think about how people love to eat Jersey-fresh tomatoes picked right off the vine in the summer. In the winter, those tomatoes on-the-vine from a grocery store are acceptable, but they don’t compare to the taste of a handpicked, in season, straight from the garden treat. Maybe the goldfinches feel that way about eating beak-picked seed directly from the thistle, instead of packaged seed from a birdfeeder. They were certainly behaving like they enjoyed it right from the source. After floating away, the downy part isn’t wasted; some of it may be used for nesting materials.

In the past, when I saw dandelion or thistle seeds floating by, I never thought about how they got into the air. They might have taken flight all on their own, or perhaps, they had the help of a goldfinch.

Three Tips for Identifying Swallows

swallow under bridge

Barn swallow sitting under a bridge – notice the long, forked tail

Juvenile tree swallow (inset shows the blue color coming in)

Juvenile tree swallow (inset shows the blue color coming in)

nest

Barn swallow in nest under gazebo

swallow hole

A hole in the dam makes a great nesting spot for a tree swallow

flying tree swallow

Tree swallow in flight

I’ve always liked looking at birds, but swallows in particular are fun to watch. They tend to be in groups, flying and swooping down and around. When we are out near the water or in a park, we see them acrobatically flying back and forth catching insects.

The most common types of swallows we see in my area of New Jersey are barn swallows, purple martins and tree swallows. The other day, I saw some swallows that I couldn’t identify right away. I ruled out the barn swallow, but was still unsure what kind they were. Despite the white on the breast, they didn’t have the glossy-blue color of tree swallows. I took some photos and after I downloaded the pictures on the computer, I was able to look at them more closely. Little areas of blue were beginning to appear on the feathers; they were juvenile tree swallows.

When trying to identify swallows, here are three helpful tips to consider:

  1. Tail — When flying or perching on a wire, barn swallows are the easiest to identify by their distinctive tail. It’s long, pointy and deeply forked. Most other swallows have tails that are forked, but not nearly as prominent as the barn swallow.
  2. Color — It’s not too difficult to spot the orangey-blue color of the barn swallow. The blue on the face is so dark it’s hard to see their eyes. Cliff swallows have similar coloring, but without the prominent barn swallow tail. Purple martins are completely dark and are the largest type of swallow. Tree swallows are darkish blue on top and white underneath. If the swallow you are trying to identify is a juvenile, it can be a little tricky, especially if the lighting is poor and you are too far away for a good look.
  3. Nest — Barn swallows like the eaves! Of course, they are noted for nesting inside barns, but I’ve seen them build underneath an overpass on top of the support beams and on the small inner ledge of a gazebo. Tree swallows seem to favor a more closed-in location. Recently, I found some nesting inside the drilled out holes of a concrete dam. Purple martins can be very happy nesting inside manmade martin housing. When you see swallows flying around, try to watch where they go. When they return to their nests, you have another clue to their identity.