The Bicknell’s thrush is a migratory songbird that winters in the Caribbean but comes to northern New England to breed.
It's long been hard to find in the region – and conservationists say that’s becoming a big problem. In fact, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week it’s considering the Bicknell’s thrush for endangered species status.
In mid-August, one of the most elegant and least known migration flights begins. Common nighthawks, a long-distance migrant, are one of the earliest to depart their northern breeding grounds. Despite their species name, they aren't hawks and they aren't nocturnal. And, alas, they no longer are common. Nighthawks are crepuscular, a great word for the handful of species that are most active at dawn and dusk.
There's a newcomer in New Hampshire, a bird that's wild and prehistoric in looks and sound. The bugling of sandhill cranes is common in Wisconsin and Michigan where their numbers have rebounded from near eradication some 70 years ago. That rebound—from the low hundreds to over 50,000 today—has likely led to a range expansion eastward to New England. There's 11 known pairs breeding in Maine, and a few in Massachusetts, Vermont and New York. Surely New Hampshire is next.
Mid-May is like rush hour in the bird world. Migrants have returned for the nesting season and the air is full of birdsong. As you might guess, birdsong is as varied as birds themselves. In fact, birdsong is defined generously to include any and all sounds they make with territorial or courtship intentions. Let's start with a traditional vocalization and then branch out.
May brings apple blossoms, a universal favorite—whether in hillside orchard or backyard crabapple. They're also favored by one of the most elegant songbirds of all, cedar waxwings. They're a social species but sedate and quiet as birds go—easy to miss despite traveling in flocks.
Often the best way to know they're around is by their song. It's subtle, admittedly, but worth learning. Once alerted by their song, here's what you might see: male and female waxwings exchange blossoms bill-to-bill as part of a courtship ritual when winter flocks pair off for the breeding season ahead.
Summer visitors to New Hampshire typically are eager to hear the call of a common loon, emblem of the wild and remote north woods. Popular souvenirs to take home include coffee mugs, sweatshirts and jewelry—all with a loon motif.
In addition to their striking appearance, I suspect the fact that loons chorus at night adds greatly to their mystique. Loons of winter don't get much attention, but scan coastal waters and chances are good you'll see a loon or two offshore. New Hampshire's breeding loons don't migrate far.
New Hampshire Audubon's annual Backyard Winter Bird Survey is coming up: the second weekend each February.
Three woodpeckers common statewide are among the early birds when it comes to loudly proclaiming territory and courtship. Lend an ear this time of year and you'll hear the rapid-fire drumming of powerful bills on resonant deadwood. Vocally challenged, woodpeckers drum while most other backyard birds sing.
Once again, Friday the 13th is at hand, one of the most abiding superstitions despite little agreement about its origins. Superstitions date from a time when the workings of the physical world were unknown. Calamitous events such as earthquakes, solar eclipses, plagues and death seemingly came out of nowhere.
Many superstitions centered on birds, most likely because they fly high to the heavens where the gods were thought to hang out. Birds were seen as carrying messages from the gods, and because the gods wielded power capriciously the messages seldom were glad tidings.
Have you heard about coffee that's for the birds? There definitely is such a thing: shade-grown coffee. Until recently that's how all coffee grew: in the shade on small family farms. Canopy trees above provided shade along with a natural leaf mulch that kept soil moist, prevented soil erosion, and decomposed to provide nutrients. The canopy typically included fruit and nut trees that provided food for the farm family.
Here's a bird song we all recognize, the familiar crowing of, yes, crows, a species with many vocalizations. Crows are one of the most intelligent animals in the wild, and a lot of intelligent people have come up with theories to explain why.