Winter is an ideal time to get familiar with the year-round resident birds of Mount Auburn. If you are a beginner birder this time of year offers the opportunity to see and hear the common birds of the area without the distractions of migrants or foliage on the trees.
During the winter months, in addition to Sparrows, Blue Jays, Robins, Cardinals and Crows, you might see a Great Blue Heron, a Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Red-tailed Hawk and possibly a Great Horned Owl or a Screech Owl.
There is also the potential for seeing any of the following birds here during the winter months: American Kestrel, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Dark-eyed Junco, Downy Woodpecker, European Starling, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Hooded Merganser, House Finch, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, Tufted Titmouse, White-throated Sparrow and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.
Ornithologists have long recognized Mount Auburn as one of metropolitan Boston’s most important bird refuges. Its 175 acres of green space and rich vegetation are crucial resources amid recent urbanization trends. A 2019 study from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that there are three billion fewer birds in the U.S. and Canada since 1970, meaning one in four birds has disappeared over the past fifty years, with steepest declines in the eastern U.S. And according to the annual State of the Birds Report, a comprehensive analysis on bird populations in America published by the Secretary of the Interior since 2009, nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened, or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species, and other threats. We recognize that these studies signal a broader ecological crisis. Luckily, we’re also aware that it’s not too late to help species which rely on ecosystems like those offered at Mount Auburn. We have therefore been prioritizing initiatives that are making the Cemetery an even better destination for both year-round and migratory bird populations, both through habitat enhancement throughout our landscape and collecting data (with the help of our community) on how well these habitats are serving their populations.
In recent years, Mount Auburn has become a living laboratory for scientists studying wildlife populations like our many species of birds. We now also have a multi-generational team of over 100 well-trained volunteers making it possible for these scientists to acquire the data they need at a much higher volume than they (or our own staff) would ever be able to on their own. These volunteers are part of our Citizen Science Program, now in its fifth year, with studies on phenology in our landscape each spring and fall to help us track changes in the timing of leaf, flower, and insect emergence related to weather and climate disruption (which impacts food availability for migratory birds). The program also features a new survey (launched in 2019) of breeding bird abundance and distribution throughout the Cemetery.
We have partnered with Brooks Mathewson, an ecologist with a long history of birding at Mount Auburn, to lead the program ever since its first year. Looking ahead to 2020, he will once again offer a series of workshops, training walks, and educational materials to teach our team of volunteers how to collect data for three studies in the spring and fall: breeding birds, red-backed salamanders, and phenology. Brooks then organizes, enters, analyzes, and summarizes the data; and he follows up with reports on the findings. With every year of data and analysis, we are better able to take a proactive approach to determining what adjustments need to be made in our landscape to maintain this rare resource: a thriving, sustainable urban wildlife habitat.Our Citizen Science Program would not be possible without support from friends like you; please donate today! If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, contact Wildlife Conservation & Sustainability Manager Paul Kwiatkowski at firstname.lastname@example.org
Top photo is of a Northern Parula, by Brooks Mathewson
Roger Tory Peterson was the first to coin the phrase “Confusing Fall Warblers” in his Field GuideTo the Birds first published in 1934 and devoted separate pages depicting those birds and pointing with arrows the significant points to look for during the fall migration. John Dunn in his Field Guide to Warblers of North America (Peterson Field Guide Series-1997) states: “Despite the fearsome concept of “confusing fall warblers” the identification is generally straightforward given adequate views”. Before fall migration, many species of warblers lose their bright and distinctive spring plumage and molt into duller or drab colors for the winter months.
So how does the new birder identify warblers in the fall? First remember that there are basic features such as wing bars that help to identify the warbler in any plumage, then there is habitat preference, the Common Yellowthroat likes marsh and other wet habitats; the Wilson’s and Canada warblers tend to be found low in thick shrubbery and many others prefer the tops of trees- exactly like they do in the spring. Watch for distinctive behavior, the American Redstart always fans its tail, the Palm and Prairie warblers raise their tails. Warblers rarely sing in the fall so you need to familiarize the call notes or chips they make, this is a bit more difficult but it easy to start with the Yellow-rump’s fairly distinctive loud “check” call. One warbler species-the Chestnut-sided has a very different look in the fall; I like to call it the Lemon and Lime Warbler. Gone are the bright chestnut sides, gone is the yellow cap, a beginner would probably never think of a Chestnut-sided. (more…)
The Nighthawk is a member of the nightjar family which include the Whip-poor-will. All members of this family are rather cryptic in color with tiny bills and huge mouths. Join us for a Nighthawk Watch this summer at Washington Tower:
The flight of the nighthawk is unmistakable as it wheels erratically chasing insects. The Nighthawk nests most often on open cultivated fields, gravel beaches, rocky outcrops and burned over woodlands. It is also well known to nest on flat gravel roof tops especially in cities. Locally birds have nested in a number of different places in Cambridge and Somerville as well as the Back Bay and South End sections of Boston. The roofs of many of these buildings have been converted to rubber and are no longer appealing to the nighthawks. (more…)