A Look At Social Behavior and Phenology in Birds From New Jersey to Vermont

It is officially the second week of March, March 8th to be exact and I find myself in an unfamiliar park in central New Jersey on a particularly pleasant sunny day. The wind is calm and the temperatures have soared into the mid-50s. Not something I have experienced in a LONG time, having just come from Vermont’s Champlain Valley, an area still gripped by the hand of winter. I walk through a patchwork of fields, forests, and shrubbery, which should almost definitely be hiding some feathered treasure. Surprisingly, the landscape is relatively quiet and motionless aside from a few Turkey Vultures circling high in the air on the thermals created by the mid-day sun. Finally, after about 15 minutes of limited bird activity, I stumble upon a patch of forest with an active pair of Carolina Chickadees, a life bird for me! The presumed pair of birds were quietly calling back and forth to one another, keeping tabs on the location of their partner. Movement in the treetops up above drew my eyes to a beautiful male Red-bellied Woodpecker! Although silent, his plumage was anything, but loud and attention drawing. The showy red crest and nape along with the finely barred black and white mantle, scapulars, and secondaries appear to be examples of both repeating and bold patterns designed to advertise to nearby females and rival males this bird’s presence in the area.

It wasn’t long after seeing that bird that I heard an all too familiar sound… “Tea-KETTLE, tea-KETTLE, tea-KETTLE!!” The song of a male Carolina Wren rang out from the impenetrable brush impoundment he called home. Seconds later, the song of a rival male sounded from across a narrow field. In the blink of an eye, territory wars were on in the World of the Wrens and songs from 4 different wrens filled the air almost simultaneously. This was a busy Carolina Wren neighborhood, and each male wanted to ensure that his voice was heard and his territory was safe, afterall, the days are getting longer and the breeding season is drawing closer with each song-filled sunrise. The dark brown back and buffy yellow breast of the Carolina Wren is an example of countershading that makes them difficult to spot both from above and below.

I was able to locate a mixed flock of wintering sparrows in a brushy ravine bordering the field. Field Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, Song Sparrows and even an Eastern Towhee could be found in the mix. Most were quietly feeding and resting in the dense tangle of brush, with the exception of the Song Sparrows, boy were they excited for spring! Some quiet pishing drew an aggressive reaction from a nearby Song Sparrow which captured the attention of most other small birds in the area, who all came into view briefly to investigate the commotion and possibly mob an unwanted predator. The harsh “cheep” call of the Song Sparrow is commonly used as a sort of alarm call that tends to clue other birds into a possible threat. I thought it was quite interesting how all of these sparrows could happily coexist with one another in such tight quarters.

As I headed back to my vehicle, I noticed a large gathering of vultures circling over a sun beaten southwest facing hillside. The sheer number of birds that had collected at this point seemed to be bringing in more and more birds by the minute. By the time I left, 22 Turkey Vultures and even a Black Vulture and a Red-tailed Hawk had joined the circling “kettle” of birds. The constant circling commotion of birds seems to act as a signal to all other vultures and hawks in the area saying “Guys! I found a nice thermal over here!” By the end of the walk I had been birding for just over 80 minutes (3:20 PM start time) and travelled 1.47 miles.

Jump forward exactly two weeks and I find myself in a totally different setting. I have returned to the Burlington area looking for birds once again. A successful early morning stop by an Eastern Screech-Owl roost has me hungry for some more exciting bird finds! Once again it’s sunny, but temperatures are still in the upper 20s. The time is 8:20 AM and I have decided to stop by Ethan Allen Homestead from some exploring. To keep this field journal entry from being too long winded I’ll jump right to the action! As I neared the shores of the Winooski River, walking through a floodplain Silver Maple forest, I noticed a pair of Canada Geese slide down the river bank and into the river. I wasn’t the only one who noticed these two birds though as, shortly after, I heard an eruption of honking coming from somewhere downstream on the opposite side of the river. It was another pair of Geese who were not too happy to see that they had neighbors. In seconds, what was a peaceful swim across the river for the pair that I had initially seen was a full blown Goose fight! The two males had interlocked heads and had grabbed a hold of the feathers on the breast of one another and began flapping wildly and splashing violently. All the while this battle was taking place the two females (presumably) circled their mates and honked wildly. Eventually the females began chasing one another as well. After about 45 seconds, the fight ended with one male chasing the other through the air and down the river. This was probably the most epic bird fight I have ever witnessed and I could only imagine that this was a form of territorial dispute. I would translate what I think the geese were saying to each other with those guttural honks, but I don’t think they were saying anything nice at ALL! Drama in the floodplain forests! During this birding adventure, I covered a total of 1.32 miles and elapsed 67 minutes. All in all, March has been an exciting month for birding.

Posted by jacobcbirds jacobcbirds, March 26, 2020 03:52

Observations

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Canada Goose Branta canadensis

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

What

Black Vulture Coragyps atratus

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

What

Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Downy Woodpecker Dryobates pubescens

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Hairy Woodpecker Dryobates villosus

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Fish Crow Corvus ossifragus

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Carolina Chickadee Poecile carolinensis

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

American Robin Turdus migratorius

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

American Goldfinch Spinus tristis

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Field Sparrow Spizella pusilla

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Eastern Towhee Pipilo erythrophthalmus

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 8, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Canada Goose Branta canadensis

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Downy Woodpecker Dryobates pubescens

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Hairy Woodpecker Dryobates villosus

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Merlin Falco columbarius

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

European Starling Sturnus vulgaris

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

American Robin Turdus migratorius

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

American Goldfinch Spinus tristis

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

American Tree Sparrow Spizelloides arborea

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis

Observer

jacobcbirds

Date

March 22, 2020

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