An American tree sparrow, or winter sparrow. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Nature: Nothing dampens the spirit of a tree sparrow

Regardless of the weather – cold, wet or clear – nothing dampens the spirit of a tree sparrow. This bird is easy to recognize for it has a reddish cap and a single black breast spot. Here on our island, we see it in January foraging through wet fields, clinging to a grass stalk to grab seeds or stopping at feeders. This attractive sparrow is with us throughout the winter up to middle or late April. Then these birds fly north to breed from Labrador to Alaska and south to Quebec. Their wintering grounds are in the northern United States. Enjoy them while they’re here. During the winter, they associate with juncos and even barnyard hens and farmyard poultry. They eat seeds and some insects.

Pine siskins are erratic visitors to Maine. During every month of the year, small flocks wander here and there as if there were no special season or time to ever settle down and have a family. Their whole manner of behaving could be described as restless. They are best known as erratic wanderers and I think they are best described as small, dark, sparrow-like and streaked birds with a flash of yellow in the wings and tail.


I received a marvelous photo of a pileated woodpecker at a window feeder recently. This woodpecker is very large and has a flaming red crest and to see it sitting at a window feeder was surprising! They are year-round woodpeckers here on MDI and usually seen chipping off bark on old trees, letting the chips fly where they may in order to extract an insect infestation in the tree. They have exceptional hearing and know the insects are there and they consider it their job to get them. Sometimes they are so intent on their project you can get close enough to watch the operation. Seeing this large woodpecker at the window feeder MUST have been surprising.

I have a great fondness for this woodpecker, for the morning after my cataract healing when I was able to take the bandages off, I saw a pileated woodpecker on a tree nearby. The red was SO red. I was delighted! No matter how many times you see this large woodpecker, it is a treat. They are resident birds here along with the hairy and downy woodpeckers. Other rare sightings include black-backed woodpecker, the occasional red-headed woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, yellow-bellied woodpecker and three-toed woodpecker. A familiar and regular migrant that nests here is the flicker. Of course, the bird world is full of surprises, so you must try to get a photograph of any unusual bird for the experts to check out.

A year or so ago, it was very funny that a yellow-headed blackbird was sitting on the lawn of a big hotel in Bar Harbor. This bird is not a ‘usual’ for this area and it so happened that two of the island’s expert birders passed by and photographed it that afternoon. NO ONE doubted what they saw. A frigate bird appeared off the Ocean Drive one day on a stormy, foggy day, BUT several park naturalists were there on a field trip, so there was no doubt about that one either. Many years ago, my naturalist mother and I saw black-necked stilts on a Connecticut beach and no one would believe us. We knew what we had seen but were not believed UNTIL the famous naturalist-photographer Allan Cruickshank saw the birds there and photographed them. We felt vindicated and happy about that. With instant picture taking on all phones and other gadgets, it is easier to prove things these days.

Bird wanderers to look for these days are bohemian waxwings. They are very beautiful and wear a black mask, as does the more familiar cedar waxwing. Bohemian waxwings are birds you expect to see in Canada and the Rockies. They are bigger than the cedar waxwings and they love berry-bearing shrubs. Often when one is seen, it is reported from Bar Harbor. Look this one up so you will know what to look for.

Always be ready for the surprise in nature when you least expect it. Send any questions, photos or observations to [email protected].

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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