Flickers flutter in

New arrivals from the south have not liked the weather greeting them here on Mount Desert Island. On one storm day, a Carolina wren on Islesford joined local birds in feasting at a welcoming feeder stocked with food. Even a flicker flew in the end of the week and was happy to find a plentiful supply of suet put out for all feathered friends.

Flickers have been absent here for many months. They left in the fall and are just now beginning to return. March is usually when the first of them start to return, and in April, they readily will be seen locally. Several woodpeckers are with us year-round, and they include the downy and hairy woodpeckers, the large pileated woodpecker and a few black-backed woodpeckers. Red-bellied woodpeckers and three-toed woodpeckers are usually expected in small numbers here and there during the winter months. We don’t usually expect to see the yellow-bellied sapsucker until the middle of April, and then only in small numbers.

Woodpeckers readily come to feeders and provide good entertainment as they feed. Listen even now for some of their courtship sounds offered in interesting drum rolls. A tin roof near a bedroom window is often favored by the birds. Enjoy such an unusual wake-up call in the spring and have a longer day! To the lady woodpecker, it’s sort of a love song!

As March comes to a close, we also may get to see some returning kestrels sitting on wires alongside roads next to fields. These birds like mice, large insects and the like, and from their perches, they watch and then dart out and grab them. Kestrels, formerly known as sparrow hawks, are really very beautiful birds. When hunting, they have a habit of hovering for a moment above their prey and then dropping quickly down on whatever they have seen. It’s fun watching them hunt. Watch for them especially when you’re traveling along a road at the edge of open areas. The Trenton airport area is a good place to see them, and any area on this island when you go past farmlands is excellent for watching them.

I’ve been on this earth so long I still remember when it was a very rare sight to see a snowy owl in New England. Now in the winter, it is quite easy to find one if you brave the snowy terrain and cold temperatures. Naturalist friends are regularly sending me photos they have taken on MDI and nearby places all winter. Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the snowy owl was a very rare sight in the states. My own mother, an ardent birder and nature writer, got to see some of the first arrivals one winter in Connecticut, and it was a memorable moment. Many years later, I well remember having a lovely female snowy owl sitting all day long on the roof of my house here in Bass Harbor. She seemed quite curious about all the comings and goings of daily human activities and a few carpenters at work not far off from where she sat. These birds live where there are few if any humans and are not instinctively afraid of them.

I have found the birds I’ve encountered in out-of-the-way places in Newfoundland and Labrador to be very tame. While walking along the shore of an island near Red Bay, Labrador, last summer, I almost stepped on some of the small plovers feeding there. Even here on MDI, you can get close to these migrating birds feeding right at the edge of the water. They are very busy looking for food to sustain them on their journey south.

Occasionally in the last week or so, there have been brief moments of sunshine and warmer temperatures, and I heard from a friend about a sighting of a coyote stretched out on the winter grass in the sunshine. I would like to have seen that. Coyotes are important predators to have on this island, especially in controlling the deer population.

How birds know when it’s time to migrate was the question someone asked me, now that some birds are arriving from the south. Spring is well advanced in the south; friends are sending me photos of their early flowers and commenting on the warm weather. We are still having snowstorms.

From what I understand, some birds are “programmed” to move at a certain time, and they set off when that time comes no matter what the weather is. This group includes, among others, some songbirds, hawks, and shorebirds. Some of the birds wintering in the United States have a feeling of weather changing and they seem to sense when they should head for their ancestral breeding grounds. Woodcocks, for example, have been here now for a few weeks finding it difficult to find food, but they carry on and do their courtship ritual in the snowy fields and try to pull worms out of frozen mud. It’s not an easy life for them. They just have to work harder to sustain life in all its forms. Birds coming from the deep tropics probably will be the last to arrive.

Birds seem to have an ability to change over time if the situation warrants it. I’ve noticed this in my years here on MDI. In the 1970s, mockingbirds and cardinals were migrants and rarely seen here in the winter. Now in 2017, they are year-round residents. This winter, I have had photos sent to me of five or six male cardinals and a few females all at a snowy feeder at once. It was a very nice sight!

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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