Nature: Birds love fishing boats

Most of the island summer visitors are long gone this month but a couple of turkey vultures were seen this past week flying over Bar Harbor. These large black birds usually are now in the southern states.

It is only in recent years that they have become regular summer visitors. When we first moved here in 1972 they were only seen occasionally in April, May, August and September.

I still have a copy of the Birding Checklist from Acadia National Park for that time and turkey vultures are in the “rare” category for Mount Desert Island. In the most recent checklist it is considered a regular resident from April through September.

These vultures have joined the short list of very large birds such as eagles, osprey and great blue herons seen here. Eagles, of course, are with us year-round. Just recently, 36 adult eagles were seen resting in a tree off island not far from the Schoodic area. That was an unusual sighting! Only in Alaska would you expect such a sight at a salmon river.

During my various visits to Florida I have enjoyed seeing both turkey vultures and black vultures flying along the beaches and sitting in the trees in the wetlands. I especially liked seeing them looking down at me on the beach as they flew by quite low.

Sometimes a few of them would land and watch the fishermen nearby. Fishermen on the beaches were often joined by vultures, herons, gulls and wood storks all hoping for a snack. As the fishermen cut up their catch even more birds gathered in hopes of a free meal. These places made all photographers happy. The birds are exceptionally tame at such times.

Fishing boats anywhere in the world are places where birds gather, always in hope of food. In my mind I well remember Newfoundland fisherman in one of their large special row boats surrounded by gulls and one or two eagles — looking like a live painting. I can close my eyes and see it now in my mind’s eyes.

At your feeders you no doubt have noticed an avian version of “king of the rock” going on. There definitely is a pecking order for eating there that is observed by all the native birds.

The year that huge numbers of evening grosbeaks arrived in Connecticut back in the 40s it was so noticeable. My mother had a busy feeder and she watched as the local birds stare in amazement and fear as these colorful and aggressive evening grosbeaks arrived in large numbers and just took over. The native birds were definitely afraid at first and always cautious. There is a pecking order and the birds work it out as they feed. You can help a bit by placing the food in convenient places for them.

The appearance of a sharp-shinned hawk at a feeder makes the smaller birds scatter. The smaller birds suddenly explode from the feeder and are off. After the hubbub you may see the hawk with one of the feeder birds clutched in its talons and soon to be eaten. Chances are that the hawk was a female since it was a little larger than a blue jay. The female is sometimes twice the size of a male.

The flight of a sharp-shinned hawk is fast and direct and you would never see it soaring as some hawks do. Sharp-shinned hawks have short wings and a long tail with a square end. The body is a little larger than a robin’s.

A Cooper’s hawk closely resembles the sharp-shinned hawk, but the end of the Cooper’s hawk tail is rounded.

Don’t begrudge the hawk its meal; all birds have to eat and the smaller birds are always ready for such dangers.

You would never expect to see the sharp-shinned hawks soaring as some of the larger hawks do, nor would you see it poised overhead as a kestrel does, hovering in the air and then dropping down on a mouse or large insect.

The sharp-shinned hawk dashes into a thicket for its prey, which frequently is a small bird. For long periods of time this bird rests quietly in a thicket waiting for an opportunity to get a quick meal.

Now that ice covers our lakes and ponds you need to keep watch on the salt water for all winter birds. Take time to drive or walk along the shore or visit the various docks and see what you can find out there. Binoculars are helpful for watching birds on the water. Take photos with your phone of any birds you might want identified.

For any of you who are new to the island you might find my first book called “Nature Diary of Mount Desert Island” useful. Contact me for copies.

Send any questions, phtoso or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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