Nature is full of surprises and they appear when you least expect. On a little road trip this week off the island a friend and I were surprised to see an adult bald eagle sitting right next to the busy road. It wasn’t hurt but had landed there to inspect a dead deer that had been hit by a car. Any animal that dies, no matter where it is, always is an attraction for any meat eaters. Here in this area where eagles are commonly seen we are not surprised by these handsome and regal looking large birds. They are scavengers and they are not above stealing another bird’s food catch as they often do with the large, beautiful ospreys. The large ospreys are now wintering in Florida and other southern areas. They will return here to nest later in the spring.
Ospreys are excellent fishermen and islanders who know the birds’ habits will be watching for them, especially in Somesville near the small bodies of water in the middle of the town next to the library. I and others have seen the osprey expertly catch a fish only to have the eagle come along and steal it from the osprey. The eagle makes the osprey drop the fish so the eagle can grab it and go off and eat it. The osprey catches the fish and the eagle gets to eat it.
Winter fishermen catching fish through their ice holes in local ponds regularly see eagles waiting in the trees nearby or sitting on the ice waiting for a chance to grab a fish. I often think we could have a better national bird with more honorable traits.
Later the same day as we parked in back of an office building on the edge of town, I saw movement in the brush close by. As we watched more closely the bird turned out to be a tufted titmouse foraging in the branches. This is an interesting little bird that can be seen here on Mount Desert Island feeding with chickadees and nuthatches and other small birds at feeders or in small winter flocks. They also come to feeders. Most of my reports have been from the Bar Harbor side of the island.
The titmouse is perky looking little bird and its name “tit” is an Icelandic word for small. The word “mouse” comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word “mase” meaning mouse so we have “tit-mouse.” As you might suspect, its nearest relative in the chickadee. The word “tuft” is added to describe the long crest of feathers on its head. If you see one on your feeder you’ll have no trouble recognizing it. Like the chickadee the tufted titmouse grabs one seed on a feeder and then flies off with it. In a few moments it comes back for another one. Some birds stuff their mouths with many seeds.
Some of our winter birds stay alone in the winter; others form friendly flocks and travel around together. The titmice and chickadees belong in this sort of group. You may also see nuthatches, kinglets, brown creepers and other small birds in this group. If you watch these groups whenever you encounter them on your walks you can learn much about them from how they behave. As the breeding season gets closer the males begin to quarrel and scold each other, and the flock gradually breaks up. As mating season comes on the male titmouse starts feeding the female of their choice. Titmice nest in tree holes as do the chickadees. Leave up any dead trees for them or put up the right sized bird houses.
I remember in 1955 that the titmouse was considered a rare bird. Even when we moved to Maine in 1972 it was a rare sight when you saw one. I’m pleased that there are some titmice living again in the area. The cardinal was a seasonal bird when we moved here in 1972 and now is a year-round bird. This can also be said about the mockingbird. Vultures were not seen in the skies over MDI in l972 but now they are regularly seen in the summer and have nests. If you know of a titmouse nest this year please report it to the local and state bird groups, and Bill Townsend in Bar Harbor. He has a small newsletter called Guillemot, available for such records and this information is important.
Barred owls are numerous on MDI and since they rest in a tree during the day you often can get to see them. If you’re paying attention to the world around you and notice crows and ravens and maybe other birds being very noisy in a certain spot, go and investigate. Crows and jays and some other birds often find a resting owl and try to make the owl move away. When the owl just won’t take their pestering anymore it flies off to find a new resting place. Until the owl flies off the scene gives you time to really see the bird.
The largest nesting owl on this island is the great horned owl and often they are sitting on eggs in February. In spite of the cold temperatures and snow the female great horned owl sits on the nest. By the end of the month three eggs are laid. Often the nest used is an old crow’s nest.
Winter purple finches start to sing this month That would be a nice sound to hear on a winter’s day. They are the most melodious of our finches.
Send any questions, photos or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.