Now that fall is here, have you got your bird feeders up and running again? Or maybe you feed birds all summer long. In either case, its both personally gratifying and valuable to science to keep records of the birds you see at your feeders and in your yard. We hope you will send your records to Westford Wildlife Watch of course, and also you may enjoy joining Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Project Feeder Watch. If you join the approximately 300 Massachusetts residents who are already Project Feeder Watch reporters, you can send in your reports online, see what other reporters are observing, and help out the cause of citizen science.
Checking the Feeder Watch website, one can see the birds which were reported from all states and years. For the Massachusetts 2016-2017 season, we can see that 90 species of birds were reported. Most common birds reported were the usual suspects, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Jay, Dark-eyed Junco, Downy Woodpecker, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal and White-breasted Nuthatch. These resident birds were reported in 80-90% of sites during the entire season. Some of these birds, such as Blue Jay and Black-capped Chickadee represent a welcome come-back from West Nile virus which ravaged their populations a few years ago. American Crow, that was hit hardest by the virus, has had a much slower come-back, and is still only seen at about 25% of sites.
Some statistics are surprising. For instance, we think of Wild Turkey as practically ubiquitous in Westford yards, but it is only reported in 8-17% of Massachusetts sites. Carolina Wren, a formerly southern bird, but one we think of as a common resident now, is reported from only 20-23% of sites. American Robin, which we think of as an overwintering bird now, is still seen mostly in the spring when 59% of sites report it. In the winter, only 10-15% of sites report robins. The same pattern is seen in Eastern Bluebirds, which are seen at about 19% of sites in the spring, but only 4-8% of sites in the winter. Some birds are reported only rarely, such as Pileated Woodpecker, reported from only 1-3% of sites.
These statistics make interesting reading, and make one eager for the upcoming Feeder Watch season. Yes, participating in Project Feeder Watch, can even make you look forward to winter! If you’d like to join Project Feeder Watch, simply log on to their website, feederwatch.org, and click on “join”. You can also read all the information on this great site without joining.
Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of September. Please send reports by October 26, for inclusion in next month’s column. You can write me at 10 Chamberlain Rd., call me at 692-3907, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Late August Reports:
Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. August 25, Carolina wren around, six chipping sparrows eating seeds–cute little birds. August 27, a wood pee-wee calling from back woods. The fruits of the row of sumacs along edge of woods are deep red now, later in winter, when food is scarce, some birds will begin to eat them. August 29, flicker’s shrill call from nearby woods. Female hummer busy visiting potted flowers. Two house sparrows have joined the family of chipping sparrows eating seed. August 31 at Howard Rd. wetland, numerous painted turtles, last of the purple loosestrife and St. Johnswort blooming , soft plumes on the tall reeds getting larger. At Beaver Brook Rd., a family of mallards on pond side, along with the family of five swans. The three youngsters getting quite big. On the other side of the road one adult swam alone, a newcomer. Blue chicory running out of blooms.
Barbara Theriault, August 27, blue heron standing in middle of Grassy Pond.
Doug Pederson, Woodland Dr. September 1, pileated woodpecker landed in a tree just above where I was sitting in my yard. Coopers hawk here chasing the crows. Now I have a tamed crow who sits outside my door for food, waiting there as early as 6 a.m. Also, I feed all the birds at my five feeders, a rabbit that has been around here for a number of years, turkeys and many squirrels. At Beaver Brook, swan family of five, six mallards and a family of six or more wood ducks.
Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. September 4, chickadees and titmice, taking turns in bird bath out front. Lots of small bumblebees visiting hydrangea, hummers still coming to potted plants. September 5, goldfinches on feeder, then they came to pots of coneflower on front walk. September 7, a flicker robing holes in grass by front walk. Five doves on ground under bird feeder. Two female hummers arguing over a hanging impatiens plant. September 8, sat on front step listening to a lively conversation between two white-breasted nuthatches. One male goldfinch taking sips from bird bath, several turkeys wandering around near feeder, five doves on back lawn. Four downies on deck taking turns at suet. September 10, three house finches in bird bath together, water going everywhere. September 14, another long conversation, this one between three flickers. September 17, small cooper’s hawk again swooped low, just missing doves on ground under feeder. Colors slowly beginning to change– vines first, then the wetland shrubs and on to the trees, a beautiful process that we can take the time to enjoy just by looking out the window. Where did the summer go?
Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. September 5, a bear came for a visit and bent the strong steel pole that holds our two feeders, also went after the nearby goldfinch feeder and pulled the bottom out. Some other neighbors’ feeders were destroyed too. Very loud coyote heard at 11:30 at night. September 9, red-tailed hawk eating a small bird on the shed._
Leslie Thomas, September 5, a bear sighted on Groton Rd., coming in to Pilgrim Village.
Buffie Diercks, Depot St. September 7, four young bobcats playing in my backyard last week [Buffie sent a video of them-MH].
Gute Fernandes, on Russell’s Way, September 7, spotted salamander crossing the road.
Len Palmer, Colonial Dr., September 9, two deer and twenty or more turkeys in front yard at the same time today. The deer are eating my lilies and the turkey are wiping out this year’s wood frog young.
Marilyn Day, September 22. At Stony Brook, fishermen catching nice sized large mouth bass and lots of pickerel. At Graniteville Rd., a cuckoo heard around the yard recently.
Diane Duane, at Grey Fox Lane, September 23, monarch butterfly. At Haystack saw another. This must be the last (4th) generation that will be migrating south.
Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane, September 24, Canada geese, mallards, woodchuck, grasshopper sparrows, dead Northern leopard frog in street.
Do you have a large glass window or slider at your house? If so, chances are you have seen a bird strike that glass at some time. If the bird is lucky, it will just stun itself, perhaps need a few minutes to “come to” and then fly off. Sometimes, though, the bird is killed by the window strike. Living Bird, a publication of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, reported on this problem in an article titled “Glass Action for Birds”, in its winter 2014 edition. It has been estimated that up to a billion birds are killed each year by window collisions in the United States alone.
Scott Loss of Oklahoma State University has done bird strike research for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He found, surprisingly, that the majority of annual bird deaths occur at residential and low-rise structures. The average family residence kills one to three birds a year. Loss found that six species seem to die of glass strikes most commonly: Ruby-throated hummingbirds, brown creepers, ovenbirds, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, gray catbirds, and black and white warblers. It seems that these long-distance migrants may be less familiar with the structures in areas they pass through on migration. I notice that at my house, however, the birds mostly likely to strike the glass are mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, chickadees and titmice. It seems that they do this when they are flying in panic to avoid a hawk predator.
Daniel Klem a Muhlenberg College professor has been studying what works to help birds avoid collisions with glass. He found that birds, like people, do not see glass and do not recognize the structural clues people use, such as window frames and building walls. Glass can act as a mirror reflecting the sky and vegetation. New UV windows or windows with dot arrays have been found to be only moderately effective. Klem finds that windows with vertical stripes spaced four inches apart or horizontal stripes spaced two inches apart on the outside of the glass work best. Stripes should be at least 1/4″ wide and light colors are better than dark colors.
What can we do at home? Cornell Lab suggests keeping feeders a foot or less away from windows, so birds that fly away from feeders cannot gain enough speed to hit the glass. Apply paint or decals, hanging strings, soap or tape in vertical rows four inches apart or horizontal rows two inches apart, on the outside of the window. Decals on the inside may be invisible because of the reflections on the window. You can use any decals placed in lines, even holiday shapes. Fine netting placed over windows or regular window screens inside the window should also work. For more information go to the American Bird Conservatory website, http://tinyurl.com/birdwindows. This site has some great photos of ways you can effectively treat your windows, and some suggests some places to buy materials.
Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of August. Please send reports by September 26 for next month’s column. You can call me at 692-3907, write me at 10 Chamberlain Rd., or e-mail me at email@example.com.
Late July Reports:
Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. July 19, chipping sparrows, flicker, goldfinch, house finch and downies around early morning. At 8:45 p.m., one bat swooping about over back lawn. July 22, listening to a catbird in the woods early morning. Hearing him, with his wide range of calls, you would think there was a group of all different kinds of birds gathered together–love these catbirds. Male cardinal on feeder. Queen Anne’s lace blooming around sumacs, many interesting mushrooms by edge of front woods. July 25, three little downies still arguing over suet, as they have all summer. Now a fourth downy has arrived on deck. He seems a bit timid, not approaching suet. July 26, sitting out front, I saw a pretty eastern swallowtail butterfly visiting various potted plants. Watched a chipping sparrow sipping from bird bath. Two titmice hopped in and both enjoyed noisy baths. July 27 noon, at Howard Rd. wetland, saw what appeared to be a little short-tailed weasel hurrying across the road and down toward the water. Growing in the water, water hemlock, an extremely poisonous plant which looks like Queen Anne’s lace. Monadnock Dr. evening, one blue jay parent feeding suet to two begging youngsters. Five downy woodpeckers on deck. July 28, under Parkhurst power lines, peppergrass, ragweed, rabbit’s foot clover, spotted knapweed, Queen Anne’s lace. Heard a towhee repeating his “Drink your tea” call. Pretty little hummer visiting my potted plants on deck. Female red-bellied woodpecker on suet and a little downy watching. July 30, purple loosestrife appearing here and there in wetlands, but not huge areas of it as I used to see. July 31, many small bumblebees around my potted plants, especially at the zinnias. Many flowers are in their best high summer bloom now. Cicada calling from high in a tree out front, others calling from all directions. A row of sumacs along back wood, not poisonous, their seed heads getting darker red every day. Birds will enjoy them later in the winter when food is scarce.
Diane Duane, Howard Rd. July 22, two monarch butterflies during the water chestnut pull in our kayaks on Stony Brook near the Stepinski well area. Also a beautiful white admiral butterfly in the same area, with some swamp milkweed. What a beautiful area to kayak!
Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. August 1, Another nice day in the 80’s. Stopped by Howard Rd. wetland. Numerous painted turtles of various sizes in water, mostly floating with heads above water. Loud truck went by and heads all disappeared for a moment, then promptly all popped up again. At some point many turtles began wandering around all over the water, staying close to water plants. Some purple loosestrife by edge of water, a few violet blue pickerelweed flowers blooming. Pleasant little wetland. August 2, a red-eyed vireo repeating his call out back. August 5, little house wren poking around forsythia. August 9, watched one chimney swift flying around over building and back woods. A turkey vulture over woods, two titmice bathing together, a female house finches hopped in as soon as titmice life. August 10, stopped by a field on Hildreth St., heard an Eastern wood peewee nearby. At Howard Rd. wetland, many turtles, small bumblebees on last blossoms of flowers, a huge blue-black wasp around, dragonflies everywhere. Under power lines in Hildreth Hills, saw late goldenrods, spotted knapweed, common St. John’s-wort, rabbits foot clover all puffed out and pink, so soft to the touch. August 11, noticed a beautiful cooper’s hawk perched on a large boulder near bird feeder, just looping around after a failed attempt. He then flew to a tree for a better look. Forty-five minutes later the hawk flew out of the tree and disappeared. August 15, a saucy hummer visited plants on deck, took a moment to closely buzz around a downy, who kept ducking his head. August 16, Howard Rd. wetland, at least fourteen turtles of various sizes. Pretty purple-topped grasses by the side of the road. On pond side of Beaver Brook, two adult swans drifting about with their two grey and one white youngsters, a mallard family in the distance. On brook side, at edge of or in the water, buttonbush, pickerelweed, yellow pond lily and white fragrant water lily. Under Hildreth Hills power lines, heard chattering goldfinches, one catbird on shrub. Many shrubs and vines all showing early color changes, goldenrods beautiful. Green acorns of all sizes in caps, scattered about on ground. Titmice taking baths out front, then they head to feeder for some snacks. August 18, opened a window after dark and was delighted to hear the loud chorus of summer night insects, in full voices, competing to be heard. “Len told me some of the warblers have already begun to migrate south. After hearing that and seeing vines and shrubs showing early colors, I had better enjoy every lovely day that we are allowed to have….This has been a lovely summer, no big drought so everything green and pretty. I’ve enjoyed it all.”
Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. August 6, Carolina wrens are feeding babies on our screened porch again. They come in and out through a hole in the screen. Two juvenile barred owls calling. We could see them well when we briefly shone a flashlight on the branch they were sitting on. August 15, two baby Carolina wrens fledged from the nest on our porch today. August 17, two beautiful spotted fawns walked in the grass along our driveway towards the street. When a car went by, they turned and bounded into the pasture. A walk at Lakeside Meadows and Shipley Swamp. Birds: Crow, goldfinches, pee-wee in the woods, catbird, at least ten cedar waxwings in the field eating bugs or seeds. Plants seen: maiden pink, cattails, purple loosestrife, prostrate tick trefoil, Indian pipes, showy tick trefoil, spotted knapweed, white water lily, goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, yarrow, common tansy. Also seen, two tiger swallowtail butterflies feeding on milkweed, baby bunny.
Marilyn Day, Graniteville Rd. August 12. A coyote loping across the front yard at 12:10 p.m.
Diane Duane, Howard Rd. August 14, a beautiful monarch in our front garden on common milkweed. It looks like she laid eggs and we see at least one on a leaf [Diane sent a great photo-MH].
Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. August Report: titmice, chickadees, nuthatch, two pairs of blue jays, red-winged blackbirds, some grackles, balding on the blue jays. Two pairs of cardinals, one juvenile, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, several house finches, goldfinches. Chickadees seem to like the goldfinch feeder, hawk circling overhead, wren on deck. A bird nest in between the gutter guards in front of house, hummingbirds very active at feeder, but dropped off considerably last week. I didn’t notice any change in bird behavior during the eclipse of the sun., a few turkeys around. Also, four gray squirrels, one red squirrel fussing at the gray squirrel, several chipmunks, lots of rabbits, young as well, enjoying my flowers. A deer with fawn in the woods. Good to see a fair number of bumble bees at flowers. August 25, a blue-spotted salamander was under a flower pot I removed! I put pot back so maybe it will return. [Rosemarie sent a good photo of this rare salamander-MH] Many thanks to those who are removing the invasive vines around town. But, still see much bittersweet climbing on trees, bushes around town. This will destroy the tree if not removed.
Marian Harman is a member of the Westford Conservation Trust, a non-profit conservation organization whose purpose is the preservation of Westford’s open spaces and trails. The Trust welcomes new members and volunteers.
Most of us enjoy seeing cottontail rabbit families in our yards (unless they are nibbling on our lettuce, of course). They’re definitely cute. The bunnies we see in our yard are almost certainly the hybrid Eastern Cottontail. The “real” New England Cottontail has become threatened here due to loss of habitat. It is very difficult to distinguish New England cottontails from Eastern cottontails. The native New Englanders are a bit smaller, and have ears trimmed with fine black fur. They lack the white forehead spots common on Eastern Cottontails.
The historic range of the New England Cottontail has always been small; southern Maine and New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and south to Rhode Island. These rabbits depend on small early succession forest patches within a larger habitat of forest and shrub wetlands. They eat the shrubby undergrowth that abounds in young forests. It is thought that historically they thrived in habitats along waterways, disturbed by hurricanes or fires. But due to development, forest fire suppression, and the introduction of alien invasive shrubs such as autumn olive, barberry and honeysuckle, New England Cottontails have lost 80 % of their former habitat. They are listed as threatened in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, endangered in New Hampshire and Maine, and extirpated from Vermont.
A recent article by nature writer Ted Williams entitled “Recovery: Second Chance for Yankee Cottontails” appeared June 7, 2017 in a Nature Conservancy blog called Cool Green Science. Williams states that the Eastern Cottontail is a hybrid mixture of cottontail breeds. It was introduced repeatedly from the late 1800’s through 1970 by hunting clubs and fish and wildlife services, and is so hearty that it has outcompeted our native cottontail. New England Cottontails are dependent on early successional forest, which we have pretty much run out of in New England. Eastern Cottontails, however, do well in all habitats, especially suburban yards and edges.
The article discusses a new public-private partnership, called the New England Cottontail Initiative, that is undertaking young-forest restoration. Local zoos are breeding the natives for release. The first releases took place in a 144-acre Nature Conservancy preserve in Dover Plains, New York. Here small patch clear-cuts are growing back into thicket. New England cottontails have recently been found on the Nature Conservancy land in Lyme, Ct., and management is starting there to provide the early forest patches these rabbits need. And even closer to home, captive-bred New England Cottontails bred at the Roger Williams Zoo in Rhode Island, are being released at the Bellamy River Wildlife Management Area in Dover, New Hampshire.
Williams states, “imperiled species need to be saved not because they are cute, not because they are beautiful, not because they are useful, not because they are anything. Only because they are.”
Next time you see a cottontail in Westford, check it out with binoculars. Some day, you might be lucky enough to see one of those New Hampshire bunnies, a native New England Cottontail.
Late June Reports:
Miller School second graders, Vineyard Rd. Reports from May 18-June 16: Nineteen goldfinch, eight house finch, seven cardinals, five house sparrows, four crows, four song sparrows, three black-capped chickadees, one nuthatch, one robin. This represents total birds observed during nine observation days. There were seven cloudy days, one rainy day, one sunny day. [This is a new project for Miller School second graders. Feeders, seed, binoculars and all materials were provided by the Westford Conservation Trust. We welcome these new birders! MH]
Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. June 20, northern catalpa tree in back woods is covered with bright white blossoms. Heard a great-crested flycatcher. New batch of young downies on deck, begging parent for suet. After sunset, one bat flying over lawn. June 21, one hairy woodpecker on suet. At Howard Rd. wetland, one painted turtle poking around edge. June 22, at Buckingham Drive, wooden bridge over Beaver Brook. Cottontail bobbing away as fast as it could go. Heard red-winged blackbird, grackles, robin, blue jay, common yellowthroat, great-crested flycatcher, many white yarrow and evening primrose blooming. June 23, at power lines on Beaver Brook Rd., lots of daisies, white yarrow and Deptford pinks. On Forge Pond, pair of swans with at least three youngsters. In my busy birdbath on front step, four house finches enjoying water at same time, drinking and bathing. June 26, a family of blue jays around. Heard two white-breasted nuthatches. Great to have more babies around again. June 28, At Howard Rd. wetland, saw a young female wood duck in water, eastern phoebe, common yellowthroat, red-wined blackbird, catbird and tree swallow. Bullfrogs calling, various sizes of painted turtles, heads popping up in different paces. At bridge on Beaver Brook Rd. heard warbling vireo and saw swan parents with their two brown and white youngsters. Under power lines on Parkhurst, pine warbler, chipping sparrow, crow, robin, song sparrow, towhee, flicker and catbird. Yellow cinquefoil blooming now. Three red-tailed hawks circling over back woods. June 29, hummers on sugar water feeder. June 30, young downies on deck for suet. Waiting for a parent, they finally gave up and slowly began to try to figure out how to get suet. Little chipping sparrow happily picked up tiny pieces that fell onto deck, and off he went.
Kate Phaneuf, Drawbridge Rd. June 28, at the old beaver pond behind my house, spotted a couple blackbirds flying above the reeds. Two small brownish birds diving and pestering a hawk soaring above. Spent time removing oriental bittersweet from my yard. One tree had thick coils of the vine choking it. I removed it and the tree, which looked close to death, is now thriving.
Nancy Eberiel, Depot St. July 2, a red-tailed hawk took a bird from a shrub near the bird feeder.
Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. July 2, the three Carolina wren babies fledged from their nest on our porch at 9 a.m. Two of them followed their parents right through the hole in the screen, but one got confused. We went inside, and soon the parents had talked the third one through the screen too. July 22, one of the parent wrens came onto the screened porch and checked out the old nesting site.
Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. July 2, at 2:45 p.m., my cat had been looking out the window downstairs and then suddenly ran upstairs and out to porch to look out that window. I followed her to see the scary thing that sent her out there and saw that there was a coyote trotting along at the edge of the back lawn very near our building, alert for anything he could pounce on. Long row of sumac along back woods covered with blossoms now. Daisy fleabane and fragrant milkweed blooming beside lawn. July 6, at Howard Rd. wetland, and eastern kingbird landed nearby, waiting for an insect. A noisy female wood duck flew to far side of water. close by the water, a swamp honeysuckle covered with fragrant sticky white flowers. July 7, small cooper’s hawk scattered all the birds. July 11, hairy woodpecker feeding suet to a puffed out youngster, being watched by a little downy.
Ginger Dries, Sherwood Dr. July report, the wrens are nesting again in one of the birdhouses, female turkey here almost every day, lots of bunnies. All the regulars are at the feeder, jays, finches, chickadees, three pairs of cardinals, mourning doves, titmice and woodpeckers of all kinds. The chickadees wait right on the feeder while I fill it, not a hand length away. The hummingbirds are still here but not as frequently as before.
Diane Duane, Howard Rd. found a six-spotted tiger beetle, beneficial to gardens. Also a nest full of small gypsy moth caterpillars. July 19, saw first monarch butterfly.
Donna Cecere, Calista Terrace. July 9, pair of lovely birds building a nest in one of my birdhouses with sticks. Very tiny brown birds with very loud song, probably house wrens.
Alan Emmet, Concord Rd. July 9, screech and barred owls heard at night–Wonderful sounds!
Kate Hollister, Vine Brook Rd. July 18, hundreds of box elder bug nymphs crawling around near a maple tree for about a week. Watched an osprey dive for fish at Keyes Pond. A scrawny grey fox crossed Vine Brook Rd. Bullfrogs are croaking at Kennedy Pond. House wrens are using one of our birdhouses. Chipmunks and red squirrels are tearing the fiber backing from our grill cover for their nest. Finally saw a hummingbird at our feeder.
Marilyn Day, Graniteville Rd. July 19, noticed a car parked on Cold Spring Rd. waiting at the intersection with Graniteville Rd. at 8:20 p.m. Then across the road out stepped a doe followed by three youngsters. They came across and went under our old apple trees
Kate Phaneuf, Drawbridge Rd. July 20, pretty swallowtail butterfly flitting around forsythia at the back of the house. Great blue heron at the beaver pond. A few blue dragonflies and a few red ones at the pond. Four large crows squabbling over a dead chipmunk by the side of the road. blueberries starting to ripen, both high and low-bush. Flowers in bloom: spotted wintergreen, yellow oxalis, fleabane, clover. July 23, goldfinches picking some of the cotton fluff from my nesting materials ball. Blue dragonflies like the rhododendrons at the front of the house. An occasional roaming turkey or two seen crossing Palace Rd. Catbirds seen at pond and yard. Fruiting bodies of all kinds of fungi: Two dark stinky ones in the woods, many little rounded orange ones, weird-shaped ones, etc.
Marilyn Day, Graniteville Rd. July 26, steeplebush is now in bloom.
Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. July report: robins, house finches, goldfinches, tufted titmouse, chickadee, nuthatch, several blue jays, grackles, turkeys. Two pairs of cardinals. A cardinal nest is in our forsythia bush, baby seen with parents feeding it. One baby fledged, one egg left, which disappeared by next day. Red-bellied woodpecker pair, downy woodpecker pair, rose-breasted grosbeaks here often, male female and juvenile. Many ruby-throated hummingbirds. mostly females. I have to refill the hummingbird feeder every two days. Many small birds having fun in the bird bath. Turkeys, four gray squirrels and chipmunks also drink from it. Many bunnies eating my flowers, red squirrel quarreling with gray squirrels. The chipmunks like to eat the roots of the plants on the deck.
Marian Harman is a member of the Westford Conservation Trust, a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to the protection of Westford’s open spaces and trails. The Trust welcomes new members and volunteers. Check out the Trust’s website at westfordconservationtrust.org or visit us on Facebook.
While working in your yard this summer, you might want to identify the plants and determine if they are native or non-native species. Many non-native invasive plants are outcompeting our native plants with disastrous consequences for our native birds. Non-native honeysuckles are particularly problematic. National Wildlife Federation encourages us to remove them.
Fruit eating birds such as cardinals, catbirds and robins love their tasty red fruits, and spread their seeds far and wide. But these birds are generalists and can eat a wide variety of fruits. The result is that Asian honeysuckle covers huge swaths of land, smothering out our native plants. Honeysuckle berries are not very nutritious, and worse, the plant itself hosts few beneficial insects. Without beneficial insects, birds have much less to feed growing nestlings. Warblers and chickadees, for instance rely on hundreds of caterpillars per day to feed themselves and their young.
Douglas Tallamy, Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware, has found that the number and diversity of plant-eating insects drops dramatically when exotic plants invade. Caterpillars comprise 90 percent of warbler and chickadee diets during the breeding season. Tallamy states, “We are so used to hearing disastrous environmental news, and it often seems there is little that one person can do. But I’ve been going all over the country saying that you can do something. You can change the plants in your yard.”
If you set yourself to creating a bird and bee friendly yard, they will thank you with hours of entertainment. Your goal should be to provide as many native flowering trees, plants and shrubs as possible, and a source of water. The National Audubon Society has provided a complete list of native bird-friendly plants. Go to www.audubon.org, search the website for the Native Plant Database, and enter your zip code. You can then navigate the database to look for trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials that are native to our area. The site indicates which birds especially appreciate each plant. For instance, top trees listed are oaks, especially white oak, alternate-leaved dogwood, American basswood, American Beach, American hazelnut, hornbeam, larch, American Mountain ash, American plum, and serviceberry. Top shrubs listed are gray dogwood, witch hazel, beaked hazelnut, black chokeberry, black raspberry, and American pokeweed. Top herbaceous plants listed are goldenrods, black-eyed Susan, bluebell of Scotland, butterfly milkweed and all milkweeds, winterberry, yarrow, Canadian lily, Joe-pye weed and cardinal flower.
For bees, wildflowers provide bees with an excellent source of pollen and nectar. Leave a small brush pile and areas with dry reeds or grasses or deadwood. A muddy area will provide nesting material for bees. Bees love blue, purple and yellow flowers especially with flat or shallow single-petal blossoms such as daisies, asters, and Queen Anne’s lace. Another advantage of gardening with natives is that they are already adapted to our soil conditions and weather and will take very little care.
Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of June. Please send reports by July 26 for inclusion in next month’s column. You can write me at 10 Chamberlain Rd., call me at 692-3907, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Late May Reports:
Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. May 24, little downy getting irritated with big hairy taking too long on suet. Great blue heron landed out front. May 27, four graceful turkey vultures soaring over woods. Tree swallow darting about overhead. May 28, robin enjoying bird bath on front step. House wren often calling in nearby woods. One bunny carefully venturing out onto back lawn. May 30, on front walk, a still-speckled fledgling robin hurrying after a parent. A few grackles trying to maneuver on feeder.
Barbara Theriault, Tadmuck Lane. May report: cowbirds, turkeys, crows, robins, blue jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, goldfinches, titmice, rose-breasted grosbeak, grackles, downy woodpeckers, chickadees, house finches, a robin’s nest with three eggs under our deck, on the side rail of a ladder, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits.
Kate Phaneuf, Drawbridge Rd. May 31, put up a “nesting ball”, which has been quite a hit. It is a softball-sized twig ball with natural cottony materials affixed. Its made by Krafts by Kevin, and packaged by a young man with autism: email@example.com. Today, spotted a neighborhood turkey hen out with her poults, eight or nine little brown puff-balls.
Kate Hollister, Vine Brook Rd. mother mallard leading about ten duckling across our lawn at dusk, heading back to nearby wetland. Saw a red fox and kit checking us out from a ridge near Ideal Concrete. Lots of chipmunks, red and gray squirrels.
Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. June 1, Canada geese, mallards, black ducks. June 4, flicker, tree swallows. June 7, woodchuck. June 14, snapping turtle crawling across back yard, followed closely by annoyed turkey. June 16, female turkey with nine poults. June 20, mockingbird. June 21, three skunks. June 23, adult raccoon with two babies. June 24, deer. June 25, kingbird.
Dot Mooney, at Howard Rd. wetland, June 1, titmouse, common yellowthroat, red-winged blackbirds, red-bellied woodpecker, song sparrow, chickadee, tree swallow, a few bull frogs. Blooming are, cinquefoil, blue toadflax, peppergrass, bittersweet nightshade. Yellow pond lily and arrowhead growing. Concord Rd., June 1, flicker, cowbird, goldfinch, blue-winged warbler, robin, titmouse, house sparrow, oriole, cardinal, common yellowthroat and red-winged blackbird. June 2, Monadnock Dr. Sat on front step early afternoon, heard or saw red-eyed vireo, four turkeys, three grackles, house wren, chipping sparrow, flicker, house sparrow, robin, two goldfinches, four doves, three house finches, one red-tailed hawk, young robin still chasing parent around. June 6, at my feeder out front, a great blue heron was around and suddenly hurried off, chasing a chipmunk! This heron has been a frequent visitor lately, probably feeding young in the nearby rookery. Suet holder a very popular place, often visited by downies, hairies and red-bellied woodpeckers. Bird bath on front step also very popular. June 10, delighted to hear a warbling vireo in back woods–very distinctive song. June 11, mix of cowbirds and grackles around. Multiflora rose blooming along edge of back woods, poking out through the tall sumacs. Handsome male oriole around. June 12, Dave Mahoney said he saw an indigo bunting under power lines on June 1. June 14, finally a hummer on sugar water feeder. At Howard Rd. wetland, noticed two dug-up turtle nests and the remains of a few eggshells. One bull frog. Arrow wood shrub in bloom. Around me were red-winged blackbird, crow, cardinal, catbird, grackle, chickadee, blue-winged warbler, robin, chipping sparrow, dove, two tree swallows, a song sparrow. At Parkhurst Dr. power lines, the timothy hay looks the way our horses loved it. White-topped English plantain, red clover, white yarrow appearing. Birds heard there were house wren, prairie warbler, indigo bunting, common yellowthroat, blue jay, goldfinch, chestnut-sided warbler, and a very entertaining catbird. Later in the day, lovely male rose-breasted grosbeak on the feeder. June 15, cute little chipping sparrow visited bird bath on deck. At Beaver Brook Rd., daisies, yellow hawkweed and bright yellow birdsfoot trefoil blooming. June 19, an adult garter snake slowly, carefully slipped across brick walkway, over the bark mulch and around shrubs, then into grass, which he was checking out very carefully. Fun to watch this interesting, harmless snake going to some place important only to him. On Parkhurst Rd., “Standing on the power lines in the middle of a little field of daisies and tall grasses, I am once again reminded that daisies mean summer to me.”
Mark O’Lalor, Concord Rd. June 4, nesting bluebirds in his box. Active oriole nest on Day conservation land. Nesting killdeer at Gould Rd.
Alan Emmet, Concord Rd. June 4, our pink ladies slippers don’t have flowers this year.
Herb Fenelon, Randolph Circle. June 6, the fourth and fifth grade Cub Scouts from Pack 96 built and erected bluebird nest boxes at each of Westford’s three elementary schools, Abbot, Crisafulli and Day. The results have been wonderfully successful. At last check we had nesting tree swallows and wrens at Abbot, nesting tree swallows and bluebirds at Crisafulli, and nesting tree swallows at Day. [Herb sent some great photos of these birds at the nesting boxes-MH]
Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. June 7, lovely sunny day,, 65 degrees. Robin, scarlet tanager, Carolina wren singing, song sparrow, house sparrow feeding four young. At feeder: downy, hairy woodpecker, two blue jays, one a nearly-adult begging for food. Gray squirrel has outwitted yet another attempt to make the hanging tube feeder inaccessible and is eating it all. Titmouse, grey catbird, grackles, flicker heard. White-breasted nuthatch, female and two male cardinals, goldfinches, male hummingbird at feeder, cowbirds. Two grackles pulling grubs and insects from the lawn, common yellowthroat singing. June 9, blue-headed vireo and yellow warbler singing. June 10, a walk on the Frances Hill Wildlife Sanctuary: 74 degrees and low humidity, black flies. brown looper type caterpillar which looks just like a twig, (Common Lythrogis moth?), chickadees, white-breasted nuthatch, song sparrow, red-eyed vireo, downy woodpecker, robin carrying worm, yellow warbler, chipping sparrow, great-crested flycatcher, many titmice babies squeaking around their parents, scarlet tanager, blue jay, cowbirds, grey squirrel, chipmunk, deer prints, cinnamon fern with its fertile fronds, chickweed in bloom, Canada mayflower blooming, buttercups blooming, twisted stalk, ragged robin blooming, viburnum blooming, jack-in-the pulpits. June 15, cooper’s hawk came through fast, birds scattered and some hit screens. Pair of house finches investigating the hanging geranium on porch. I took it down as I know once they build there, I can’t water the plant. June 21, a pair of Carolina wrens are nesting on our porch behind the porch light and inside the screens! They go in and out through a hole in the screen–very clever and brave. Pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks at feeder. Two tom turkeys here a lot–very friendly with each other.
Doug Pederson, Woodland Dr. June 8, photographed a tree swallow playing with a feather, tossing it up and then chasing it. Watched a red-winged blackbird chasing a crow and then bothering a heron.
Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. June 16, a nesting bluebird male who lost his mate found a new female four days later. Hummers are using up my sugar water very quickly. I will put up a second one. A friend on Kirsi circle saw a pileated woodpecker poking holes in a buddha in their back yard. Another friend found a baby bird out of its nest. They made a nest of sorts and put it back out. The next day it was gone. rose-breasted grosbeak pair almost daily, grackles, red-winged blackbird pair, several pairs of blue jays, titmouse, nuthatch, chickadee, goldfinch, pair of cardinals, hawk circling overhead, downy pair, red-bellied woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, several rabbits in yard, whitish turkey still here, six squirrels chasing each other, chipmunks, several honey bees in rhododendron, lots of mosquitos and ant hole. On Beaver Dam Rd., friends returned from a two-month trip to find a robin nest in one of the little lights in front of the house, next to the front door. They were very aggressive, dive-bombing the homeowners. They also went to the car next to the rear view side window, pecked at it and left some droppings on the door. This also happened to the appliance man’s truck. In the next, I saw well-developed young robin flapping his wings. He left within a few days. They also pecked at mirror on my car and left droppings [Male robins are notoriously territorial. They often “attack” their own reflection in windows or car mirrors, thinking it is a male robin intruder into their territory. The only thing you can do is cover the window or mirror until nesting is completed. This is a kindness to the bird because they waste much energy and time attacking these “intruders”-MH]
Kate Phaneuf, Drawbridge Rd. June 14, I have blue columbine, and bee balm plants blooming. The deep pink flowers on my weigela bushes are attracting bumblebees and other bees, fly honeysuckle blooming by the beaver pond attracts bumblebees. Sheep laurel also in full bloom. Saw blackbirds, bracken and sensitive fern and cinnamon fern on the trail.
Larry Guertin, June 14, large mama snapping turtle laid eggs in our bark mulch.
Barbara Theriault, Tadmuck Lane. June 17, a small fox ran through our back yard. June 18, blue heron at Grassy Pond.
Gute Fernandes, Vineyard Rd., June 18, many turtles killed on Russell’s Way where turtle excluders are supposed to keep them off the road.
Kate Hollister, at Grassy Pond. June 18, it was nice to see water in the pond again and that the water lilies survived. We saw hundreds of baby toads hopping across the trail, going away from the pond. Heard a large swam of bees in the rotting downed tree near the water. At Powers Rd., saw a snapping turtle crossing the road, and evidence of turtle nesting near Kennedy Pond.
Donna Cecere, Calista Terrace. June 18, one resident groundhog, daily turkey visitor to bird feeder, hornets and bees drinking from bird bath, as well as goldfinches, mourning doves, sparrows. A cooper’s hawk came swiftly flying into yard and swooped up a chipmunk in its claws and took off with it. Two birdhouses have nests. Many robins this spring, blue jays, woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, cowbirds, hummingbirds, sparrows, rose-breasted grosbeaks, cardinals, red-winged blackbird, mourning doves (I love their coos in the evening).
Nancy Eberiel, Depot St. June Report: a turkey hen with two chicks continues to patrol the yard. At the feeder, a grosbeak, two cowbirds, jays, grackles, nuthatch, cardinals, sparrows, house finches, goldfinches, chickadees, doves and cowbirds, a rabbit family and deer. I also see chimney swifts and barn swallows overhead. The swifts nest in the Roudenbush tower. June 26, ravens around.
Marilyn Day, Graniteville Rd. June 20, a foot-long snapping turtle in the driveway [Roger took a great photo-MH].
Ginger Dries, Sherwood Dr. June report: turkey pair are here occasionally. The wrens and the robins nested in the same tree. Robins dive-bombed wrens at first, but they learned to get along together, and both nests of babies fledged on the same day–fun to watch. Two or three baby bunnies and three adult rabbits in yard, along with some groundhogs. So many blackbirds of all types are eating everything.
If you are trying to tread lightly on the earth, and reduce your carbon footprint, one of the most effective steps you can take is to eliminate palm oil from your life. Palm oil is cheap to produce and is shelf-stable, so is the oil of choice for many companies. But, palm oil production has resulted in the clearing of vast swaths of tropical forests. The Union of Concerned Scientists has been trying to get the word out that the clearing of tropical forests and the establishment of monoculture palm oil plantations destroys critical habitat for many endangered animals and birds. To produce palm oil for our processed foods and body care products, huge areas of forest are
cut down and the peat land swamps are drained. UCS states, “Destruction of these ecosystems devastates endangered species habitats and contributes to climate change by releasing global warming emissions into the atmosphere….Tropical deforestation…accounts for about ten percent of annual carbon dioxide emissions”. Not only is palm oil production bad for our climate and animal habitat, palm oil is bad for us. It is mostly saturated fat, a food we should avoid for heart health.
Indonesia and Malaysia produce about 85% of the world’s palm oil, which comprises about a third of all vegetable oil produced globally. Orangutans, tigers, rhinoceros, elephants and tropical birds native to these countries face extinction as their habit disappears in cleared areas. Sometimes the forests are seized from indigenous people and forced labor causes many human rights abuses. Widespread burning of tropical forests causes an unhealthy haze that is spreading throughout Southeast Asia, resulting in unhealthy impacts to the residents.
The public has begun to demand deforestation-free and peatland-free palm oil. Some companies have made commitments, at least on paper, to try to source their palm oil more responsibly. UCS wrote their first report on this problem in 2014. In 2015, they produced a scorecard, which rated forty companies on their commitment to responsibly sourcing their palm oil. As a result, some companies have already made the transition, and some others have begun to respond to consumer pressure, and have made commitments to transition to responsibly sourced palm oil by 2021.
The UCS scorecard shows that in the packaged food industry, Nestle, Dannon, Kellogg’s, ConAgra (Act 11 Popcorn, Marie Callender’s), Unilever (Ben and Jerry’s, Popsicle, Slimfast), Pepsico, and General Mills have made a strong commitment to responsibly source their palm oil. Kraft has made no commitment. In the Personal care industry, Colgate, Henkel (Dial, Right Guard), P&G, L’Oreal, and Reckitt Benckiser (Veet, Clearasil) have made a strong commitment, while Estee Lauder, Avon and Clorox, which makes Burt’s Bees, have made little or no commitment. In fast food companies, only Dunkin Donuts (including Baskin-Robbins) has made a strong commitment to protection. Among grocery store brands, only Safeway Organic, Safeway Select, and Safeway Care have made a strong commitment.
You can see the complete scorecard at www.ucsusa.com. I am going to try to read ingredients and avoid palm oil altogether, especially in processed food, since I don’t need the saturated fat. And I can be an informed consumer and only buy products produced by companies that have made a commitment to protect the environment. Consumer pressure does work. I guess that means I will have to find a substitute for Burt’s Bees products.
Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of May. Please send reports by June 26 for inclusion in next month’s column. You can write me at 10 Chamberlain Rd., call me at 692-3907, or e-mail me at MarianCHarman@verizon.net.
Late April Reports:
Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. April 22, a bear paid a visit to my feeders overnight–no real damage, just made a mess. Two cute chipping sparrows on deck. April 23, under Parkhurst power lines: bright dandelions blooming, soft leaves of mullein emerging. Nearby, chickadees, blue jays, goldfinches, pine warbler, chipping sparrow, titmice, downy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, two towhees. Near my door step, same birds as well as doves, phoebe, flicker, grackles, red-bellied woodpecker and one late junco. A turkey hen limping around on back lawn. April 28, Howard Rd. wetland water deeper now. A few turtles in high sunny spots, small muskrat swam quietly by, heard a Canada goose and first catbird this year. Watched several tree swallows dipping through the air low over the water, garlic mustard in bloom.
Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. April 30, two cottontail rabbits, Baltimore orioles, white-crowned sparrows, male rose-breasted grosbeak, catbirds.
Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. April 30, first oriole and first catbird, here–so early!
Ginger Dries, Sherwood Dr. May 1, the bear hit the feeders again, nothing since. May 5, first hummers. May 22, a lone deer on the hill. May 24, female turkey under feeders. Also, an American redstart in a shrub in the yard. We have had Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, catbird nest in the rose bush, robin nest in the cherry, sparrows nesting in the rain spouts. The wren is singing everywhere. Two or three bunnies, lots of squirrels.
rose bush, robin nest in the cherry, house sparrows nesting in the rainspouts, three bunnies, lots of squirrels. May 24, American redstart in yard.
Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. May 2, two male orioles in trees. May 3, one handsome male bluebird perched on railing, nesting nearby. Male rose-breasted grosbeak on suet, family of downies on deck, the three youngsters being fed bits of suet. May 4, at Howard Rd. wetland, heard a common yellowthroat, flicker, mallard and catbird making an amazing variety of calls. Also saw prairie warbler, towhee, robin, house wren, song sparrow and chestnut-sided warbler. May 5, cooper’s hawk swooped through front lawn area trying to catch a bird at feeder, had no luck. May 6, great blue heron landed on lawn along back woods, wandered around a bit. The nearby beaver pond has many heron nests. May 7, catbirds visiting suet feeder, two male rose-breasted grosbeaks on shelled sunflower together. May 12, a downy woodpecker on suet until he was nudged out by a hairy woodpecker. May 14, a male white-crowned sparrow under feeder. I don’t remember seeing one before–like a white-throated, without the white throat and with a bit of yellow over bill, probably on his way north. May 17, perky little house wren still calling all day. Broad-winged hawk circling over woods. May 19, baby robin at nest remained on edge a long time refusing to budge, until we went away. There was one unhatched blue egg in nest. May 20, under power lines on Parkhurst: catbird, flicker, house wren, prairie warbler, pine warbler, indigo bunting, blue-winged warbler, common yellowthroat. Heard a red-eyed vireo in back woods. May 22, chokeberry trees blooming out back and the large honeysuckle thicket by the woods is covered with blossoms. The great blue heron returned, walked along to my place and then turned around and flew off. May 23, out back I can hear the red-eyed vireo and a great- crested flycatcher. Early afternoon, the heron landed in the same place on the lawn, but this time three tom turkeys spotted him and promptly began to run across the grass toward him. He hurriedly took off. “It seemed to take a while but suddenly everything is green again and there are beautiful blossoms everywhere….no time is lovelier than May.”
Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. May 2, Canada geese, mallards, male ruby-throated hummingbird. May 11, tree swallows, mockingbird. May 15, garter snake, hummingbirds, cottontail rabbit, goldfinches, house finches, chickadees, tufted titmice. May 22, deer.
Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. May 2, whippoorwill heard across the street this evening-a first. May 4, yellow warbler, rose-breasted grosbeak and hummingbirds all here today. May 6, boy scout bird walk at
Emmet land: ovenbird, goldfinch, titmouse, chickadee, chipping sparrow, pine warbler heard, red-winged blackbirds, common yellowthroat, barred owl, robin, catbird, mallards, Canada geese, great blue heron, great egret (!), tree swallow, cardinal, blue jay, grackle, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, green frogs and salamander eggs in the vernal pool, red squirrel, starflower, Canada mayflower, wood anemone, blueberry all blooming. May 17, great-crested flycatcher arrived. May 24, oriole singing, wood thrush singing, catbirds, scarlet tanager singing, rose-breasted grosbeak singing.
Bob Price, Stratton Hill Rd. May 3, hummingbirds arrived. May 4, pair of grosbeaks at feeder.
Tom Ennis, Almeria Dr. May 6, only one bee on my apple tree blooms….it seems there are hardly any honey bees around and few bumble bees…”Is there a more important insect to the human race than a honey bee?”
Lisa Groves, Main St. May 6, turkey nesting right next to our garage at the top of a retaining wall. She’s alert and hisses when we come near, and we assume she’s already got eggs there…she’s laying in a patch of goldenrod/blue flag iris/peony.
Nancy Bissell, North Main St. May 7. A dead turkey on the hill, and I was shocked to see vultures at it.
Emily Teller, Texas Rd. May 10, phoebes are back. I love their mossy nests.
Mau Fernandes, at Miller School. May 18, we have started the bird feeder program from the Westford Conservation Trust. Today we saw cardinal, goldfinch, house sparrow and white-breasted nuthatch [Congratulations 2nd graders!-MH]
Len Palmer, Trust Bird Walk at Emmet Land. May 13, pine warbler, several ovenbirds, titmouse, chickadee, blue jay, robin, downy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, several common yellowthroats, about four Baltimore orioles, pair of warbling vireos, red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds, grackles, Canada geese, spotted sandpiper, brown creeper, cardinal, goldfinches, starflower, wood anemone, marsh marigold, sarsaparilla all blooming.
Elana Schreiber, at Main St. May 21. I saw a bobcat crossing the street from the Tom Paul trail to Town Hall. It was wonderful to see. Also, gray fox crossed Graniteville Rd. into town vegetable garden area.
Cindy Franklin, Heywood Rd. May 23, black bear quite close to house, looked like a young adult. He had large yellow tags in both ears.
Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. May report: two pairs of blue jays, one pair of cardinals, red-winged blackbirds male and female, grackles, goldfinch, house finch, chickadees, titmouse, rose-breasted grosbeak male, robins, downy woodpecker, hummingbirds showed up first week in May, hawk circling overhead, group of turkeys, two males courting a few females, plus the partially white turkey, several rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks (less than last year), skunk cabbage by the brook.
Kirsten Collins, Hildreth St. May 24, a baby owl was rescued from the middle of Hildreth St. Two people picked it up and put it in the woods.