Ravens are making a comeback

May 2016 Wildlife Watch

by Marian Harman

Image of raven feeding nestlings.
Raven feeding nestlings. Photo courtesy of Doug Pederson.
Ravens are making a comeback in eastern New England, specifically in Nashua, NH and Westford. This spring, and for the past few years, ravens have been nesting under an overhang at the Lowe’s store in Nashua, and in the Westford Highway Department’s salt storage shed. This is great news for a bird that had not been seen here since the early 1900’s. At one time, ravens were quite common in the northeast, and were even considered pests. But, with the clearing of forests and increased agriculture, they were extirpated here. There were none left here by the 1920’s. In the late 1990’s the first confirmed nesting of ravens in Massachusetts was reported from central Massachusetts. It seems that ravens are now expanding into eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Just in the past few years, ravens have once again begun to nest in our area.

Ravens are occasionally seen flying overhead and they have been reported several times to Westford Wildlife Watch this year. Their harsh, croaking calls are quite unmistakable. The raven’s tail is wedge-shaped, longer in the middle than on the ends. Its wings have long primary feathers which look like fingers, easily seen when they soar.

Common ravens are huge black birds in the crow family. Their wingspan is almost four feet. They are considered one of the most intelligent birds, and can mimic the calls of other birds and of humans. They are playful and acrobatic flyers. Ravens are long-lived, living 15-22 years. They nest under overhangs on rocky precipices and inside man-made structures. Ravens are omnivorous, eating just about anything they can find. At the highway garage, they often hang around the workers who may throw them part of their lunch.

When you see a large black bird flying overhead, try to identify if it is a raven, and then welcome it to Westford.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for this month. Please send reports by June 26 for inclusion in next month’s column.

Late April Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. April 22, chickadee visiting a tiny puddle on the front walk. April 23, chickadee and male house finch singing duets. April 24, under power lines, heard flicker, eastern phoebe, chickadee, chipping sparrow, prairie warbler, eastern towhee, small bright yellow cinqefoil blooming. At Howard Rd. wetlands, heard two chipping sparrows, two white-breasted nuthatches, chickadee, red-winged blackbirds, swamp sparrow. Saw a great blue heron. At home, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, heard pileated woodpecker, saw pair of cowbirds. April 27, pair of redtails lazily drifting over woods, and a graceful turkey vulture not far away. April 28, patch of pesty garlic mustard. Four chipping sparrow on deck–cute birds. April 29, male goldfinches look like bright little sundrops on this gray cloudy day. April 30, tufted titmouse feeding a seed to its mate.

Barbara Theriault, Tadmuck Lane. April 28, bobcat walked across middle of backyard and into woods, 9:15 a.m. Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. April 30, first hummingbird today.

Peggy Bennett, end of March: merganser pair on Mill Pond, killdeer at Nabnasset Country Club, one bluebird at Stony Brook School. April, Nabnasset St. Rabbit grazing in yard, albino titmouse every day, red and gray squirrels at feeder, juncos, lots of sparrows, downy woodpeckers, nuthatches, two cardinals, pairs of goldfinches. April 13 at Coldspring Rd., three painted turtles sunning themselves on Mill Pond, cooper’s hawk at North Hill, turkeys on Tyngsboro Rd., Forrest Rd and Nabnasset St. April 26, Baltimore oriole at Nabnasset St. April 28, adorable baby opossum crossing Nutting Rd.

May Reports:

Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. May 1, first catbird today. Poor lonely woodcock is still displaying tonight. May 3 at Stepinski Land, towhee, ovenbirds. May 8, wood thrush first heard here. May 9, oriole heard here. At Lakeside Meadows, two orioles, two yellow warblers, one warbling vireo, catbird, goldfinches, flicker, three great blue herons, Canada geese, mallard, blue jay, titmouse, lots of red-winged blackbirds, tree swallow, blue bird. May 16, great-crested flycatcher, two common yellowthroats, flicker on suet, hairy woodpecker on suet, red-bellied woodpecker. May 14 at Tyngsboro Rd., scarlet tanager. May 19, pileated woodpecker heard, then it flew over the back yard. Rose-breasted grosbeak on the feeder. May 21, at Frances Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, 73 degrees and overcast. Heard or saw robin, flicker, blue jay, wood thrush, white-breasted nuthatch, goldfinches, downy woodpecker, wild turkey, chickadees, titmouse, great-crested flycatcher, cardinal, chipping sparrow, blue-headed vireo, scarlet tanager, catbird red-eyed vireo, song sparrow, oriole, robin, rose-breasted grosbeak, chipmunks, white- tailed deer prints. Saw partridgeberry, polygala, Virginia creeper, rue anemone, barberry, robin, skink cabbage, Indian poke, New York fern, maple-leaved viburnum, Massachusetts fern, Canada mayflower, cinnamon fern, wood anemone, false Solomon’s seal, crooked stalk, jack in the pulpit, bedstraw, white wood aster, lady fern, Indian cucumber, starflower, hay-scented fern sensitive fern, bracken fern.

Len Palmer, Dot Mooney, Carol Gumbart, Tom Gumbart, Marian Harman, At O’Brien Farm, Vose Rd. Bird/Animal/Plant survey: Downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, northern flicker, pileated woodpecker, mallard, wood duck, Canada geese, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, eastern bluebird nesting pair, song sparrow, chipping sparrows, brown creepers, house sparrow, tree swallows, northern cardinals, northern mockingbird, red-winged blackbirds, brown-headed cowbirds, common grackles, mourning doves, American crows, fish crow, blue jays, dark-eyed juncos, American robins, American goldfinches, house finches, eastern phoebes, rub-crowned kinglet, house wren nesting pair, pine warbler, Baltimore oriole, common yellowthroats, ovenbird, gray catbird, ruby-throated hummingbird, warbling vireo, hooded vireo, great blue heron, wild turkey, barred owl, spring peepers, American toad, coyote, chipmunk, red squirrel, hairy-tailed mole. Plant survey: white pine, pitch pine, red pine, white ash, serviceberry, red oak, white oak, sugar maple, London plain tree, grey birch, skunk cabbage, wintergreen, cattails, sheep laurel, bearberry, high bush blueberry, low bush blueberry, partridge berry, Canada mayflower, starflower, thistle, jewelweed, yarrow, cinquefoil, spotted wintergreen, swamp azalea, bluets, mustard, hairy bitter cress, mullein, pussytoes, goldenrod, duckweed, meadow rue, tussock sedge, periwinkle, white violet, thyme-leaved speedwell, common wintercress, cleavers, staghorn club moss, shining club moss, cedar club moss, bracken fern, sweet fern, bracket fungus, turkey tail fungus, reindeer lichen, wood anemone, bastard toadflax, yellow hawkweed.

Peggy Bennett, Nabnasset St. May 1, red-bellied woodpecker, two pileated woodpeckers. Pileated woodpecker at Oak Hill Rd. Coyote on power lines off Depot Rd. May 3, Mom and Dad Canada geese with five goslings on Tyngsboro Rd. At Flushing Pond, twelve to sixteen turkeys at pond. May 4, three killdeer on field at Stony Brook School. May 5, Baltimore oriole on North Hill Rd. May 12, twelve large tadpoles, one largemouth bass, mallard ducks, four red-winged blackbirds one swan, all on Nabnasset Lake. May 13, deer on Lakeside Village Rd, and another on Forrest Rd. Black squirrel on Depot Rd. Barred owl on trail behind Sawmill Rd. Garter snake on North Hill Rd. May 20, Nabnasset St., baby bunnies, two mourning doves, many chipmunks, red squirrel, hummingbird, goldfinches, nuthatches, sparrows, two cardinals, downy woodpecker.

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. May 2, pretty male red-bellied woodpecker on suet; as soon as he left, a very irritated male downy moved in. May 4, phoebes singing, three downies squabbling over suet. May 6, late last night heard calls of coyotes near back of the building, various sounds, some of them very young–very wild sound. Early afternoon, pair of redtails and a broad-winged hawk over woods. May 8, heard ovenbird in woods, catbird, house wren chattering near house, one lovely doe poking around edges of lawn. May 10, male rose-breasted grosbeak and male oriole in woods. Female rose-breasted grosbeak on railing briefly. At 3:10 p.m., hung hummingbird feeder up, at 3:30, first hummer arrived. May 11, catbird singing close by, wood thrush singing in woods. The first one I heard last year was also on May 11. May 12, pair of house finches recycling the materials out of the nest they had built earlier. Tom turkey around. May 14, tree swallows flying over lawn, wood thrush singing. Wild honeysuckle and wild geranium blooming, two grackles, female turkey here for seed, two blue jays. May 16, male house finch feeding seed to a youngster, six doves in for seed. Hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker alternating on suet, hummers at feeder. May 18, pretty male yellow-rumped warbler in trees. Under power lines, chipping sparrow, pine warbler, prairie warbler, indigo bunting, robins, catbird, titmouse, towhee. May 20, heard chestnut-sided warbler and wood thrush in woods. My friend was watering herbs with a fine spray when a male hummer began using the spray as a shower, ignoring her. “May slipped quietly into Westford bringing our lovely summer birds with her.”

Barbara Theriault, Tadmuck Lane. May 3, large male turkey calling and fanning tail feathers in woods. Two minutes later a female turkey and one small one crossed the road to meet him and follow him through the woods–really cute scene. May 5, bluebirds, goldfinch, downy woodpecker, titmice, cardinals, chickadees, robins, turkeys.

Esther Donlon, Providence Rd. May 4, large cat walked across driveway to the street.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. May 7, grey-white turkey under feeder [Rosemarie sent a good photo-MH]

Len Palmer, at Acker land, singing rose-breasted grosbeak and a couple of catbirds.

Alden Wood, Depot St. May 12, first hummingbird in yard.

Doris Wood, at Drawbridge Rd., May 16, bald eagle eating a possum on the lawn [She sent the photos to prove it!-MH]

Bob Price, Stratton Hill Rd. May 12, first hummingbird today

Kate Phaneuf, Drawbridge Rd. May 19, gray catbird pecking at blossoms on crabapple tree, bees and orioles here for the blooms earlier, pair of robins on ground. Lots of chipmunks, gray squirrels and rabbits, lone turkey milling around a few weeks ago.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. May report: pair of cardinals, pair of purple finches, pair of house finches, many goldfinches, chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmouse, grackles, doves, red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds, robins, red-bellied woodpeckers, downy pair, white-throated and chipping sparrows. Whitish turkey, pairs of turkeys, bobcat seen on May 22 crossing the road, chipmunks, gray squirrels, mosquitoes and ants. Flora: lady slippers, skunk cabbage.

Michael Berry at Acker Land. May 24, green heron, redstart, phoebe nestlings under bridge, kingbird, cardinal, catbird, robin, titmouse, chickadee, song sparrow, red-winged blackbird, oriole, red-eyed or blue-headed vireo, house wren, yellow warbler, swamp sparrow, common yellowthroat, rose-breasted grosbeak, red-bellied woodpecker, warbling vireo.