Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – May 2021


Song Sparrow by Doug Pederson

Birds need native trees. Laura Tangley and Desiree Narango worked for three years as interns for Professor Doug Tallamy, Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware. They studied how nonnative trees in cities and suburbs affect birds. In Laura Tangley’s  National Wildlife Federation article titled “Why Birds Need Native Trees”, she noted that 80% of suburbia is landscaped with plants from Asia. Tangley and Narango wanted wondered if the prevalence of nonnative plants in yards is causing a problem for birds.

Birds need huge numbers of caterpillars and other insects to feed their young. Insects are soft and almost pure protein, to grow little bird bodies fast. Tangley and Narango asked, “Do nonnative plants host as many caterpillars and other insects as native plants do?” In Tangley and Narango’s study, they watched chickadees construct nests. In the study area, chickadees built nests in 55 of 101 yards. They were much more likely to set up territories and nest in yards dominated by native plants and trees. A chickadee nesting in a yard dominated by nonnative plants, was likely to fly to another yard with native plants to collect caterpillars, even though the longer flight took more effort. The birds preferred caterpillars from American elm, black cherry, native willows, birches and above all else, several oak species. Native trees were also preferred by many other birds such as scarlet tanagers, vireos and warblers.

Doug Tallamy, in his book, Bringing Nature Home: How you can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, states :”Unless we modify the places we live, work, and play to meet not only our own needs but the needs of other species as well, nearly all species of wildlife native to the United States will disappear forever.” He has found, after many years of research that, “native ornamentals support twenty-nine times the biodiversity of alien ornamentals” and native trees are adapted to the relatively small amount that tnative caterpillars nibble.

Grow Native Massachusetts, an organization based in Waltham, MA, states on its website, ” Plants power the food web for the rest of life on earth….only plants that have evolved over an extended period of time with the other flora and fauna present can successfully feed the entire web and keep it stable.” They point out that 25% of all butterfly species in Massachusetts are in serious decline, due to the problem of finding their caterpillars’ necessary native host plants. “Increasing the health and diversity of these organic systems is critical to counteracting climate change.”

*The Westford Conservation Trust is hosting a free Zoom webinar with Doug Tallamy on June 1st, 7:00 p.m. Tallamy will present a program titled, “Make It An Oak”. See westfordconservationtrust.org for registration information. If you miss the presentation, you can see the recorded version on the Westford Conservation Trust website.

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 to me at 7A Old Colony Drive, call me at 692-3907, or e-mail me at mariancharman@gmail.com.


Late April Reports:

Bill /Marian Harman, at Greystone Pond. April 3, adult bald eagle flying by. Old Colony Drive, April 27, first cowbird at feeder, first female red-winged blackbird at feeder, five goldfinches, tom turkey eating under the feeder.

May Reports:

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. May 2, pileated woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, tom turkey, great blue heron, osprey flying over the lake. Walk at Lakeside Meadows: lots of red-winged blackbirds and grackles, kingbird, towhee, palm warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, warbling vireo, osprey carrying fish, pileated woodpecker, mute swan, chickadees, Canada goose. May 3, hearing a house wren in back yard., two male cardinals, one pair cardinals At Stony Brook School, mockingbird seen. May 6, red-tailed hawk overhead, loud pileated woodpecker, first catbird heard in the swamp, cinquefoil, violets, wild strawberry, wild cherry blooming. May 7, first oriole heard here (song like: “rid-it, rid-it, rid-it, cheerio, cheerio, cheerio.”) May 9, great-crested flycatcher heard. May 18, a different oriole heard here (song like “bring me some beer, here”). Each male oriole has its own song, so you can know who you are listening to–convenient! Carolina wren, rose-breasted grosbeak heard. May 18, scarlet tanager heard, two mourning doves, great blue heron, rose-breasted grosbeak heard. May 23, a robin is building a nest under our deck.

Diane Duane, Howard Rd. May 3, a young black bear visited our feeder at 1:30 pm today, “When I got home, he was sitting at our feeder trying to get some seed (this is a good commercial for a Squirrel Buster” feeder. He didn’t like the suet because it had some hot pepper in it. We have one squirrel who doesn’t mind it. Bear didn’t like the nyjer seed either. ” May 7 yellow-rumped warbler on the suet. May 9, “The swallowtails we raised last year have started to emerge from their chrysalis. We had eight chrysalis overwinter in our shed. We just released two butterflies last week….The chrysalis looks like a dead leaf or part of a branch. Very coo1!”

Chaitanya Heremath, Patten Rd. May 3, A bear in the backyard this evening at 5:36 p.m. “I carefully and quietly walked behind the bear maintaining sufficient distance. It even posed for a picture by turning its head before heading towards Patten road.”

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. May 5, finally a hummer at our feeder this evening, large bumble bee in our andromeda bush, robin nesting in a rhododendron next to garage. “Mr. Robin is getting very fussy about us getting anywhere near the nest….he dive bombed me twice.” Had a pair of beautiful rose-breasted grosbeaks the other day, two pairs of cardinals, one chased a blue jay away. The cardinal sings every night about 7:30. So nice. Several blue jays, male, female and juvenile red-winged blackbirds, an unusual white bird with a little gray….seems to be a dove. Red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, both male and female, chickadees, tufted titmouse, goldfinches, house finch, numerous grackles, hawk flying overhead, chirps during the day. Several grackles chasing the hawk away. One deer in yard, two female wild turkeys and about four male turkeys strutting their stuff. Found fur under the bird feeder–bunny? Bear seen next door, several squirrels chasing around, numerous chipmunks making many holes in the yard, several bunnies, snake next to marsh, turtles sunning themselves at East Boston Camps. Several lady’s slippers in various places, skunk cabbage, garlic mustard pulled from my yard, false lily of the valley on trail, partridge berries on some trails, princess pine, dandelions

Ron Gemma, Concord Rd. May 7, yellow-rumped warbler on his suet feeder.

Terry Stader, Old Colony Drive. May 8, pileated woodpecker, working at a stump in the yard [Terry sent a good video-MH]

Len Palmer, at Nashoba Pond. May 8th, Annual Trust Bird walk: Baltimore orioles (at least two), Eastern towhee, red-bellied woodpeckers, chickadees, red-winged blackbirds, robins, ovenbirds (at least four), Canada geese, warbling vireo, grackles, blue jays, brown creeper, barn swallows, tree swallows, parula warbler, pileated woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, song sparrows, yellow-rumped warblers, magnolia warbler, phoebes, cardinals, red-eyed vireo, cowbird, mallard, catbird, kingbird tufted titmouse, American crow. Plants blooming: star flower, violet, marsh marigold. Other: spring peepers. May 25, a wood pee-wee in my driveway today. “Now my spring is complete!”

Susan Thomas, Old Homestead Rd. An adult bobcat with three young seen in the yard.

Bob Price, Stratton Hill Rd. May 10, three bluebirds, one female, two male. Black bear, fox and hummingbirds also in yard. Red-tailed hawk sitting on the steeple at First Parish Church on the Common

Kate Hollister, Vine Brook Rd. May 12, red fox walking across back yard. baby turtle about the sixe of a half dollar, red and white-breasted nuthatches, downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, flicker, chickadees, titmice, goldfinches, cardinals, blue jays, mourning doves, chipping sparrows, house finches, brown creeper, juncos, robins, blackbirds, crows, lots of grackles, catbird, red and gray squirrels, bluebirds at our suet feeder, snapping turtle.

Mike Killoran, Pine Ridge Rd. May 23, “I saw a long-tailed weasel in the backyard. The chickens were making their ground predator calls and I spotted this fast moving critter….it was curious and ran up to me so I got a pretty good look. ….It was a young one. It’s head was about the size of a golf ball. Super cute too!”  A pair of robins have nested in a small evergreen in the back. In front a pair of eastern phoebes made a nest under an overhang. There are three phoebe eggs and one cowbird egg. “Many birds have looked at our wooden bird house but no takers yet. So much for the hot real estate market in town…. Spring is great, this one in particular.”

            Marian Harman is a member of the Westford Conservation Trust, a non-profit conservation organization, whose mission is the preservation of Westford’s open spaces and trails. The Trust welcomes new members and volunteers. For more information go to westfordconservationtrust.org, or visit us on Facebook.