Category Archives: Birds

By any other name – a bird quiz

NJ Audubon has recently published a guide to the New Jersey Meadowlands that is available for free. This guide is the second in a series; the first covers the NJ Delaware Bayshore. These are great little books! I mention them now because on my most recent volunteer day at Sandy Hook Bird Observatory I discovered that the new guide had finally arrived, but for some reason, we only had the Spanish-language version in stock. While I’m glad to see that it’s being published in Spanish, I do wonder how many Spanish-speaking birders there are out there to make use of it.

The language teacher and word-lover in me was most interested in how the translators of the guide handled the use of bird names in Spanish. From the little bit that I’ve read on the subject, there currently is no standard method for this type of translation due to the many local variants that are commonly used for bird names. I believe that this guide makes use of the names used in the Spanish version of the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds.

Anyway…. I thought we might have a little fun with this. Translation is more art than science, and involves finding the essence of what a thing is, rather than focusing on the words used to describe it. In other words, a thing is what it is, rather than what it’s called. Many bird names in English seem arbitrary on the surface, but often relate to some characteristic of the bird in question, whether the name be related to how the bird looks or how it feeds or the sound of its voice. For example, the name of the White-breasted Nuthatch describes the bird’s physical appearance as well as making reference to its feeding behavior. The name of the Northern Cardinal likens its color to the vestments worn by some priests. The name of the Scarlet Tanager in part is descriptive of the bird’s color, but what does tanager refer to? Is that an arbitrary term? Couldn’t we just as easily call the Scarlet Tanager the Black-winged Redbird? Would we still know it by that name?

Never having had occasion to use Spanish bird names, I sat down with my dictionary this evening to dissect the Spanish names of a few birds and thought it might make a fun quiz for bird lovers. The 15 bird names that follow are literal translations of the Spanish used to describe them. Similar species are loosely grouped together.

1. Scratching sparrow
2. Chestnut-colored pouch-maker
3. Red-eyed scratcher
4. Fuzzy little carpenter
5. Little whistling plover
6. Orange-throated warbler
7. Blazing/fluttering warbler
8. Sideburned warbler
9. Ground warbler
10. Creeping warbler
11. Spotted thrush
12. Golden-toed egret
13. Scissor-tailed swallow
14. Rainbow duck
15. Nun-like duck

Some of these are very easy, with others you may have to use your imagination. Some bird names were impossible to translate so literally without giving them away, often because the name, like our English one, related to the bird’s call. For example, the Killdeer is called Chorlo Tildío; Chorlo is the family name of Plover, Tildío is the descriptive term and sounds (even in Spanish!) like the Killdeer’s call. Similarly, the Willet is called Playero Pihuihui; Playero is the family name and Pihuihui describes the Willet’s call.

Happy guessing!

Image of the Black-winged Redbird from

New suet feeder!

This is a new suet feeder that I bought a few weeks ago at Wild Birds Unlimited – it doesn’t seem to have a catchy name, but then it’s just a hunk of wood with a few holes drilled where you stuff the suet. Mine came pre-filled, but when the birds have emptied it, the store sells new suet plugs.

Suet provides extra calories that birds use to keep warm during the winter. Some people also feed suet during the summer, but I don’t do much bird-feeding then, other than the goldfinches.

The birds ignored the new feeder for a few weeks; it’s only in the last few days that it’s getting any action. The starlings and grackles are staying away for now, and the squirrels are, too. (I probably just jinxed myself by saying that…)

I’m hoping that the chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and even the Carolina Wrens will use this feeder, in addition to the woodpeckers. So far I’ve only seen the Downies at it, but the other birds are more interested in the new peanut feeder. I spent an hour or so this afternoon watching the jays and titmice come and go. There were even a few white-throated sparrows carrying off the peanut tidbits dropped by the bigger birds above them.

I would love to see a Pileated Woodpecker at this feeder, but they’re not in this area. Who knows, maybe they are and I just haven’t spotted one yet. Pileateds are another nemesis bird of mine.

While this isn’t a great pic, you can see how this female (no red cap) is using her tail feathers to prop herself against the feeder, the same way she would do while feeding in a tree. I had wondered if birds would find anything to grip onto with this feeder, because the surface is so smooth, but it looks as though she has her feet gripped onto the lip of the suet plug.

Birder survey

From Patrick at The Hawk Owl’s Nest:

Please copy and paste your responses in the comments or post this on your blog.

What state (or country) do you live in? NJ, USA
How long have you been birding? 10+ years
Are you a “lister”? Sort of, I keep a life list and a yard list, but I’m not obsessive about it.
ABA Life List: n/a (I don’t know the difference between the two – told you I wasn’t obsessive!)
Overall Life List: Let’s see…. I’ll have to count from the front of my Peterson’s. 275.
3 Favorite Birding Spots: Sandy Hook, NJ, Cape May, NJ, Delaware Bayshore, NJ
Favorite birding spot outside your home country: n/a
Farthest you’ve traveled to chase a rare bird: The only bird I ever *chased* was my life Snowy Owl and it was just 15 minutes or so away at Sandy Hook. I searched for that bird in the freezing cold for hours though…
Nemesis bird: Golden Eagle
“Best” bird sighting: The next one!
Most wanted trip: North Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, etc – I want to see those prairie states!
Most wanted bird: Great Gray Owl
What model and brand of bins do you use?: Zeiss 7 X 42 B/GA
What model and brand of scope do you use?: Leica Televid 77
What was the last lifer you added to your list?: Wilson’s Plover
Where did you see your last lifer?: Sandy Hook
What’s the last bird you saw today?: Crow
Best bird song you’ve heard ever: Baltimore Oriole
Favorite birding moment: A long, leisurely look at a Peregrine Falcon perched on the rail of Old Barney during a field trip with Pete Dunne.
Least favorite thing about birding: Rain and bugs. And those birders who are always stepping in front of me and blocking the view!
Favorite thing about birding: Arriving at the *place* for the day, picking up the binoculars and heading out on the trail. 😉 It’s all about the anticipation of what may come along.
Favorite field guide for the US: National Geographic
Favorite non-field guide bird book: All of them. 😉
Who is your birder icon?: Don’t have one.
Do you have a bird feeder(s)? Yes
Favorite feeder bird? Blue jay

10 Favorite Bird Songs

Another top-ten list from John at A DC Birding Blog.

None of these songs are particularly *beautiful* on the surface, but in reviewing my list I think the beauty in these birdsongs lies in their very personal meaning for me. Each calls to mind a particular time or place or way of feeling. Anyway, here are my ten favorites:

1. Osprey: I anticipate their return each March; their sweet calls overhead are very much a part of any time spent at Sandy Hook.

2. Ovenbird: Not a musical song, but one I love to hear when searching the woods for other spring arrivals.

3. Carolina Wren: A song I associate with the shortening days of autumn, crisp weather, and home.

4. Baltimore Oriole: Hard to classify this song, but easily recognized. Orioles don’t sing much in our neighborhood in spring, but young of the year will practice and chatter throughout July from the treetops.

5. Willet: The one shorebird I can easily identify and a call I love on a spring day at the shore.

6. Great Horned Owl: Reminds me of cold winter nights. I love having these birds in the neighborhood and their calls bring goosebumps and force me to stop whatever I’m doing to listen more closely.

7. Killdeer: The eveywhere bird – background noise – at home, at work, at the shore, in the middle of the night. They return to my area early and their plaintive cries alert me to the changing season.

8. Northern Bobwhite: Sadly, a bird I associate with a few, very specific places. Hard to get to hear in my area, and heartening.

9. White-throated Sparrow: A winter companion and another bird of home.

10. Great-Crested Flycatcher: Another bird I associate with very specific places, but a favorite for some odd reason.

Most Beautiful Birds Meme

from John at A DC Birding Blog:

Rules: Post a list of the 10 birds you consider most beautiful on your blog; you may limit the list to the ABA area (continental United States and Canada) or use a geographic area of your choice. Mark birds you have seen with an asterisk. Tag 3 bloggers to keep it going.

My list:

Northern Parula*
Blackburnian Warbler*
American Avocet
American Kestral*
Harlequin Duck*
Red-headed Woodpecker*
Blue Jay*
Peregrine Falcon*
Eurasion Wigeon*

I’ll tag Susan, Endment, and Pam. Have fun making your list!

Just a note to add that another NJ birding blog, The Hawk Owl’s Nest, picked up this meme. Patrick is a fellow NJ Audubon volunteer and has a great blog. Stop by and say hello.

Workin’ on a hole…

Found this red-belly this morning working a dead snag on our property line. I’m not sure how long he/she has been at it, but there’s the makings of a nice nest hole there – it amazes me how perfectly round it is! I can see a place or two on the snag where a hole was started and then abandoned in favor if the one directly in front of the bird.

Sapsucker art

The (awful) photo at right was taken on my most recent trip to the Adirondacks, probably somewhere in Bloomingdale Bog. It looks like this tree was quite popular with local sapsuckers!

Sapsuckers remove the outer layer of bark and bore into the cambium, causing the sap to ooze out of the tree, which they drink with their long tongues. Their habit is to return to the same tree over and over and this can cause significant damage to the tree. I liked the pattern so I snapped the photo, although at that time I had never actually seen a sapsucker. Since then I’ve learned to recognize their *mewing* calls and sometimes find them in my neighbors apple tree. Last spring I had a great look at one outside my office window in a blooming crabapple tree. The are very pretty birds that might easily be mistaken for a downy woodpecker. The yellow-bellied sapsucker has a white wing-stripe and dull yellow underparts that are good field marks.