Bird watching is a wonderful pastime that connects you with nature and adds another dimension to a walk or hike in the beautiful woodlands of Eastern Connecticut. Even if you’re not a professional birdwatcher, you can pick up a book and a pair of binoculars and enjoy seeing and learning about birds that are indigenous to the region.
A great first stop is Wild Birds Unlimited, 190 Flanders Road in Niantic; www.wbu.com. Whether you visit in person or online, you can learn what type of food and flowers attract songbirds to your yard; how to identify bird behaviors (like bathing, dusting and courtship); even how to choose the best binoculars. In addition to the more easily identifiable blue jays, cardinals, and hummingbirds, here’s a sampling of the variety of birds you can expect to see and hear this spring and summer as you make your way down a trail in a local park or nature preserve — or even in your own backyard.
A real sign of spring is when the Red-winged Blackbirds — one of the most abundant and colorful birds in North America — return to the area.
These birds are commonly seen in marshy areas, along soggy roadsides, and on telephone wires. The male has glossy black feathers and bright scarlet-and-yellow shoulder patches. The female is a subtler, streaky brown, similar to a large, dark sparrow. They are known for their nasal, tumbling song.
Another sure indicator of warm weather ahead is the Baltimore Oriole. Starting in May, you’ll spot Orioles gathering in treetops. Their rich, whistling song can be heard echoing near homes and parks. The male is hard to miss with its brilliant orange plumage and black collar and back. The adult female is brownish olive above and orange below. You may spot one weaving her signature hanging nest from slender fibers.
Nuthatches are active, agile little birds with big songs that like to hang out in trees. The White-breasted Nuthatch has clean black, gray, and white markings. Often their insistent nasal yammering will lead you right to them. Red-breasted Nuthatches have blue-grey upperparts with cinnamon underparts, and a black crown. Its call, which has been compared to a tin trumpet, is excitable and high-pitched.
There are a number of species of woodpeckers to look out for this spring and summer in Eastern Connecticut.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers are pale and medium-sized with strikingly barred backs and bright red crowns that make them easily identifiable, along with their distinctive, rolling call.
The active little Downy Woodpecker likes to congregate with chickadees and nuthatches, barely outsizing them. Black and white, the male woodpecker has a red patch on the back of its head. This woodpecker is known for its whinnying call that descends in pitch toward the end.
The Hairy Woodpecker is a larger version of the Downy Woodpecker, but has a much longer bill and a soldierly look, with its erect, straight-backed posture on tree trunks and cleanly striped head. It makes a similar call to its smaller counterpart.
The Northern Flicker is a large, brown woodpecker with handsome black-scalloped plumage. In flight you’ll see a flash of yellow in its wings, and a bright white flash on its rump. But don’t be surprised if on a walk you startle one up from the ground. Flickers eat mainly ants and beetles, digging for them with their unusual, slightly curved bills.
The Tufted Titmouse is common in woods, parks, and gardens and is a regular visitor to birdfeeders. The little gray bird has a brushy crest and rust-colored flanks, and large black eyes eagerly looking out of its white face. Its echoing song is usually described as a whistled ‘peter-peter-peter.’
These slender-bodied birds are gray to brown in color with a lighter underbelly. Their wings are rounded with bright white patches that are visible when their wings are outstretched.
This should give you a bird watching jumpstart, but if you want to learn more, there are more excellent websites full of information on our feathered friends: The Connecticut Audubon Society: http://www.ctaudubon.org; and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: www.allaboutbirds.org
Collar or hood: the of the bird’s neck
Crown: the top of a bird's head.
Crest: the tuft of feathers atop the crown