You have discovered a baby bird out of its nest! If the bird looks like a bird – that is, it has feathers and hops around – it is no longer considered a baby but a fledgling. When a fledgling either jumps from the nest or is pushed out by a sibling, it will hop around trying to locate a low branch. The fledgling will be very vocal as it calls to the parent bird(s), and the parents will continue to feed it until it grows to maturity. Leave it alone if you can. Humans do not make good bird parents and the fledgling’s best chance of surviving is to remain with its parents so it can learn how to find food and survive on its own. If necessary, move the fledgling off the ground so that cats or other animals don’t get it. A shallow box or a shoe box with an open side can be used to hold the bird. Hang the box in a nearby tree or a dense bush. Even a picnic table or house eve may work well as a safer location for the bird. If you must move the fledgling, try to keep it in close proximity to where it was originally discovered. Enjoy watching the parents return to the youngster with food, after you have left the area.
If, however, the baby bird has its eyes closed and very few feathers, it needs to be returned to the nest as soon as possible. Baby birds must be fed frequently and need to be returned to their parents’ care. Birds have a poor sense of smell, so your handling will not discourage the parents from caring for the baby bird. If the entire nest has fallen down, try to place the nest back where it came from. Attempt to ensure that the nest will stay put, then leave the area so that it is quiet for one to two hours.
If no nest can be located, you will need assistance from someone licensed to care for injured and orphaned wildlife. Under no circumstances should you attempt to feed the baby bird; never give a baby bird water, bread or milk. You will be doing more harm than good. Only licensed rehabilitators are legally allowed to take in a wild creature and care for it. The NH Fish and Game Department maintains a list of licensed rehabilitators that is available on their website at: http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/wildlife/rehabilitators.html. NH Audubon (224-9909) also has this list and can help you find the one closest to you. Three names and numbers to keep on hand are Cathie Gregg of the Elaine Connors Center for Wildlife in Madison, 603-367-9453, Maria Colby of Wings of Dawn Sanctuary in Henniker, 603-428-3723, and the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick, Maine, 207-361-1400.
Metal band on leg
A bird with a metal band on its leg was banded under a permit from the U.S. Bird Banding Laboratory. Birds are banded in order to track their movements and lifespan. It is very important to report one of these birds if you can get the numbers from the band. Without them, nothing can be reported. Information that must be recorded includes:
This information can be called in to 1-800-327-2263 or reported on the Bird Banding Lab’s website at www.npusa.com. It can also be sent by mail to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bird Banding Laboratory, 12100 Beech Forest Road, Laurel, MD 20708-4037. The lab keeps track of all banded birds. If you call them, they can often tell you over the phone where the bird came from and how old it may be. When they receive your report, they will notify the person who originally banded the bird, and they will send you a certificate of thanks for helping the program. The certificate will also include information about the bird.
Colored, plastic band
More commonly found in backyards are pigeons banded with a colorful, plastic band, often beginning with the letters AU. This is a racing pigeon, most likely one that is lost from its race and is tired, hungry, and thirsty. Give it protection from predators (perhaps a plastic laundry basket over it) and offer it water and some food such as un-popped popcorn, rice, barley, split peas, buckwheat (kasha), or canary seed. After the bird has rested a day or two and has had water and food, it will probably take off and continue home. You may have to shoo it once or twice to encourage it to leave.
Racing season is April through November. Sometimes the pigeon’s owner can be traced if you have the band number. Try the National Pigeon Association’s (NPA) website at www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl; it has details on identifying owners. If the bird hangs around for more than 48 hours and refuses to leave, and the owner cannot be located, you may keep the bird or find it a suitable home. For more information about taking care of the pigeons (for both short and long periods of time) visit the American Racing Pigeon Union’s website at www.npausa.com.
If the bird has a neck band (usually Canada Geese), it is part of a regional study to track migratory and non-migratory patterns of Canada Geese. Report the same information as detailed above on metal bands to the U.S. Bird Banding Lab (above) or NH Fish and Game, Wildlife Division, 2 Haven Drive, Concord, NH 03301; tel. 603-271-2461.
These strange looking birds have naked, featherless heads, similar to the heads of vultures. A bald-headed cardinal’s skin is naturally blackish so it may appear to be a new species at a distance.
There are several possible causes for bald-headedness in birds. One is an unusual molting pattern in that individual bird. Most bald-headed birds are seen during the summer and early fall, typical molting times. For some unknown reason, bald birds may have dropped all the feathers on their head at the same time, instead of the normal pattern of staggered feather replacement. This has been verified in some cases. For example, one bird rehabilitator reported having two captive Blue Jays, one for as long as eight years. This bird molted all her head feathers simultaneously every year, being bald and odd-looking for a couple of weeks each time. Another captive Blue Jay, held for several years by the rehabilitator, molted his head feathers a few at a time each year, always looking normal and handsome.
Another cause may be the presence of feather mites on the bird. Feather mites live in the bases of feathers, weakening them and causing the feathers to break off. One objection to this explanation for the bald heads is “Why just on the heads?” This may be explained by the fact that the head is vulnerable because the bird cannot reach it to preen the feathers.
Another possible reason for bald-headedness is poor nutrition. This has not been well-studied. One possible anecdotal example is the report of a Scrub Jay who lacked feathers on his head and neck, was bedraggled and listless in the high-rise Century City area of Los Angeles until a human friend supplied him with a drop of a complete avian supplement bought at a pet store and several meal worms daily. After a week or two of this he improved, and after a month was sleek and energetic. The reporter of this anecdotal evidence suggested that the bird did not have access to nutritious food in his urban environment.
The good news is that, regardless of the cause, new feathers will usually grow in within a few weeks.
During the beginning of August, baby bats are just learning to fly and because their direction-finding isn’t as keen as it will become, they sometimes wind up in the living quarters of your house. If this happens, first of all, don’t panic. Bats are basically harmless and they do not really want to be in your house. Contrary to popular belief, they will not fly at you and try to get in your hair.
Most of the time, if you open outside doors and windows and turn out the lights, the bat will fly out. If it has landed, you can put something over the bat, (like a tennis racket or a bucket), slide a piece of cardboard underneath and then transport the bat outside and put it down. As soon as it gets its bearings, it will fly away. Having learned its lesson, it will probably not make that navigational mistake again.
Bats are extremely beneficial mammals, eating up to three times their body weight in insects each night. They are one of the few flying nighttime predators of mosquitoes and other insects. (One bat can eat 4,000 mosquitoes in one night!) However, as with any wild animal, common sense and caution should dictate your handling of them. Bats do occasionally carry rabies and sick or injured bats should not be handled. If you must handle a bat that has gotten into your house, try the method suggested above, or use disposable rubber gloves.
If bats are living in your house and you find you cannot live with them, there are individuals who advertise humane bat eradication. NH Audubon may be able to provide several contacts, if you call during regular business hours.
You glance out your window on one of those marvelous April days that makes it clear that spring will indeed come, only to find your feeders hanging askew or smashed to the ground and your metal suet holders looking like wrung-out dish cloths. Like an increasing number of households in New Hampshire, you have been visited by a black bear. When black bears leave their dens in mid-April they have been without food for five-and-one-half months. They are hungry and capable of sniffing out edibles within a two-mile radius, and birdseed is a temptation they just cannot resist. Bears who discover that birdfeeders and trashcans are an easy food source quickly lose their natural fear of humans and learn to rely on people for food, thereby becoming public nuisances. Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to avoid this situation.
To prevent conflicts between humans and bears, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department recommends that bird feeders be removed as soon as the snow melts or by April 1st, and that all seed be cleaned up below feeders. The only way it may be possible to continue to feed the birds is by hanging a feeder totally out of reach of a bear, such as one placed in the middle of a line rigged ten feet above the ground between trees or posts, or one high up on the end of a tree branch that cannot support a bear’s weight. In both cases the use of a pulley system will make filling the feeder easier. Please be advised that any feeder will potentially be discovered by the black bear’s highly evolved sense of smell and may need to be taken down.
If you choose to stop feeding birds in April, the question arises as to when to begin again. Bears are around in the fall as long as apples, acorns, corn, and other natural food sources are available for them. After a few hard frosts, or during the fall hunting season, they begin to den. The timing varies from year to year so it is best to decide when to resume bird feeding by keeping track of the weather and food availability.
There are a few other guidelines to help keep bears from becoming a problem. If you compost, avoid putting any meat or leftovers in the pile. Keep garbage in airtight containers inside a garage or storage area, and set out garbage for pickup on the morning of collection and not the evening before. Also, clean outdoor grills after each use, or store inside also.
All of these responsible actions will help to ensure a peaceful coexistence of mutual benefit to both New Hampshire residents and black bears. If you need further advice about bear problems, there is a toll-free hotline called Bear Information Services which can be reached at 1-888-749-2327 (or 1-888-SHY-BEAR) Monday through Friday during normal business hours.
Some people are so thrilled to see bears that they intentionally feed them to keep them around. Fight this impulse and do all you can to discourage your neighbors from taking this route. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of confronting a neighbor, call the Bear Information Services to intercede. Bears that are fed by people lose their fear of them and are apt to become the kind of wildlife problem that necessitates their being destroyed. For the bear’s sake, encourage it to remain wild and free.
Visit the Backyard Winter Bird Survey page for complete details.
If your bird feeders are quiet, you are not alone. This happens commonly in the fall and even in the middle of winter. It usually happens to different people each year, and is often something you’ve never experienced before.
We do not always know why there are fewer birds at feeders in a given year but there are a number of factors that could account for it. The normal migration of birds in the fall often results in gaps when local birds have moved south and migrants from farther north have not yet arrives.
Keep in mind that some birds we think of as year-round residents, such as chickadees, Blue Jays, goldfinches and house finches, may migrate in some years. Occasionally, they move south or to another area, in response to food supplies or weather cues we can’t detect. The birds you see in summer may not be the same individuals you see in winter.
Other birds such as Pine Siskins, Evening Grosbeaks, and redpolls are erratic visitors to New Hampshire. They breed farther north and west and will stay there in the winter if food supplies are good. We may see hundreds one year and none the next.In years with good berry and nut crops, birds will use these food sources. During mild weather in the fall and winter, natural food sources are more plentiful and birds spend more time in the woods – often ignoring feeders entirely.
If this is the first time you have put up a bird feeder at your house, it may take several months for the birds to find it. Keep in mind that most small birds which come to feeders prefer sunflower seed and nearby bushes or trees for cover.
If you have fewer birds, please don’t worry – it has nothing to do with your feeders, and we know of no recent catastrophic event, such as disease, that is harming the bird population. Local habitat changes, such as development, and the increasing number of people feeding the birds may also affect the number of birds at the feeders. It is also possible that, in some years, poor weather during the summer makes it difficult for adult birds to successfully raise young. There may be fewer young birds around, resulting in a smaller quantity overall of our winter residents.
In stormy weather, the birds come to feeders more often, so be patient. We encourage you to report the activity at your feeders, or lack thereof, in our annual Winter Bird Survey in February. For instructions and a recording form, send a self-addressed, stamped, long envelope to Winter Bird Survey, NH Audubon, 84 Silk Farm Road, Concord, NH 03301, or go to the survey web page.
Although the best time to start is late September or early October, it is never too late because wintering birds are often trying to locate food sources for the coming months. Try not to start when bears may be a problem at feeders.
There are many ways to feed birds, and numerous types of feeders. To start, try a simple tray or hanging tube feeder. Later, you may wish to expand your feeder collection. The ground itself can be used as a feeding station for certain types of birds, such as Mourning Doves, but be sure to put out only a small amount of food at one time, as seed that sits on the ground can become contaminated by dampness, mold, lawn fertilizers or animal droppings.
The greater the variety of food you offer, the greater the variety of birds you will attract to your yard. Start with plain sunflower seed, either black oil, gray stripe, or sunflower hearts. It’s the preferred food of most small birds that overwinter in New Hampshire. As your feeder collection grows, try adding mixed seed, thistle seed and suet.
Once you begin feeding birds during the winter, try to be consistent. Empty feeders may cause hardship during extremely cold or stormy winter weather. If you are going to be away for a few days, ask a neighbor to check and refill your feeders during your absence.
Keep feeders clean to prevent bacteria from contaminating bird food. Salmonella, for example, can grow on wet seed contaminated with bird droppings in the feeder tray. Clean your seed and suet feeders at least once each month. Use a mild solution of bleach and hot, soapy water. Then, rinse the feeders thoroughly with clean water.
There are many excellent references on feeding and identifying birds. The NH Audubon Nature Store at the McLane Center carries several field guides and books on bird feeding and related topics.
We’ve received many calls about the so-called “squirrel-proof” bird seed treated with hot pepper. Most callers are concerned about whether the treated seed could harm birds or even squirrels.
Field studies were done on sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts and suet treated or coated with a substance called capsaicin, the naturally-occurring heat-producing agent in hot peppers. It looks like the pepper-treated seed does effectively repel squirrels, especially when they have an abundant supply of alternative food available. It may not be effective when other food sources are scarce.
Birds can’t smell or taste capsaicin but we don’t really know if consumption of this substance will harm them, especially long-term. We don’t know of any current studies that are trying to determine exactly how much capsaicin birds are likely to ingest while eating treated seed, and whether it is harmful or even beneficial in that concentration.
We feel it’s best to be cautious for now, so we can’t recommend use of pepper-treated bird seed. If you do choose to try one of the new pepper-treated bird seed products, use caution and be especially alert for any signs of illness or changes in behavior in the birds you observe at your feeders. If you notice any problems, please let us know.
As with any nuisance feral animal problem, your best bets are reducing attractions and physical exclusion. You need to create an environment that is welcoming to the songbirds you want to feed and watch, yet inhospitable to pigeons.
First, eliminate easy, flat perches. Use wire stretched above rooflines, plastic netting or “porcupine wire,” a kind of spiked wire. Thoroughly sweep or rake all dropped seed and other refuse from feeder area. If your pigeons have become habitual guests, remove all feeders and leave them down for two to three weeks, or until the pigeons get the message and stop coming. Don’t worry; your songbirds will return! Wash and disinfect feeders. Then, apply creative pigeon-proofing: Build a roof about three inches high over the feeding surfaces of platform-style feeders; pigeons won’t crouch underneath. Replace easy-access feeders with small tube feeders with short perches – pigeons can’t use them and small birds prefer them. Remove any seed-catcher trays. Enclose other feeders in a “cage” of 2-inch mesh stucco wire. Try filling your feeders with just sunflower seeds in the hull. Most of the small birds prefer it and there is usually less waste that falls to the ground.
Once the pigeon crowds have thinned out, replace feeders one at a time and carefully monitor the results. Above all, pay strict attention to sanitation, cleaning up all dropped seed promptly. Remember, humane pigeon management is more art than science. Respect your opponent, and remember that success depends on timing, ingenuity and patience.
It is very common for birds to nest in hanging plants or wreaths left up on the house or door. It is occasionally a robin but more typically a House Finch. They are similar to the Purple Finch and difficult to tell apart, but Purple Finches do not nest in this kind of situation. House Finches are western birds that were introduced in the east in the 1940s by caged bird dealers. They have since spread and become very common in urban and suburban areas. The male has a red breast and red on his head while the female is a dull brown with streaks on her breast. Sometimes a robin will nest in a hanging plant and the advice is the same as that for the House FinchHouse Finches begin nesting in late April and early May and seem to prefer old Christmas wreaths, hanging plants, and outdoor lights in this part of the country. The nest is built by the female. When it is finished she will lay one egg a day until she has 3 to 6 eggs in the nest. Then she starts incubating and the male will feed her while she sits on the nest.
Both robin and House Finch eggs hatch in 11 to 14 days and both parents begin feeding the young. The young will leave the nest after 14 to 16 days. All the young leave the nest on the same day and will not return, although the adults continue to feed them. The female may use the same nest again for a second brood which she will start very soon after the young of the first brood have left the nest.
House Finches and robins can tolerate some disturbance from people passing by, especially if it is brief and at regular times. The female will fly off but she will quickly return. Plants can sometimes be watered even with the nest in it if you can water from the bottom, or water from the top at the edge of the pot with just a small amount each day that will not soak through to the nest cup. It is very difficult to move a nest once it has been made and it is best to just wait out the first brood and then take down the nest as soon as the young leave. If you must move the nest, do it gradually, no more than a few feet each day. If the nest is moved a greater distance, the adults usually do not understand and will not follow it. They are likely to abandon it when they find it is not in its expected location.
Be aware of the potential fire hazard from a nest in an outdoor light. You can try to keep the birds from building a nest by faithfully removing their nesting materials at least once a day until they get discouraged and give up. You must be persistent. Another option is to block their access to the light, perhaps with small mesh chicken wire that they cannot get through.
Nests can present a great opportunity to watch birds rearing their young up close. We hope your nest brings you enjoyment.
Although people who are interested in birds usually love to have one build a nest where the entire process from egg to fledgling may be observed, there comes a time when a bird constructs a nest in an inconvenient or dangerous location and the question of moving it arises.
Songbirds do not know their nests by sight or smell. Most species go along with the mantra of realtors everywhere: location, location, location. In short, moving a nest is risky business that is usually unsuccessful. There are still steps that may be taken for possible success however, or better yet, to avoid the problem in the first place.
If you see a bird starting to build a nest in an inconvenient place—a wreath on the front door, next to a light fixture that is often on, a well-used pathway—removing the material on a daily basis will eventually discourage the bird and force it to move to a better location. Should you not notice the construction of a nest until it is complete and actually has eggs in it, all is not lost.
If possible, try to avoid the area until the young are out of the nest – it may take less time than you expect. For most small birds, the entire process from egg laying to fledgling takes only about a month. Information concerning the length of time required before the eggs hatch and how long the young stay in the nest before fledgling is readily available in bird books and on line. For example, American Robins incubate their eggs for twelve to fourteen days and the young leave the nest fourteen to sixteen days after hatching. They often have two or three broods per season but they do not need to use the same nest each time. Eastern Phoebes, another species that often nests close to human habitation, incubate eggs for about sixteen days and the young leave the nest about sixteen days after hatching. Typically they raise two broods per year and may reuse the same nest but will build a new one as needed.
Some birds are very tolerant of human behavior. House Finches often place their nests in hanging baskets and, when watering is necessary, the adults usually fly to a near-by location until the job is done and then return to care for their young. They do not seem to object to having people look in on them to see what progress is being made. Once the brood is out of the nest it is safe to remove the nest if you would prefer that the adults not start another brood in the same place. Most young birds all leave the nest on the same day. In the case of the House Finch it is about 28 days after the first egg was laid.
Occasionally birds choose a spot where they cannot complete their nesting – perhaps construction is about to take place or the birds have nested in a trailer that must be moved. It may be possible to move the nest but it can be a complicated process. The primary way birds recognize their nests is by the materials surrounding it. It is therefore important to move some of the surrounding material as well. In the case of the ground-nesting Killdeer for example, a board or platform should be placed beneath the nest with some of the surrounding dirt placed on it. Then, move the nest a few inches each day which makes it possible for the adults to know where it is and not stop incubation. Any location where gradually moving the nest is possible—a gull nest on the ground or a robin nest on a ledge for example—may be moved in this way.
If the nest is in a location where there is no ledge or other place for it to be moved to, try placing it in a cardboard box first. The box should be on its side so the birds can easily enter it and, depending on the species, the top may need to be cut out as well. The adult birds will come to recognize the nest by means of the cardboard box–a shoebox is good for this purpose. Once you see the adults entering the nest in the box, it is possible to secure it to the top of a step ladder that is the same height as the nest. The ladder may then be moved very gradually (perhaps only one foot the first day) until the nest is in a location where no one will disturb the birds. This method may works for house rafters, canoe racks, or vehicles that must be moved.
The inconvenience sometimes caused should be more than compensated for by the knowledge of nesting and rearing practices that human observers of all ages gain from the experience.
If a nest is inadvertently destroyed but the young are still alive, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator right away. Only licensed rehabilitators are legally allowed to take in a wild creature and care for it. The NH Fish and Game Department maintains a list of licensed rehabilitators that is available on their website at http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/wildlife/rehabilitators.html. New Hampshire Audubon (224-9909) also has this list and can help you find the one closest to you. Three names and numbers to keep on hand are Cathie Gregg of the Elaine Connors Center for Wildlife in Madison, 603-367-9453, Maria Colby of Wings of Dawn Sanctuary in Henniker, 603-428-3723, and the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick, Maine, 207-361-1400.
Although it is considered to be unusual, Blue Jays are occasionally observed pecking at houses and consuming paint that they chip away. The reason for this behavior is not clear, but the current thinking is that, since paint has calcium in it, the jays are seeking the calcium from the paint. Calcium deposition is lower in New England, and may also be affected by acid rain. Paint pecking is most often reported during the winter, when snow covers the ground and the birds do not have access to dirt, earth and sand, which may provide their usual supply of minerals. The Blue Jays may be attempting to supplement their diet in the best way they can. They may also be caching the paint, in the same way they do sunflower seeds, resulting in large amounts being consumed by the jays.
There are two possible solutions to the problem. One is exclusion. Observe carefully the exact locations they are most interested in and, if possible, make the area inaccessible to the birds. Try covering the affected area with heavy plastic, chicken wire or small-mesh plastic garden netting.
Another strategy is to supply the birds with what we presume to be lacking in their diet by offering eggshells crumbled into small pieces and placed near feeders. These are often eagerly consumed by Blue Jays in winter probably because the eggshells contain reserves of calcium. Try putting them out in a flat dish on a platform feeder where there are sunflower seeds that will also attract the jays. You may want to start by putting the eggshells near the area where the Blue Jays are pecking your paint, then gradually moving them away so the jays will no longer be attracted to your house.
How many eggshells to offer will depend on how many Blue Jays you are trying to keep away from your paint. For example, one person in New Hampshire was offering two to three cups of crushed eggshells every day for forty Blue Jays in her yard. You will need to replace the shells if they are covered by snowfall, as the birds will not search for them, but more likely will return to the paint on your house. Egg shells may contain salmonella bacteria and it is best to boil the shells for 10 minutes or heat them in the oven for 20 minutes at 250 degrees, let them cool and crush them.
If exclusion is not possible or proves ineffective, and if the birds spurn your offerings of alternate sources of calcium in favor of your house, you can contact the Wildlife Services offices in Concord at 223-6832 for additional ideas.
There are several reasons why a bird may have died at your feeders. Window kills are the most common, and we have information on what to do if a bird has flown into your window below.
Disease is another possible cause. If you find a dead bird during mosquito season when West Nile Virus is possible, the N.H. Dept. of Health & Human Service website (https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/cdcs/arboviral/publications.htm) asks that you contact your local Health or Animal Control Officer. For more information about West Nile Virus, call the state’s toll-free West Nile Information Line, 1-866-273-6453.
During the winter, there are no mosquitoes to transit West Nile Virus. The most common disease at that time is salmonella. It is spread when infected birds pass bacteria through their fecal droppings. Other birds get sick when they eat food contaminated by the droppings. Sick birds are usually lethargic and sit quietly with their feathers all puffed up. A bird dies quickly as the bacteria spreads through its body.
Salmonella outbreaks have occurred in the past, for example, with Pine Siskins during an “invasion year” when their numbers were high. Large flocks concentrated around feeders may foster the easy spread of the disease.
Certain strains of salmonella are potentially transmissible to humans and can also be transmitted to dogs and cats, if the animal comes in contact with a diseased bird. If a pet shows signs of illness, you need to let the vet know what the situation is. To prevent human transmission it is recommended that you wear rubber gloves when handling your feeder and that, when finished, you wash your hands well with soap and hot water.
There are two approaches you can take to deal with a salmonella outbreak. First, take down the suspect bird feeder for 2 to 3 weeks. The idea behind this is to encourage the flock to feed on natural food in a more dispersed manner, to halt the spread of the disease. Clean the feeder in warm, soapy water, then disinfect it in a solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts tepid water; let the feeder soak for several minutes in the solution, rinse thoroughly and let it dry. While the feeder is down, rake under where it was hanging to expose the area to light and air, and allow any wet area to dry.
If the disease is still apparent after you put the feeder back up, take it down for the rest of the season. Let your bird-feeding neighbors know about the situation, too. If you have observed any dead birds at your feeder in winter, please e-mail us at [email protected], or call a naturalist at 224-9909 x 316.
There is no recognized public health risk associated with wild bird contact due to the bird flu virus in the United States. No wild waterfowl species hunted in North America has been found to be infected with “bird flu”. In addition, there is no documented case of avian influenza virus transmission directly from wild birds to humans so you don’t need to fear getting “bird flu” from feeding birds in your back yard or when hunting. (Of course, one always practices careful hygiene when handling wild birds or mammals. Wear gloves when handling wild animals or carcasses and wash your hands well after filling bird feeders and cleaning bird baths.) These assurances come from a report released by the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia and updated on November 4, 2005.
Avian influenza viruses (AIV) are Type A influenza viruses associated with avian species varying in their pathogenicity and isolated from more than 100 species of free-living birds world-wide. HPAI viruses are avian influenza viruses that are that cause high mortality in domestic poultry.
“Bird flu” is a nonscientific term that was coined to describe the particular HPAI virus, HPAI H5N1, which caused a human death in 1997. Since then, almost all human cases have been linked to direct contact with infected poultry.
In 2002/2003, wild bird mortality in Hong Kong was attributed to infection with this virus. As wild bird mortality associated with the “bird flu” virus has continued through 2005, its current distribution suggests movement of this virus via migratory birds, particularly ducks, geese, swans, gulls, terns, and shorebirds. It is worth repeating: no wild waterfowl species hunted in North America has yet been found to be infected with bird flu.
Although migratory bird species move between North America, Asia, and Europe, genetic studies of avian influenza viruses from Eurasia and North America suggest that there is very limited exchange of AIV viruses between continents, even with very common avian influenza viruses. Although introduction of bird flu through migratory birds to North America is possible, it is appears to be unlikely according to the known epidemiology of other avian influenza viruses.
For more information, see the following websites:
Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia, http://vet.uga.edu/scwds
Centers for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov/flu/avian
Surveillance efforts for West Nile virus are ongoing under the coordination of the Department of Health and Human Service’s Bureau of Communicable Disease Control. NH Audubon is not a source of expertise on the West Nile virus, but here is some helpful information and guidelines for reporting dead birds.
The New Hampshire Department of Health & Human Services has set up a twenty-four hour, toll-free hotline 1-866-273-6453 for the public to call for information about the virus.
If you find a dead bird during mosquito season, the NH Dept. of Health & Human Services website asks that you contact your local Health or Animal Control Officer. This website also provides more information about West Nile Virus in general.
West Nile virus is considered a disease of birds that is occasionally transmitted to humans and mammals by an infected mosquito. It has spread from east to west across the country. Infected birds sometimes become sick and die. Most people who are actually infected with the virus experience no symptoms, or mild flu-like symptoms. Fewer than 1% of people infected will become seriously ill. The elderly and people with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable. For more information on human health risks contact the Department of Health & Human Services hotline or website listed above.
There is an ongoing effort in New Hampshire to monitor for mosquitoes and birds infected with the West Nile Virus. While crows have been the most likely species to be infected with West Nile, it has been found in many other bird species and in some mammal species.
It is not uncommon to see an occasional dead crow or other bird, especially along the roadside where road kills provide an easy meal. This is the most likely cause of dead crows that people observe along the roads. There are also diseases, such as salmonella, that are sometimes observed in birds coming to a feeder.
A New Hampshire coalition to address West Nile virus was formed in 1999, under the leadership of Dr. Jose Montero of the New Hampshire Bureau of Communicable Disease Control. The NH Audubon has been represented on this task force.
Those of us who love to attract birds to our backyards by setting up feeders cannot help but react with dismay when we discover that we have inadvertently provided a food source for birds we did not have in mind: hawks.
The hawk most commonly seen at feeders is the Sharp-shinned Hawk, a member of the accipiter family. All of the birds in this family – the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and Northern Goshawk – feed on songbirds, with the Sharp-shinned obtaining 95% of its diet from them. By virtue of their slender bodies, long tails, and wings that are shorter than those of most hawks, they are beautifully adapted for flying through trees.
Wishing to protect small birds from these predators is a natural reaction and there are some things that can be done. If you notice a hawk perched near your feeders, going outside to scare it off is an excellent option. If that is not immediately practical, the sound of a door or window opening may suffice to frighten it away. It is also a good idea to place your feeders near cover in the form of trees and shrubs as they do provide a place for small birds to hide.
It is important to remember that hawks are a protected species and it is illegal to harm them in any way. They are an essential element in the natural world, keeping rodent populations in check and forcing their prey to hone the characteristics they need to survive. It may also be of some comfort to know that hawks that visit feeders do not usually stay longer than two or three weeks in a given area during the winter.
A hawk in action is an amazing sight that not everyone is privileged to see. The reaction of songbirds to their presence is also fascinating. Birds at feeders sensing the presence of a hawk have been known to freeze in place for as long as 30 to 40 minutes before resuming their normal activities. So, as difficult as it may be at first, should a hawk appear near your feeding stations try to view the experience as a window on the natural world in action.
Fall hawk migration takes place over an extended period from mid-August into November. When conditions are right, birds of prey take advantage of existing air currents in order to conserve energy.
“Thermals” are rising pockets of warm air created by heat reflected from the earth’s surface. Thermals form over areas that absorb, rather than reflect, the sun’s energy, such as the slopes of mountains, plowed fields with their dark soil, and large expanses of pavement. Broad-winged Hawks make the most use of thermals, and are often seen in large groups (called “kettles”) within pockets of rising air.
When wind strikes a hill, mountain, or ridge, the deflected air currents can provide so much lift that migrating hawks gain speed and altitude by following them.
When weather conditions are right, usually with northwest winds following a cold front, hawks can be seen migrating in large numbers. Because hawks migrate during the day, they often follow major land forms such as rivers, mountain chains, and the seacoast. Morning is usually best for watching, but it all depends on the weather.
The best locations for watching hawk migration are up high with an open view to the north-northwest.
The Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory is a hawk watching site where you can watch with an experienced field biologist at Miller State Park on Pack Monadnock.
The following sites are popular for hawk watching in New Hampshire.
Southwestern New Hampshire: Gap Mountain in Troy, Pisgah State Park in Winchester, Crotched Mountain in Francestown
Southeastern New Hampshire: Stratham Hill in Stratham, Great Island Common in New Castle, Odiorne Point State Park in Rye from the Battery Seaman bunker
Central New Hampshire: Oak Hill in Loudon, Blue Job Mountain in Strafford, Little Round Top in Bristol
Northern New Hampshire: Mount Prospect at Weeks State Park in Whitefield
Other nearby sites, just outside the state include:
Southern Maine: Mount Agamenticus in York
Massachusetts: Mount Wachusett, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge at Plum Island in Newburyport (from the dune top by Hellcat Swamp)For more information on hawk migration, please visit the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA) web site at www.hmana.org. Once there, it is possible to learn more about regional watch efforts through NorthEast Hawk Watch which is found by clicking on “Chapters.”
Hummingbirds return to our state in late April or early May. Put up your feeder when the first really warm weather arrives during that time. Feeders should be placed in partial shade.
To make your own nectar, bring to a boil a mixture of one part sugar to 4-8 parts water and allow to cool. Hummingbirds will investigate anything that is red, so if your feeder has some red on it you do not need to put red dye in the nectar. Do not use honey in your nectar because it can grow a fungus fatal to hummingbirds. Change the nectar in your feeder and put in fresh nectar every 3-4 days or more often in the hottest days of summer. You should also clean the feeder at this time. Store extra nectar in the refrigerator. Hummingbirds will continue to feed on insects and other flowers in addition to your feeder so they will get the diet they need.
If you have a problem with bees, try getting a feeder with bee guards. Ants can also be a problem – try putting petroleum jelly on the wire holding the feeder so they cannot travel down to the feeder. Mammals, such as flying squirrels, will occasionally discover a feeder and empty it at night.
The only hummingbird we have in New Hampshire is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, although the rare, vagrant Rufous Hummingbird turns up every once in a while. The male Ruby-throated has a red throat that will appear black if it is not in the sun. The female has a whitish-gray breast and both have a greenish back. The young resemble the female during their first year.
Hummingbirds migrate south at summer’s end. Adults will usually migrate first, often as early as the beginning of August. The young usually stay longer and are gone by the end of September. Research has shown that hummingbirds will migrate regardless of whether there is food present, so you can leave your feeder up until the weather turns colder and the hummingbirds are gone.
We hope you enjoy watching these wonderful birds.
The only hummingbird we have in New Hampshire is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, although a rare vagrant Rufous Hummingbird turns up every once in a while. The male Ruby-throated has a red throat that will appear black if it is not in the sun. The female has a whitish-gray breast and both have a greenish back. The young will resemble the female during their first year.
Hummingbirds migrate south at summer’s end. Most hummingbirds are gone from our area by mid-September, although a few hang on a bit longer. Leave your feeders up until you no longer see any hummingbirds using them.
In the past it was believed that hummingbirds would not begin their fall migration south as long as feeders were still available, but studies have shown this to be incorrect. By leaving your feeders up, you will not be encouraging hummers to stay longer than they should. The gradual changing of the day length tells hummers when to migrate.
When their innate urge tells them to head south, even the presence of insects and blooming flowers will not deter hummingbirds from migrating. In fact, males often begin their migrations in early August, weeks before females and immatures. By leaving your feeders up a bit longer, you will actually be helping migrants by providing the extra energy they will need for their long southward journey.
Something is hovering on a flower in your garden. At first glance, it looks like a miniature hummingbird, 1 ½ to 2 ½ half inches. A closer look reveals a plumpish, slightly fuzzy body between the blur of swiftly moving wings. You are looking at a hummingbird moth.
Hummingbird moths are not uncommon in New Hampshire but often puzzle those who see one for the first time. They are specialized to feed on nectar from flowers like hummingbirds do and hover near blossoms the same way that a hummingbird does. Unlike most moths, they fly during the day time.
These moths have a “tongue” called a proboscis that is a long tube for sucking up nectar. They can uncurl it and stick it deep within tubular flowers such as petunias, honeysuckle, trumpet vine, and phlox. While the moth hovers at the flower and feeds with this proboscis, flower pollen sticks to the moth’s body and is then transferred to the next flower on which it feeds. In this way, hummingbird moths pollinate plants the same way that bees do.
Hummingbird moths are in the genus Hemaris and are also called clearwing moths. They mimic bumblebees with clear wings and sometimes similar coloration. There are several species that occur in New Hampshire. The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth or Common Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) has a beautiful olive-green, red, and yellowish-orange body. Good numbers of this species can be found during the summer on the pickerel weed in Turkey Pond at NH Audubon’s Silk Farm Wildlife Sanctuary. Other species that may be seen in New Hampshire include the Snowberry Clearwing or Bumblebee Moth (H. diffinis) and Slender or Graceful Clearwing Moth (H. gracilis). Hummingbird moths are part of the larger Sphingidae family of moths, often called sphinx moths or hawk moths.
We usually see only one species of hummingbird in New Hampshire, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. This is the only hummingbird that breeds east of the Mississippi River. Each year there are one or two records of Rufous Hummingbirds in New Hampshire, usually in the fall, but it is a rarity in the state. Neither of these birds is as tiny as a Hummingbird Moth; the hummingbirds measure 3 ¾” in length.
You may have found a bird that has flown into a window or been injured by a cat, or an animal that has been hit by a car. These are a few of the situations when human intervention may be necessary and in the best interest of the injured wildlife. Rescue of wildlife should only be made if an animal or bird is visibly injured, weak, or sick. A good general guideline is that if you can approach and pick up a wild bird or animal, there is usually something wrong with it. A healthy wild bird will not usually let you come that close. If a large bird appears injured but is still able to fly, run, or swim away from you, there is often little you can do until it weakens enough to approach. If you have found a baby bird, the situation requires different instructions than an injured bird, please see the Baby Birds topic at the top of the page.
Only licensed rehabilitators are legally allowed to take in a wild creature and care for it. It is best to try to reach a licensed rehabilitator as soon as possible. The NH Fish and Game Department maintains a list of licensed rehabilitators that is available on their website at http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/wildlife/rehabilitators.html. NH Audubon (224-9909) also has this list and can help you find the one closest to you. Three names and numbers to keep on hand are Cathie Gregg of the Elaine Connors Center for Wildlife in Madison, 603-367-9453, Maria Colby of Wings of Dawn Sanctuary in Henniker, 603-428-3723, and the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick, Maine, 207-361-1400.
The injured bird or animal may not realize that you are trying to help, and any rescue attempt should be aimed at preserving your own safety while minimizing stress to the already stressed wildlife. Take precautions to protect yourself by wearing heavy gloves if necessary. Capture an animal or large bird by placing a towel or blanket over it, or use an inverted laundry basket. Covering the wildlife’s head and eyes with the towel or blanket used to pick it up usually reduces fear and has a calming effect.
When dealing with a raptor, be extremely mindful of their beaks and talons. These birds should be covered with a towel and their feet restrained. It is a good idea to use leather gloves although you must still use care to avoid being hurt. Birds with long beaks, such as herons or cormorants, are also dangerous and it is essential that you protect your eyes when approaching them. They can strike with surprising speed and commonly target the eyes. If possible, place a pillowcase over their heads and hold their beaks as you pick them up.
As soon as possible put the bird or animal in a secure container, such as an escape-proof covered box or closed paper bag. Place an absorbent material such as paper towels, an old t-shirt, or a clean cloth with no holes or raveled edges on the bottom of the box or bag. This will keep the injured wildlife clean and dry, and will provide secure footing.
Put the box or bag in a quiet, dark, and warm non-drafty area, away from unfamiliar noises such as human voice, television or radio, and from unfamiliar smells as in the case of mammals. Resist the temptation to check on the injured wildlife; this will help to keep stress at a minimum. Also avoid giving anything by mouth such as food or water, because this usually results in life-threatening diarrhea or pneumonia. You will now need assistance from someone licensed and experience in caring for injured and orphaned wildlife, as mentioned above.
If a bird has hit a window, it may recover on its own with minimal assistance. If it does not fly off immediately, capture and contain the bird as instructed previously. In most cases, the bird can be released in a couple of hours. Take the container holding the bird outside before opening to determine if the bird has recovered and can fly away. If the bird is unable to fly after this period of time, it may have more serious injuries and you should contact a wildlife rehabilitator.
By following these steps, you have made the largest contribution you possibly can toward helping this injured wildlife obtain the best possible care, and we are grateful for your efforts! Wildlife rehabilitators do not get paid or funded by any state or federal governmental agencies. All costs of training, medical supplies, special caging and dietary needs are out of the pocket of wildlife rehabilitators themselves. Donations can help them provide quality care to injured and abandoned wildlife. Thank you for your care and concern!
When honeybees first emerge in the spring, they are very hungry and in desperate need of protein. In addition, they are eager to build up their population for the expected honey flow and queen bees require protein in order to begin laying eggs. Pollen is the main source of protein in a bee’s diet. Sometimes the bees emerge before natural sources are available, especially if it is unusually warm early in the spring. When this happens, they often turn to bird feeders for the next best protein source—fine dust and oil on bird seed. They are not looking to build a nest in your feeder; they just want pollen.
If this is a problem for you, the best solution is to wait a few days; the bees will leave feeders alone when early sources of pollen—poplars and pussywillows—appear. If you do not want to wait, place another pollen substitute such as soyflower or horse grain with molasses in a shallow dish away from the feeder and people traffic. The bees will go to that instead. If you know of beekeepers in your area, you may wish to inform them that their bees are at your feeder. Most will be glad to know and they can supply a pollen substitute near the hives for their bees.
The increased interest in the natural world in general and gardening in particular has increased the desire on the part of people to identify the insects they see. The Cooperative Extension of the University of New Hampshire is prepared to help. They offer a service of insect and tick identification. Information on how to proceed can be obtained on their website: https://extension.unh.edu/Problem-Diagnosis-and-Testing-Services/Insect-Identification-Service along with forms to submit an insect, tick, or other arthropod for identification. If you have questions or do not have web access, call the Plant Biology Department at 603-862-3200 and talk to the secretary for the University of New Hampshire entomologists. If you use their services, be prepared to pay a small fee.
Gardeners who find plant damage and wonder who or what caused it will find help at the UNH Cooperative Extension Family, Home and Garden Education Center. Their toll-free information line is 1-877-398-4769 and is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. year-round. They also have a walk-in clinic in Manchester. Call the toll-free number for more information. In addition to dealing with pest problems, they are prepared to answer questions about gardens, lawns and landscapes, food safety and food preservation, tree planting and care, and water quality.
If you have noticed an unusually large congregation of ladybugs at your house in the fall, you are not alone. In 1996, callers began reporting huge numbers of ladybugs gathering on their houses on warm fall days.
It turns out that a new species of ladybug began appearing in New Hampshire. This species was brought from Asia to the United States in 1977 and released as a biological predator control. The ladybugs feed on aphids that can cause damage to certain orchard fruits and vegetable crops. Their population spread gradually and began to appear in New Hampshire in the mid 1990s.
During the fall, these “Halloween Ladybugs,” as they are commonly called, seek sheltered places to overwinter. Once a suitable location is found, the ladybugs emit a scent called a pheromone which attracts other ladybugs to the area resulting in an even larger cluster of these beetles in one spot.
If the cluster occurs on the outside of your house, they will eventually move away on their own. However, sometimes they find a way inside. They are not harmful and will not cause damage. If you prefer not to play host, sweep them up and release them outside. To prevent them from getting in, carefully seal all cracks around windows and doors and cover openings into your house. They are attracted to sources of light so pay special attention to ceiling cracks and crevices, lighted windows, and outdoor light fixtures.
Because of the predator control value of these insects to orchards and crops, we recommend capture and release program rather than extermination. Next spring their presence will help to minimize aphid damage in your yard and garden.
The decline in bird species that nest in fields has increased concern about the management of grasslands and meadows. Here in New Hampshire the most common birds that nest in such areas are Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Savannah Sparrows. These species usually return to New Hampshire in April or May and start nesting in early to late May. The young are generally out of the nest by mid-July. Ideally mowing should be delayed until late July.If waiting this long is not possible, there are certain practices that can be followed in fields used for hay production that will increase the survival rate of ground-nesting birds.
If you have fields that are not needed for hay, the solution is simpler. Delay mowing until late August. In the case of small fields, you can also try mowing once every two to three years, preferably in August, to increase plant diversity while keeping the growth of woody plants in check. Some nesting birds—Bobolinks for example, actually prefer using older hayfields. For larger fields, cutting one-third of the area every year late in the season will provide valuable food and cover conditions for wildlife as well as nesting sites. Cutting a few strips twice a year, where you know birds are not nesting, provides new growth for food as well as sunning and dusting areas.
If there are a number of fields adjacent to each other, the removal of hedgerows will provide the look of a large area. Such larger grasslands are appealing to the less common New Hampshire grassland birds: Grasshopper Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, and Upland Sandpiper.
Pastures that are used for grazing animals may provide good nesting sites provided the animals are rotated through a number of fields during the growing season.
If it is feasible to burn small hayfields, there are numerous benefits. Burning is done in early spring before birds nest and reduces or removes dead vegetation, adds nutrients, rejuvenates plant growth and helps prevent the spread of woody vegetation. Grassland bird populations usually benefit from this practice in one to two years after a burn.
The careful maintenance of grasslands and meadows benefits not only those species of birds that nest in them. It also provides hunting grounds for owls and other wildlife and enriches the entire surrounding ecosystem.
For more detailed information about maintaining grasslands and meadows, please see the publications by the Massachusetts Audubon Society that deal with grassland birds. Information can be found at http://www.massaudubon.org/Birds_and_Birding/grassland/.
Handling fields and grasslands with the interests of both people and wildlife in mind is not easy but the end results make the effort essential and worthwhile.
Owls, with their huge, luminous eyes and haunting calls, fascinate humans. New Hampshire’s varied habitats provide year-round homes for several species of owls. Owl calls are often heard in March and NH Audubon invites everyone to join in the thrill of listening for our owl neighbors.
By February, the Great Horned Owl, our earliest breeding owl, may already be incubating eggs. You might hear the resonant bass hoot of this magnificent predator anytime during late winter. In late February, we started to hear the familiar “Who cooks for yoou, who cooks for yoou aaal!” of the Barred Owl, our most common owl. Near dense hemlock and spruce woods, listen for the mechanical-sounding, single-pitched beeps of the tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl. Attentive owlers in southern New Hampshire might be treated to the mournful, descending trill of the Eastern Screech Owl – their call is not a screech at all!Owlers who take to the woods in hopes of a glimpse of these special birds should remember that the Great Horned Owl is a vigilant defender of its nest. Swooping down silently, the Great Horned Owl, with its formidable talons, can spell real trouble for prey – or an inattentive intruder!To get you started on your spring owling adventures, NH Audubon has prepared an audiotape and information sheet about owls. On the tape, you’ll hear actual recordings of the sounds made by the four owl species you’re most likely to hear in New Hampshire, and a narrated commentary to aid identification. With the tape, you’ll also receive an information sheet with facts about owl eyesight, hearing, hunting techniques and life cycle, and descriptions of the six species of owls seen in our state.
To receive the tape and information sheet, send a check for $8.00 to “Owl Tape, New Hampshire Audubon, 84 Silk Farm Road, Concord, NH, 03301.” Or, you can buy the tape and the information sheet at the NH Audubon Nature Store at the McLane Center. We’re sorry, the tape is not available as a CD.
It used to be strange to see a robin during the winter in New Hampshire, but no longer. Numbers of wintering robins began increasing in the mid-1990s and now it’s common to see large flocks even in the dead of winter. We don’t know why they have increased, but theories include warmer winters and increased plantings of ornamental fruit trees.
Although most of New Hampshire’s breeding population of robins migrates south in the fall, groups of individuals overwinter in all but the northernmost parts of the state. During the winter, robins feed on a wide variety of fruits, which make up 90% of their diet at this time. Eastern Bluebirds are also seen in winter for much the same reason. Sometimes both robins and bluebirds can be present in large flocks if there is a supply of berries such as winterberry or fruit such as crabapples for them to eat. They are often in the company of Cedar Waxwings which also feed on the same fruits and berries.
Although you normally would not see robins visiting your feeders if you feed during the summer, in the winter they will sometimes come to feeders with fruits, especially after heavy snowfall and during periods of bitter cold. Raisins, currents, dried figs and other dried fruit, along with diced apples and pears, are the types of food they will eat. If you use dried fruits, it is a good idea to soak them in warm water for twenty to thirty minutes to plump them before setting out. The fruits preferably should be placed on a feeder tray or table above the ground. Chopped suet may also be added. Since robins do not always visit feeders, it is best to experiment with small quantities first, and see if they will come. For the very enthusiastic, mealworms are easy to raise and are an attractive food for robins and bluebirds. They are available at pet stores and on-line.
As with any bird feeder, be sure there is cover nearby for protection from predators. If you are able to provide unfrozen water in your bird bath, robins will make frequent use of it for drinking and bathing, as they do in summer. Overwintering robins sometimes begin singing again in mid-March, so your efforts may be rewarded by an early sound of spring this year.
A sighting of a bluebird or robin in an early spring snow storm often prompts a call to NH Audubon — Why are they here? What can I do?Some of these birds did not leave the state this winter and fared well with the relatively mild temperatures. Typically bluebirds and robins are early returning migrants, often arriving in late February or early March. It is always a risk for them. If the weather turns bitterly cold and we get heavy snow, mortality can be high. But usually the warm temperatures return and the snow melts quickly after spring snow storms.
There is little you can do to assist them survive. Both robins and bluebirds will feed on berries when their normal diet of insects and worms is unavailable. You can try putting out pieces of chopped-up fruit and suet for them, scattering it in an open area near where they often perch. If you use dried fruits, it is a good idea to soak them in warm water for twenty to thirty minutes to plump them before setting out. The fruits preferably should be placed on a feeder tray or table above the ground. Occasionally, bluebirds visit feeders for suet or sunflower hearts. If you feel adventurous, you can grow meal worms and put them out. They are also available at pet stores and on-line.
Other early spring arrivals like Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles, Killdeer and American Woodcock signal that it won’t be long before other birds return and nesting activity begins. If you haven’t cleaned your bird houses or want to put one up, early spring is the time.
Often it seems that the benefits a creature provides for humans are in inverse proportion to that creature’s appeal. For many of us, snakes are the personification of this thought and the mere sight of one may cause an almost instinctive sense of fear and revulsion. Yet snakes are one of our strongest allies in the struggle against insect and animal pests. The smaller snakes live almost exclusively on insects and the others control the rodent population not only protecting crops and stored food but safeguarding us from the diseases they carry. Although there are poisonous snakes these, too, are useful to humans. Scientific research today is looking at snake venom for the cure or prevention of a number of diseases.
The virtues of snakes, like the virtues of spiders, may not change the way some people feel about them, but an understanding of their lives and the role they play may help us to take a more tolerant view and overcome any impulse to harm them. It is good to keep in mind that reptiles have been on this planet longer than we have and for endurance alone deserve our respect. It is also helpful to remember that snakes usually find people just as horrifying as many people find snakes.
Here in New Hampshire we are fortunate to have a number snakes as our quiet and inconspicuous neighbors. For those who manage to see one and wonder what kind it is, the following information will be helpful.
Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)
This is the most common snake in New Hampshire and the most widely distributed snake in all of North America. While its most recognizable feature is the yellowish stripes down its back and sides, garter snakes also have small markings on the sides of their bellies. Their diet consists largely of earthworms but they also eat insects, rodents, and other small animals. They mate soon after leaving hibernation in March or April and the female gives birth to 7 to 85 live young in August or September. The babies are about 8 inches long and reach maturity in two years.
Often confused with:Eastern Ribbon Snake.
Eastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus)
This snake looks like a very thin Garter Snake with bright yellow stripes and no markings on the belly. There is one other difference that might prove difficult to detect. The length of a snake’s body is covered with scales of various colors with a definite distinction between the color of the belly and the color of the back. The stripes on a Ribbon Snake are found two scale rows up from the belly scales and on the Garter Snake the stripes begin only one scale row up. The tail section of the Ribbon Snake is longer than that of a Garter Snake but this, too, might be difficult to see on a fast-moving creature. The diet of the Ribbon Snake consists of frogs, salamanders, plus an occasional fish or rodent. The females give birth to 3 to 20 live young in August or September and sexual maturity is achieved at two years of age. Ribbon Snakes are not as widely distributed as the Garter Snake and are usually found close to water.
Often confused with: Common Garter Snake.
Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon)
This truly aquatic snake is found near, and often in, water. It is large and thick and, when young, has bronze cross bands on a paler body which makes it look similar to the Milk Snake. These snakes get darker as they age and eventually look all black. Their main diet is fish but they are known to take other aquatic animals as well. They mate in May and June and the females give birth to live young in August or September with large females producing as many as 60 young. The males become sexually active at two years of age and the females at three. Water Snakes are not poisonous but defend themselves aggressively if handled often by biting. Such bites tend to bleed profusely because of the presence of an anticoagulant in the snakes’ saliva but, again, this is not a poisonous snake. Unfortunately, Water Snakes are sometimes confused with so-called water moccasins, a poisonous snake that does not occur in New Hampshire.
Often confused with: Water moccasin (cottonmouth) – not found in New Hampshire.
Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculatga)
Snakes are not noted for their eagerness to deal with the human race but some are more secretive than others. One of these is the Redbelly Snake. Growing only 16 inches long, these snakes are well-distributed in New Hampshire but not often seen. They have bright red bellies, three light spots on the neck and four thin brown lines running down their backs. They feed mainly on slugs and snails and have developed relatively long, thin teeth that allow them to twist snails out of their shells. They also eat earthworms and small animals. One to 14 live young are born in August or September and sexual maturity is achieved at two years of age. The Redbelly Snake is closely related to the Brown Snake.
Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi).
This is another secretive snake that is usually found in the southern portion of the state. These snakes are never larger than 20 inches and are rather dull looking with two rows of small dark dots running down their backs and a dark vertical streak on the sides of their heads. When young they may have a light collar which causes them to be mistaken for Ringneck or Redbelly Snakes but these have bright yellow and red bellies respectively and the belly of the Brown Snake is very pale. Like the Redbelly Snake, Brown Snakes dine on slugs and earthworms and have teeth and jaws that are adapted for twisting snails out of their shells. They give birth to 3 to 27 live young in July or August and two years are required to reach sexual maturity.
Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus)
This small and slender species is, like the Brown and Redbelly, also quite secretive. Usually smaller than two-feet, the Ringneck is black, gray, or brown with a gold collar and a yellow belly. They prefer wooded areas with lots of cover in the form of logs and rocks and their diet consists of anything they can catch including salamanders, frogs, smaller snakes, earthworms and insects. The females lay 1 to 10 eggs in June or July and many females may share the same cavity for egg-laying. Some females keep the eggs in their bodies until they hatch. Otherwise, from egg to hatching takes eight weeks. It takes one year for them to reach sexual maturity.
Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis)
The Green Snake appears to be declining in New Hampshire. Matching its color, this snake prefers grassy areas and was once found throughout the State. The adults are bright green with a white or pale yellow baby. Young Green Snakes tend to be an olive or blue-gray color. They are seldom bigger than two feet and feed mainly on insects, occasionally taking salamanders, spiders, and snails. In July or August 3 to 12 eggs are laid in underground cavities that are often used by more than one female and the young hatch in 3 to 23 days. It is two years to sexual maturity. Green Snakes often hibernate in communal groups. Although reforestation and housing developments have both contributed to a loss of habitat, housing developments also bring with them frequent mowing and the use of pesticides all of which have affected the population.
Racer (Coluber constrictor)
Another snake that is of concern in the State is the Racer. Growing as long as six feet the Racer is a black snake with a gray belly and a very pointed tail tip. The young have brown or brownish-red splotches down their backs and are sometimes confused with Milk Snakes although other characteristics are quite different (see below). The way Racers glide gives them a look of great speed, hence their name. They are excellent at climbing trees and often feed on birds and bird eggs as well as any other animal they are able to catch, including a great many rodents. In June or July the female lays 10 to 25 eggs in leaf litter or under a rotting log. Foot-long young hatch out in late summer or fall. They need two to three years to reach sexual maturity.
Milk Snake (Lampopeltis triangulum)
People should count themselves fortunate if they find a Milk Snake on their property. This snake is common in southern New Hampshire. It is quite beautiful with reddish-brown splotches down its back, a black-and-white checkerboard pattern on its belly, and a light-colored V or Y in the patch on its neck. They were seen around barns so often that it was thought they were stealing milk from the cows and farmers often killed them. Their attraction to barns, however, came from the high number of rodents that were found in them and rodents are their favorite food. They are also capable of eating birds and other snakes, including Timber Rattlesnakes. The Milk Snake is the only New Hampshire snake that kills by constricting, coiling around their prey and tightening the coil every time their victim breathes out. In June or July females lay 3 to 20 eggs and the young hatch in August or September. Sexual maturity is reached in about three years. When approached and frightened, Milk Snakes vibrate their tails rapidly and produce a buzzing sound which often gets them confused with Rattlesnakes. Their color and patterns are similar to those of the copperheads, a poisonous snake that does not live in New Hampshire. Many are unnecessarily killed for these reasons.
Often confused with: Copperhead – not found in New Hampshire; behavior of rattlesnake – tail vibrating.
Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon latirhinos)
This is another beautiful and fascinating snake of New Hampshire that is restricted to sandy soils and has a limited population. In fact, it is listed as threatened on the State List of Endangered Species. It is a very distinctive snake with a thick body and turned-up nose. They vary in color and go from all black to pale beige with dark blotches on its back. Hognose Snakes dine mostly on toads but will eat frogs and other animals on occasion. They have enlarged teeth in the back of their mouths which may deliver a mild venom to subdue and accelerate digestion of its prey. This does not represent a threat to people however, and the snakes are not inclined to bite. Something of a trickster, this snake goes into a complicated act when confronted, spreading its head into a hood, hissing and striking with a closed mouth. If this does not repel its attacker, the Hognose Snake turns into the opossum of the reptile world, writhing its body as though in pain and rolling over on its back with its tongue hanging out looking quite dead. This act is repeated every time it is rolled back onto its belly and doesn’t fool anyone for very long. Females lay up to 60 eggs usually in July and the young hatch in August or September. Sexual maturity takes three years.
Often confused with: Behavior of cobra – not found in New Hampshire.
Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).
The rarest and most endangered snake in New Hampshire is the Timber Rattlesnake. There are probably more places in New Hampshire named after the Rattlesnake than there are Rattlesnakes themselves. As many other snakes are able to make a rattling sound by vibrating their tails against the ground, it is important to know the physical characteristics of a Rattlesnake in order to correctly identify it. There are two color forms of this snake but New Hampshire has only one. All adult Rattlesnakes in the State are black on top with yellowish bellies. The young are lighter in color with crossbands. All Rattlesnakes have a blunt tail with a button or an obvious rattle present. Non-venomous snakes have enlarged plates between their eyes but the Rattlesnake has scales just like those on its body. Rattlers also have a heat-sensing pit organ between their eyes and their nostrils which is used to find warm-blooded animals, its favorite prey. This is an identification mark that should be checked through binoculars only. In addition to being few in number here in New Hampshire, Rattlers have very low population growth rates. Females take eight or more years to mature, may reproduce only every third or fourth year, and produce only 5 to 14 snakes at a time. The young are born in late August or September which gives them little time to feed before hibernation. Many do not survive. According to the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department, there is only one location left in New Hampshire known to have a population of rattlesnakes so it is likely that they will not survive here long. Anyone who thinks they know where there are Rattlesnakes should contact the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program at 271-2462.
The first question asked about any spider is usually, “Is it poisonous”? And the answer is always “yes, but not usually for humans.” No matter what method a spider uses to catch its prey – webs, traps, running it down, spiders rely on venom to paralyze their victims for future use or to carry out the digestive process. What we really mean by the question is whether the spider is harmful to people. According to Professor Donald Chandler, an entomologist at the University of New Hampshire, there are 350 species of spider in the State, and very few of them may cause a reaction in humans. The reaction varies depending on individual sensitivity but is generally not fatal and no more annoying than a mosquito bite.
If you see a spider that you would like identified, The Cooperative Extension of the University of New Hampshire offers an identification service. See their website: https://extension.unh.edu/Problem-Diagnosis-and-Testing-Services/Insect-Identification-Service for information on how to proceed and the forms to submit an insect, tick, or other arthropod for identification. If you have questions or do not have web access, call the Plant Biology Department at 603-862-3200 and talk to the secretary for the University of New Hampshire entomologists. If you use their services, be prepared to pay a small fee.
The two spiders that are most likely to strike fear in the New Englander’s mind and heart: the Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans) and the Brown Recluse (Loxosceles reclusa) are found in tropical climates and neither one would be able to survive a winter outdoors in this area. Nevertheless, Dr. Ross Bell at the University of Vermont has a confirmed Vermont record for the Black Widow that is thought to have come in on some recently bought firewood and in the summer of 2004 there were two confirmed recipients of a bite from a Black Widow spider here in New Hampshire. Both cases involved people who were unloading grapes from South America. There are also reports of probable Brown Recluse bites in New Hampshire and Vermont. It is surmised that they may be brought north in clothing or linens manufactured in a warmer climate. Given the increased number of goods that come to us from all over the world, it is possible that a number of unlikely species might show up. Therefore, it seems prudent to provide more information on these two even though they are not native to New Hampshire.
Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans).The name alone is enough to strike terror in every wife’s heart but it derives from the tendency of the female to eat the male after mating rather than from the result of a bite. In fact, this spider would much rather flee than fight. It is only when a female guarding an egg cluster is disturbed that she is apt to attack. The female can be three-eighths of an inch long. She is all black except for a red hourglass mark on the underside of her spherical abdomen. Sometimes there are two red lines separated by black instead of a true hourglass form. The male is much smaller, no more than an eighth of an inch long with an abdomen that is longer than wide. He sports white and red markings on his sides. The young, called spiderlings, are orange, brown, and white. They gain more black at each molt. The female makes a funnel-shaped retreat with an irregular mesh over the top usually among fallen branches or under objects and trash. As she is capable of storing sperm, she need only mate once and rarely leaves her web, preferring to stay close to her egg mass. The young disperse soon after hatching. As mentioned above, black widows need a warm climate.
Brown Recluse (Loxosceles reclusa). Also known as the Violin Spider because the top subdivision of this spider, which is called the cephalothorax and includes the head and thorax, is orange-yellow with a dark violin pattern. The base of the legs is also orange-yellow but all the rest including the abdomen, is grayish to dark brown without any obvious pattern. The male is one-quarter of an inch long and the female generally measures three-eighths of an inch. As the name implies, Brown Recluses tend to hide. They are not aggressive and only bite when disturbed. Its preferred habitat is outdoors in sheltered corners or among loose debris. Indoors it prefers to hide behind furniture or under or inside drawers and other objects. The web consists of loose irregular strands and eggs are laid in a loose sac hung inside the web. The female guards the sac until her death and the eggs hatch out in the spring. As it sometimes shelters in clothing or folded towels, there is danger of accidentally disturbing it and being bitten as a result. The wound usually turns red and forms a crust which leaves a deep pit when it falls off. Healing can be a long, slow process. Like the Black Widow, the Brown Recluse needs a warm climate.
If you are interested is learning more about spiders and the common ones of New Hampshire, please read on. Although they come in a wide variety of colors and life styles, there are certain characteristics spiders all share: two body parts and eight legs. Most usually have eight simple eyes but their arrangement on the head varies from genus to genus.
Beginning with Miss Muffit and her mysterious tuffit, then moving on to science fiction and horror films, it is not surprising that spiders invariably make the top ten lists of phobias in the United States. If spiders could be polled, we would most likely make their top ten list as well. This is too bad because when it comes to the battle against the insect world, spiders and people are on the same side. According to one estimate, the number of insects spiders devour worldwide in a single day outweighs the entire human population. In China, for control of some agricultural pests, farmers have abandoned the use of pesticides and rely solely on the use of spiders. The U.S. Forest Service in Maine uses spiders in the fight against spruce budworms. Each spider eats five or six budworms a day. In short, we need them while they could do very nicely without us. Learning to live with them, even for those of us who can’t learn to love them, is probably a good idea if only from the point of view of numbers. A British biologist once figured out that farmland in his locale was home to more than two million spiders per acre and it is said that no matter where we are at any given time, there is a spider within three feet of us.
Although both male and female spiders start out making webs, the males abandon the practice when they reach maturity and spend their time wandering around looking for females. Females, however, need the protein they obtain from insects to produce eggs so they weave webs throughout their lives. Most spiders have three pairs of spinnerets on their lower abdomens and each one is covered by hundreds of silk-releasing spigots. The spider is able to control the opening and closing of these spigots and different strands of silk are made for different purposes – draglines to bridge the gap between two spaces, web frames, egg cases, bug traps, or as a means of dropping down from a perceived threat. Threads may be thick or thin, wet or dry, sticky or woolly. Spider silk, more elastic than nylon and stronger than steel, is often taken by hummingbirds for nest building. In addition, the silk lacks allergenic qualities and is therefore an excellent, safe material for suturing wounds.
World wide, spiders come in many sizes with a variety of ways of snaring prey. Here in New Hampshire, the spiders we are most apt to come upon are:
The Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia). This large (one inch) spider has silvery hairs on her head and thorax and a large black abdomen with striking yellow or orange markings. The legs are long and hairy and are black with yellow bands. It is one of the orb weavers which means it weaves the kind of traditional web most of us picture in our minds when we think of spiders. The web is large, about twelve inches in diameter and is usually constructed among plants in a sheltered, sunny spot. The center of the web has a distinctive zigzag pattern and the spider herself is usually found, head down, in that area.
The Carolina Wolf Spider (Lycosa carolinensis). This spider, too, is on the large side (one-and-a-quarter inches) and the body is as long as it is wide. Gray-brown in color, it sometimes has a central abdominal stripe. These spiders do not spin webs but hunt at night in leaves, rocks, and grass. They are found in meadows and woods and tend to be well-camouflaged.
The Funnel-Web Grass Spider (Agelenopsis naevia). Early in the morning when dew is still on the lawn is the best time to see the large fine webs that these spiders construct over grass with a distinctive horizontal funnel in one corner. This small (three-quarters of an inch) spider is dark brown with pale yellow bands. Lurking in the funnel, she dashes out after any insect that crosses her web.
The Daring Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax). This half-inch spider looks a bit like a miniature tarantula, being black and hairy with short, stout legs and large eyes. It uses its ability to make extraordinary leaps to pounce on its prey. The preferred habitat of the jumping spider is tree trunks, fallen limbs, and leaf litter.
The Crab or Goldenrod Spider (Misumena vatia). A tiny (three-eighths of an inch) and truly beautiful spider that spends its time hiding in goldenrods and daisies snatching insects. The female is yellow or white with red streaks on the abdomen and thick, pale legs; the male’s abdomen is white with two red streaks.
All of the above spiders live out their life spans from May through October. The species we are probably all too aware of, however, is year-round: The American House Spider (Achaearanea tepidariorum). Only one-quarter of an inch in length, this is the spider that builds irregular webs in the corners of ceilings and windows. The body is pale brown with the large abdomen mottled black and gray on the sides. The male’s legs are orange and those of the female are black and yellow. Two species of common house spider are capable of giving a painful, but not fatal, bite: Cheiracanthium inclusum and Cheiracanthium mildei. Both are light gray in color mixed with pale yellow. Spiders are not aggressive, putting up a defense only when feeling threatened. The kind of situation that might cause a bite is putting on a glove that has not been used for a while without shaking it out first.
The Parson Spider (Herpyllus ecclesiasticus) is a common outdoor spider that is sometimes carried indoors on firewood. Its bite may cause a small red inflammation on the skin that may itch much like a mosquito bite but, as mentioned above, reactions to spider bites vary.
According to Greek mythology, Arachne was a talented weaver who allowed the praise she received for her tapestries make her rash enough to challenge Athena, the Goddess of Weaving, to a contest and foolish enough to win. In a rage, Athena killed her. Fortunately, Athena was also the Goddess of Wisdom who instantly repented her impetuous act. She brought Arachne back to life as a spider. Given the good that spiders do, we too should let the wise side of our nature prevail. Instead of destroying every spider we see, we should capture them using a glass and card, and either put them outdoors or on a houseplant that might need protecting.
The increased interest in the natural world and the spread of lyme disease has increased the desire on the part of people to identify the ticks they may be horrified to find on themselves after being outdoors. The Cooperative Extension of the University of New Hampshire is prepared to help. They offer a service of insect and tick identification. Information on how to proceed can be obtained on their website: https://extension.unh.edu/Problem-Diagnosis-and-Testing-Services/Insect-Identification-Service along with forms to submit an insect, tick, or other arthropod for identification. If you have questions or do not have web access, call the Plant Biology Department at 603-862-3200 and talk to the secretary for the University of New Hampshire entomologists. If you use their services, be prepared to pay a small fee.
The Cooperative Extension web site also has an online publication (PDF) with excellent information about ticks, including color photographs. The Center for Disease Control also has an informative website.
Tick identification is also available at the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food Division of Plant Industry, State Lab Building, Lab D, 6 Hazen Drive, Concord NH 03301. Their telephone number is 271-2561. If you decide to mail the tick to them rather than deliver it to their door, please place it in a 70% or higher alcohol solution and use a crush-proof container. There is no charge for this service. Keep in mind that although they are able to identify whether it is a dog or deer tick, they do not test for lyme disease.
From the end of May to the end of June, New Hampshire motorists and pedestrians are very apt to meet turtles in the middle of the road. At this time of year, they are females out to lay eggs, a biological imperative that must be obeyed. Often people have a commendable desire to help these slow-moving creatures out of a risky situation. In that case, it is best to move the turtle to a safe place in the direction in which she was heading. It is also important to keep in mind that turtles have a home range and females often return to the same general area to lay eggs. Removing the turtle from the place where she is found and taking her to an area that seems “safer” is therefore not a good idea.
Snapping turtles tend to be out early in the day. These are large, solid-colored turtles with pointed heads and a line of bumpy spines going down the center of their long tails. Although smaller ones may be safely carried by the tips of their tails with outstretched arm and the bottom shell (plastron) facing you, treating larger ones this way may cause injury to their tails and they should be carried by their back legs instead. Given their surprisingly long necks and strong jaws, however, many of us feel hesitant about getting up this close and personal. If traffic is light enough to make it possible, use a stick to gently tap the edge of the shell near the tail to try to hasten the turtle to the side of the road. Bear in mind that a turtle, even when hastening, isn’t moving very fast. If this is not feasible, it might be a good idea to keep a snow shovel in your car for carrying purposes. After all, who is to say that it won’t snow in New Hampshire in May or June?In the afternoon the turtle most often met is the familiar Eastern Painted Turtle with yellow and red head markings and red on the edges of the top shell (carapace). This species does not pose any danger. If small, the painted turtle may be safely lifted and carried by the edges of her shells with one hand; larger ones should be moved using two hands with the fingers holding the bottom shell and the thumbs on the top. Most painted turtles respond to being lifted by tucking themselves into their shells but some are apt to move their feet rapidly in an effort to escape. Be prepared for this reaction so you are not startled into dropping the turtle and causing harm.
If you are fortunate enough to have witnessed a turtle nesting, you know that they are excellent at tamping the soil back in such a way that it is difficult to distinguish the nest site from its surroundings. Raccoons and skunks, however, consider turtle eggs a great delicacy and are able to find them using their sense of smell. Many turtle nests fall prey to these animals in the course of a season. In the event that you see a turtle nesting in an area that receives a great deal of foot traffic, or a nest is where a car might pull over and park, it would be a good idea to protect it by placing stakes in an area around it avoiding where the eggs themselves are apt to be. Try to work quickly and avoid walking directly to the nest which can leave a trail of human scent that predators will follow to the nest. Moving the nest is often unsuccessful and it is best to leave the nest where it is and protect it from disturbance. If you are tempted to cover the nest site with wire mesh in order to protect it from predators, it is essential that you remember to check the area often in the fall and the next spring so the hatchlings will not be trapped. Due to the risk of trapping hatchlings, we do not recommend this option. The eggs of the Snapping Turtle take from three to four months to hatch and those of the Eastern Painted two-and-a-half to three months. Although the eggs hatch in late August or September, very often hatchlings spend the winter underground and do not leave the nest until the following spring. The babies are capable of finding their way to the nearest water and under most circumstances are not in need of human assistance.
There are six species of turtle that definitely are at home in New Hampshire and a possible seventh whose presence and fate are precarious.
Of these, the ones most often seen are the Snapping and the Eastern Painted Turtle.
The largest of our turtles is the Snapping Turtle. By the time they are sexually mature their shells are usually at least ten inches long and they continue to grow. These animals are uniformly black with a very long, spiny tail. They are mostly aquatic, leaving ponds only to lay their eggs or move to a new location. Most of their time is spent buried in leaves and mud at the bottom of ponds waiting for prey to approach. Although they are omnivorous feeders and at times have been known to take young waterfowl, snapping turtles are not considered destructive to natural populations of fish or birds. Snapping turtles are usually seen starting in mid-June. The females tend to be loyal to certain nesting sites where they return year after year usually laying twenty to thirty eggs at a time. The eggs hatch from August to early October but the young may overwinter in the nest until the following spring. Although not an aggressive species, their jaws are strong and their necks very long, so they must be handled carefully if at all.
The most common turtle and the one most often seen is the Eastern Painted Turtle which spends a considerable amount of time basking in the sun. In addition to yellow stripes on its face, it has red markings around the edge of its shell. The male of the species has long claws on the front feet and a long tail. His bottom shell is somewhat concave. The females have short claws and stubby tails. Like the Snappers, these turtles lay their eggs on land in June with hatching occurring in September. The hatchlings often spend the winter in the nest, emerging the following spring.
The most aquatic of New Hampshire’s turtles, and the smallest is the Musk Turtle, also known as Stinkpot. Only three-and-a-half to five-and-a half inches in length, these turtles leave the water only to nest. They are most active at night but someone at the shore of a pond or lake very early in the morning may lure them closer by the use of a tempting tidbit – pieces of freshwater clam or fish will do. Their most distinguishing feature is a pair of yellow lines on each side of the head that go from the tip of the nose along the face, around the eye, and onto the neck. Nesting takes place close to the water and while shallow nests are sometimes dug, the egg clutch, usually averaging only four or five, is often deposited in rotting logs or leaf litter. These eggs, too, take from two to three months to hatch and the babies may opt to emerge the following spring rather than in the fall.
The earliest turtle to emerge in the spring, often appearing in March while snow is still on the ground, is the Spotted Turtle. These turtles are small and each one has a distinctive pattern of yellow spots on its carapace and face. They prefer shallow ponds and wetlands and often show up at vernal pools to feed. Spotted Turtles are of special concern in New Hampshire due to the loss of habitat and their slow reproduction rate. Females usually lay only 4 or 5 eggs and very little is known about hatchling behavior. While the eggs take from two-and-a-half to three- months to hatch like the species discussed above, it is not known whether the young attempt to overwinter in the nest. Spotted Turtles are more apt to be seen on cold, sunny days than in warm weather. They are unusual in that they do not like the heat and practice estivation, the warm-weather equivalent of hibernation.
Another turtle of special concern here is the Blanding’s Turtle. These turtles are fairly large (10.5 inches long) and are distinguished by a helmet-shaped carapace and bright yellow chin and throat. They spend most of their time in the water and have extremely long necks so that they can extend their heads to the surface to breathe while keeping their bodies out of sight. Like the Spotted Turtle, the Blanding’s likes feeding in vernal pools. Nesting usually takes place along the edges of fields or in forested areas with open canopies that are close to water. Eggs hatch in August or early September and, as with the Spotted, not very much is known about the hatchlings.
A characteristic that all of the above turtles have in common is that the sex of their offspring depends on the temperature around the egg at a crucial time of embryo development. Females develop in areas with the coolest and warmest temperatures and males hatch from the area between the two extremes.
While the Eastern Box Turtle was once known to roam the woods of New Hampshire, especially in its southern portion, they were so extensively collected that any seen today are thought to be escaped or released pets. We are able, however, to boast of a terrestrial species – the Wood Turtle. These turtles are quite different from their pond-loving relatives. Their top shells are made up of low, pyramid-shaped plates and are sculpted and bumpy rather than smooth and shiny. Males have dark skin with orange markings under their chins, on their throats, and on the inner parts of their legs. Females are lighter in color with lighter markings. Active in forested areas all summer long, they overwinter in deep, clear, slow-moving streams. An elaborate courtship dance takes place on land before they go into the water to mate and a clutch averages four to twelve eggs. They are unusual in that the sex of the offspring is genetically determined rather than dependent on temperature. Very little is known about the hatchlings as they are seldom seen.
Humankind went through a number of stages before achieving its current evolutionary configuration. Turtles were a perfect design from the start and have remained virtually unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs. Observing turtles is a glimpse into an ancient and mysterious world. They are worthy of our respect.
Anyone interested in learning more is urged to read The Year of the Turtle beautifully written and illustrated by David Carroll.
Woodpeckers do occasionally make holes in people’s houses. It is an annoying and difficult problem to solve, in part because we do not know why the birds are doing this. It may be that they hear something which sounds like an insect in the walls, or it may be a young bird choosing an inappropriate place to make a cavity for the winter. There is no evidence to suggest that there are actually insects present in the walls of the house. The behavior is most often observed in the fall and does not usually continue into the winter or spring.
In dealing with the problem, remember that woodpeckers are protected by both state and federal laws, and it is illegal to kill them. First, try discouraging them by chasing them away whenever you find them on the house. Shout at it or try squirting it with a hose. Then try to make the drilling site less accessible by covering the affected area with something such as a sheet of plastic which the woodpeckers cannot cling to, heavy plywood, or hardware cloth. The idea is to discourage them during the fall season when the behavior is most common. If this is not successful or practical, contact the Animal Damage Control office of the US Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services. They deal with problems in which a bird or animal is actually causing property damage. The number for their Concord, NH office is 223-6832.
Unfortunately, there is no spray or paint that will discourage drilling woodpeckers; stuffed or plastic owls and rubber snakes are usually ineffective. Barriers and discouragement are your best defenses.
Woodpeckers do not sing to proclaim their territories like most other birds of the backyard. Instead, they tap rapidly on a hollow surface that makes a loud noise. This is called “drumming” and it is used to proclaim their territory to other woodpeckers. It is very different from pecking for food or nest holes because it does not often make a hole in the drumming surface – it just makes a loud noise.
The behavior usually starts in late winter and continues into spring. Sometimes antennas or other metal surfaces on houses make excellent drumming spots for the woodpeckers because they are loud and hollow-sounding. The best way to combat the behavior is to put something over the drumming spot that dulls the sound, like a piece of soft, foam rubber. If the spot no longer makes a loud noise when the woodpecker taps on it, it will abandon that spot and look for another, better location. Alternatively, you can try blocking access to the drumming site by putting up chicken wire that the woodpecker cannot get through. This is not always as effective.
The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a relatively recent newcomer to New Hampshire. Not long ago we considered them a very rare visitor from the south but the species expanded its range northward much the way the Northern Cardinal and Tufted Titmouse did earlier. Between 1987 and 1995, there was usually only one Red-bellied Woodpecker on the entire Backyard Winter Bird Survey in New Hampshire. In the fall of 1995, they invaded the state in record numbers and became a more regular resident in the southern portion of the state. By 2005 they had even been recorded in northernmost Coos County.
During the fall of 2008, the state saw another jump in numbers with record tallies on Christmas Bird Counts and first time reports from many bird feeders. Since then reports have tapered off slightly and their numbers are likely to fluctuate in the coming years depending on the severity of the winters. Red-bellied Woodpeckers are year round residents and do not usually migrate. In the fall young birds are dispersing and looking for territories of their own.
The Red-bellied Woodpecker has black and white ladder stripes on its back and a red down the back of its head. Females are lacking red on the very top of the head. This species’ name is quite confusing because it doesn’t appear to have any red on its belly. If you have a very close up view of a bird, especially from below, you will see the faint reddish wash on the lower belly that gives the bird its name.
Please consider helping us track Red-bellied Woodpeckers and other feeder birds by taking part in NH Audubon’s annual Backyard Winter Bird Survey on the second weekend in February. You’ll find information, survey forms, and instructions on the Backyard Winter Bird Survey page We also encourage you to report your sightings to NH eBird.The whole idea is to make the problem spot on your house no longer attractive to the woodpecker as a drumming site. Since the chief attraction of the spot is the loud noise the woodpecker can make when it pecks there, the best strategy is to eliminate the woodpecker’s ability to make that loud, hollow sound. Sooner or later the woodpecker will stop drumming on its own as the breeding season progresses.
The Pileated Woodpecker, Drycopus pileatus, is a shy, fairly uncommon bird that resides in forests across the eastern United States, Canada, and parts of the western states. This crow-sized bird features an eye-catching red crest, a black body, white under wing feathers, and two white stripes that run from the base of their long, black bill, across their face, and down their neck to their sides. Males also boast a red ‘mustache’ below the stripe. Pileated Woodpeckers are often confused with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, which is now considered extinct. Ivory-billeds were larger than the Pileated, with their white stripe running down their back, rather than their front, white wing-tips, a black fore crest, and an ivory-colored bill. In the United States, Ivory-billed Woodpeckers ranged from the Ohio River Valley to east Texas, the Gulf Coast, and into Florida. They would never have been sighted in New Hampshire.
Despite their conspicuous appearance, you often hear a Pileated Woodpecker before you see it. Their location call (the noise they make to find their mate) is a loud, deliberate cuck, cuck, cuck! Both the male and the female also have a call of yucka, yucka, yuckathat is very irregular and noisy. Pileated Woodpeckers also drum on trees. When they do this, it sounds very much like the tree is being hit with a large, wooden mallet.
Pileated Woodpeckers drum on trees to claim territory and attract a mate. They drill into trees to search for food and hollow out a nesting or roosting cavity. These woodpeckers eat mostly insects (carpenter ants and other wood-boring insects being on the top of the list) but they also eat seeds and nuts. They are sometimes attracted to suet feeders (an excellent mixture for them is suet with pecan and walnut meats blended in). Apart from drilling holes in trees to get at their food, Pileated Woodpeckers also strip bark from dead trees and even dig in the ground. Contrary to popular belief, Pileated Woodpeckers don’t kill trees when they feed at them. Since their main food source is wood-boring insects, the presence of the woodpecker on the tree usually means that the tree is already suffering from insect damage.
Unlike their feeding holes, which are long and oval-shaped, the Pileated Woodpecker’s nesting hollows are large and round. Both the male and the female woodpecker hollow out several roosting cavities (located in dead or dying trees fifteen to eighty-five feet above the ground) and each spend the night in separate holes. The male roosts in the actual nesting hole before the eggs are laid. The female lays three to eight white eggs, which the male incubates only during the night, while the female does the same in the daytime. In New Hampshire eggs are usually laid in late April or early May. The eggs hatch after fifteen to eighteen days. The newly hatched chicks are altricial—totally dependent upon the parents—and stay in the nest for twenty-six to twenty-eight days. During this time, the parents feed them regurgitated insects and grubs.The Pileated Woodpecker prefers dense, mature forests to inhabit, but they are adapting well to human intrusion and becoming more and more common in second growth and disturbed woodlands. They are, however, still vulnerable to habitat loss by forest fragmentation and logging.
The population of the Pileated Woodpecker has increased in the last few decades due to old farmland returning to forest. A significant increase of this species’ has been noticed in New Hampshire for this very reason. In the early 1900s much of the state had been cleared for farming and Pileated Woodpeckers were uncommon, especially south of the White Mountains. As farmlands were abandoned and forests re-grew, the Pileated Woodpecker population expanded. According to the Atlas of Breeding Birds in New Hampshire, conducted in the early 1980s, this woodpecker is now widely distributed throughout the state with the exception of the southeastern corner.
Naturalists at NH Audubon receive many calls about birds that have struck glass windows and been stunned, injured or killed.
The best remedy is prevention. Birds fly into windows because they don’t know the windows are there. The reflections of woods and sky on glass look – to a bird – like woods and sky. The key to preventing this deadly misperception is to break up the reflections. During the day, pulling down the window shades or closing the blinds, especially if they are white, can make it more difficult for birds to see reflections in the glass. Window screens on the outside will also make the glass less reflective.
Anything placed on the outside surface of the window will help break up the misleading reflections. Try stickers, streamers, or hawk silhouettes. The NH Audubon Nature Store sells inexpensive vinyl hawk silhouettes with an adhesive back. Mount these on the outside of windows where birds most commonly strike – look for “feather marks” left on windows to find the best spots. Predator silhouettes mounted on the inside of windows will have little effect – it is not the shape that deflects the birds, but the birds’ realization that the window is a physical barrier. Some bird supply stores now have decals available that are visible to the birds but less so to humans so they are not as obvious as the vinyl silhouettes which are usually black in color. If you prefer something less “permanent,” use soap, glasswax, or fake snow to create a design on the outside of the window or patio door for a few weeks. Hanging ribbons will serve the same purpose as will stripes made of removable tape. Use 1-inch wide tape or ribbon and place the vertical stripes every four inches.
Installing indoor-outdoor blinds on the outside of the windows will create an effective physical barrier. A “curtain” of plastic garden netting – the kind with meshes of about an inch or less – draped several inches in front of the window will also help break up reflections, as well as physically deflecting birds. If you find that many of your bird strikes take place during the summer near your feeder it may be best to discontinue feeding until the fall or try a different location for the feeders.
Sometimes birds strike windows because they are startled and temporarily disoriented by the sudden appearance of a predator such as a hawk or a cat near a feeder. Moving your feeders further from dangerous windows will help prevent some strikes.
There are some efforts underway to design bird-friendly glass for windows. If you are replacing old windows or constructing a new building, please ask for bird-friendly glass to help show manufacturers that there is a demand for the product.
Occasionally, despite your precautions, a bird strikes a window and falls to the ground. Even if it appears dead, the bird may only be stunned. Carefully place the bird in a box with a lid and keep it in a quiet location. Every half hour, check the box by bringing it outdoors and removing the lid. If the bird flies away, rejoice; otherwise wait a bit longer. If, after three hours, the bird has not flown away, or has tried, but cannot, you’ll need to contact a wildlife rehabilitator. The NH Fish and Game Department maintains a list of licensed rehabilitators that is available on their website at http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/wildlife/rehabilitators.html. NH Audubon (224-9909) can refer you to one in your area, or call Maria Colby at the Wings of Dawn Bird Sanctuary at 603-428-3723.
A bird, perhaps a cardinal or a robin, is insistently pecking and flying at one of your windows, starting early in the morning and perhaps continuing intermittently throughout the day. Does this sound familiar? Although this behavior seems odd, it’s a very common complaint, especially in the springtime. Don’t worry – the bird is not trying to get into your house nor has it gone entirely crazy.
Male cardinals and robins are most known for this behavior, although females and other species also do it. The bird is seeing its own reflection in the window, and interpreting it as an interloper or competitor in its territory. In springtime, when birds are establishing territories in preparation for nesting and breeding, they have little tolerance for rival birds in the vicinity. They will diligently peck and fly at the “rival” bird they see in the window, in a futile attempt to drive it off. The bird will return again and again, only to find the intruder still there!The problematic reflection is on the outside surface of the window, so changes made inside the house will be useless. The only way to dissuade the bird is to dull, break up or eliminate the reflection on the exterior surface of the window. Spray the window with glass-wax or fake snow; tape up newspaper, cardboard or similar material over the window; put up screening; or drape half-inch-mesh garden netting in front of the window. Leave the material up for at least two or three weeks. Remember to put the material on the outside of the window.
After a few weeks, the bird should get out of the habit of finding a “rival” at that location. The sooner you eliminate the reflection, the easier it will be to break the habit. If you’ve noticed the bird using a favorite perch or two while watching the window, try removing those perches, or blocking access to them temporarily. If you have a large house with many wide expanses of plate glass, you may have a correspondingly large problem – especially if the bird has already developed the habit of going from window to window, finding its reflection at each one. But usually, the bird will have a “favorite” window; try your countermeasures there first.
The bird does not usually injure itself seriously, but may expend a large amount of energy defending against nonexistent intruders. Fortunately, the behavior is usually short-lived, and disappears when the bird begins nesting and caring for young. However, a few stubborn birds persist throughout the spring and summer; it seems to be an individual aberration. You may go years without a problem before a bird suddenly starts acting “bird-brained.” It may stop as suddenly as it began.
Photo, top: Conducting a bird survey on NH Audubon sanctuary property by Phil Brown.