Vinalhaven Birds Under Construction

Guided Bird Walks

In the summer, go on one of our weekly bird walks! In partnership with Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) and led by MCHT steward Kirk Gentalen, he will take you to the best places for bird watching on Vinalhaven. See the calendar for more details.

Photos and Info

A photographic guide with a short description of the birds, where to find them, and other useful information. Under each bird is the Latin name and the size comparison. All of the birds on this page have been seen in and the surrounding waters around Vinalhaven. 

Bird Links

There are many websites with more in depth information:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Audubon: Guide to  North American Birds

Nearshore and Tidal Flats

Least Sandpiper


Calidris minutilla

Slightly larger than a sparrow, slightly smaller than a Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Least sandpipers are the smallest of the sandpipers known as "peeps". They have distinctive yellow legs and feed along the edge of mudflats or marshes. They often gather in loose flocks and frequently join other species, but they tend to be in smaller groups and feed toward drier edges than other small sandpipers.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Semipalmated Sandpiper


Calidris pusilla 

Between a sparrow and a robin

A small shorebird with a short neck and small head. The bill is dark and may droop slightly at the tip.  Similar in size to the least sandpiper. 

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Semipalmated Plover


Charadrius semipalmatus  

Between a sparrow and a robin

A small shorebird with a round head and a stubby bill. They have yellow, moderately long legs and a brown or black band around their neck.

Photo by  Kirk Gentalen

Spotted Sandpiper


 Actitis macularius  

Robin sized

A medium sized shorebird, their beak is almost as long as their head. Their body tapers to a longish tail. They look as though they are leaning forward.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen



Calidris Alba

Robin sized

Sanderlings are small, plump sandpipers with a stout bill about the same length as the head. These and other sandpipers in the genus Calidris are often called “peeps”; Sanderlings are medium-sized members of this group.

Ruddy Turnstone


Arenaria interpres 

Robin sized (larger than a spotted sandpiper)

These birds are found along rocky shorelines and seen mostly in the spring and fall. Be on the lookout for them at the water’s edge, where the high tide deposits shells, rocks, seaweed, and other debris. At higher tides when there’s less exposed shoreline, look for them in rocky outcrops along the shore.

Photo by Karen Oakes

Purple Sandpiper


Calidris maritima 

Robin sized

A stout shorebird, the Purple Sandpiper winters along the rocky shores of the Atlantic Coast. Despite its name, it appears mostly slate-gray in winter, with only a faint purplish gloss, and shows no purple at all in breeding plumage. It has a medium length bill that droops at the end.

Photo by John Drury



Calidris alpina 

Robin sized

Medium sized sandpiper, with a bright reddish back and black belly. The long drooping black bill makes is distinguishable from other similar sized shorebirds.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Lesser Yellowlegs

Tringa flavipes  

Between a robin and a crow

A slender, long-legged shorebird, with a long neck and bill. It often can be seen running through the shallow water to chase its prey. 

Photo by Kirk Gentalen



Charadrius vociferus  

Robin sized but with longer legs and wings

A medium sized shorebird you can see without going to the beach. Spot them as they run across lawns or parking lots. Killdeer have the characteristic large, round head, large eye, and short bill of all plovers. They are especially slender and lanky, with a long, pointed tail and long wings.

Photo by Karen Oakes

Black-bellied Plover


Pluvialis squatarola  

Between a robin and a crow

A medium to large shorebird of coastal beaches, the Blackbellied Plover is striking in its black-and-white breeding plumage. It is the largest plover in North America and can be found along the coasts in winter northward to Massachusetts and British Columbia. 

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Short-billed Dowitcher


Limnodromus griseus

Robin sized

A common and conspicuous migrant that uses a "sewing-machine" method of foraging across the mud flats. Its long bill is short only in comparison with the very similar Long-billed Dowitcher. 

Photo by Kirk Gentalen


Greater Yellowlegs


 Tringa melanoleuca 

Between a robin and a crow

A common, tall, long-legged shorebird of freshwater ponds and tidal marshes. The Greater Yellowlegs frequently announces its presence by its piercing alarm calls. 

Photo by Kerry Hardy

Snowy Egret


Egretta thula

Between a crow and a goose, smaller than a great egret

These are medium-sized herons with long, thin legs and long, slender, bills. Their long, thin neck sets the small head well away from the body.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Great Egret


Ardea alba 

Goose sized or large, smaller than a great blue heron

Great Egrets wade in shallow water (both fresh and salt) to hunt fish, frogs, and other small aquatic animals. They typically stand still and watch for unsuspecting prey to pass by. Then, with startling speed, the egrets strike with a jab of their long neck and bill.

Great Blue Heron


Ardea herodias

Goose sized or larger

Hunting Great Blue Herons wade slowly or stand statue-like, stalking fish and other prey in shallow water or open fields. Watch for the lightning-fast thrust of the neck and head as they stab with their strong bills. Their very slow wingbeats, tucked-in neck and trailing legs create an unmistakable image in flight. Year-Round. 

Photo by Kirk Gentalen




Perching, Near Water

Alder Flycatcher


   Empidonax alnorum

Sparrow sized or smaller

Difficult to distinguish from the willow flycatcher, other than by their song.  A small flycatcher which lives in northern wet thickets.

Belted Kingfisher


Megaceryle alcyon

Robin sized

Belted Kingfishers spend much of their time perched alone along the edges of streams, lakes, and estuaries, searching for small fish. They also fly quickly up and down rivers and shorelines giving loud rattling calls. They hunt either by plunging directly from a perch, or by hovering over the water, bill downward, before diving after a fish they’ve spotted.

Photo by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Red-winged Blackbird


 Empidonax alnorum 

Robin sized

Male Red-winged Blackbirds do everything they can to get noticed, sitting on high perches and belting out their conk-la-ree! song all day long. Females stay lower, skulking through vegetation for food and quietly weaving together their remarkable nests. 



Pandion haliaetus 

Smaller than a Bald Eagle; larger and longer-winged than a Red-tailed Hawk.

Ospreys search for fish by flying on steady wingbeats and bowed wings or circling high in the sky over relatively shallow water. They often hover briefly before diving, feet first, to grab a fish. You can often clearly see an Osprey's catch in its talons as the bird carries it back to a nest or perch. Photo by George Kendrick

Bald Eagle


Haliaeetus leucocephalus 

Goose sized or larger

One of the largest birds in North America, wingspan slightly greater than Great Blue Heron. You'll find Bald Eagles soaring high in the sky, flapping low over treetops with slow wingbeats, or perched in trees or on the ground. Bald Eagles scavenge many meals by harassing other birds or by eating carrion or garbage. They eat mainly fish, but also hunt mammals, gulls, and waterfowl. 

Photo by Kerry Hardy



Water Birds

Wilson's storm petrel


Oceanites oceanicus 

Photo by John Drury

Black Guillemot


 Cepphus grylle 

Crow sized

Black guillemots breed along the coasts of Canada and Greenland. Unlike other members of the puffin family, it prefers to forage in relatively shallow near-shore waters. 

Photo by John Drury

Sabine's Gull


Xema sabini  

Crow sized

Sabine's Gull is an unusual and distinctive arctic gull that breeds at high latitudes but winters near the tropics. A striking bird in all plumages with a bold upper wing pattern, long pointed wings, a notched tail, and a short black bill with a yellow tip. 

Photo by John Drury

Common Tern


  Sterna hirundo 14"

Between a robin and a crow, larger than a Least Tern

The common tern is the most widespread tern in North America. It can be seen plunging from the air into water to catch small fish along rivers, lakes, and oceans. 

Photo by John Drury

Arctic Tern


Sterna paradisaea 15"

Between a robin and a crow, larger than a Least Tern

Well known for its long yearly migration. Its travel from its Arctic breeding grounds to its wintering grounds off of Antarctica may cover perhaps 40,000 km (25,000 mi), and is the farthest yearly journey of any bird. 

Photo by John Drury

Laughing Gull


Leucophaeus atricilla 16"

Crow sized, slighly smaller than a Ring-billed Gull

Laughing gulls eat almost anything, including food they catch or steal, handouts, garbage, and discards from fishing boats. They often congregate in parking lots, sandy beaches, and mud bars. 

Photo by John Drury

Ring-billed Gull


Larus delawarensis 20"

Crow sized, smaller than a Herring Gull

 These sociable gulls often fly overhead by the hundreds or feed together at a golf course, beach, or field. Strong, nimble flyers and opportunistic feeders, ring-billed gulls circle and hover acrobatically looking for food; they also forage afloat and on foot.

Wood Duck


Aix sponsa

Between a crow and a goose

Unlike most waterfowl, Wood Ducks perch and nest in trees and are comfortable flying through woods.

Their broad tail and short, broad wings help make them maneuverable. When swimming, the head jerks back and forth much as a walking pigeon's does.

Photo by Linnell Mather

American Black Duck


Anas rubripes

Between a crow and a goose, about the same as a Mallard

A dabbling duck, they tip up instead of dive in while foraging. They eat aquatic plants, invertebrates, and occaissionally small fish in shallow water. Look for them mixed into flocks with other "puddle ducks" such as Gadwells and Mallards.

Common Eider


Somateria mollissima 

Between a crow and a goose

The common eider is the largest duck in the Northern Hemisphere. The male's bright white, black, and green plumage contrasts markedly with the female's camouflaging dull striped brown.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Herring Gull


 Larus argentatus

Bewteen a crow and a goose, larger than a Ring-billed Gull and smaller than a  Great Black-backed Gull

These gulls patrol shorelines and open ocean, picking scraps off the surface. They rally around fishing boats or refuse dumps, loud and competitive scavengers, they are happy to snatch another bird's meal. 

Photo by Kerry Hardy



 Anas platyrhynchos

Between a crow and a goose

A "dabbling duck", they feed in the water by tipping forward and grazing on underwater plants. They almost never dive.

Great Black-bellied Gull


 Larus marinus

Between a crow and a goose, larger than a Herring Gull

The king of the Atlantic waterfront, the largest gull in the world with a powerful build and a domineering attitude.

Photo by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Double-crested Cormorant


 Phalacrocorax auritus

The size of a small goose, smaller than a Great Cormorant

They float low on the surface of  water and dive to catch small fish. After fishing, they stand on rocks, docks and tree limbs with wings spread open to dry. In flight, they often travel in v-shaped flocks that shift and reform as the birds alternate bursts of choppy flapping with short glides. 

Common Loon


Gavia immer

Between a crow and a goose, larger and longer-bodied than a mallard, smaller and shorter-necked than a Canada Goose

Powerful, agile divers that catch small fish in fast underwater chases. They are less suited to land, and typically come ashore only to nest. In flight, notice their shallow wingbeats and unwavering, bee-lined flight path.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Canada Goose


 Branta canadensis

Larger than a Mallard, smaller than a Mute Swan

Geese feed by dabbling in the water or grazing in fields and large lawns. They are often seen in flight moving in pairs or flocks, often in a V formation. 





Woodland Edges

Ruby-throated Hummingbird


Archilochus colubris

Sparrow-sized or smaller

Ruby-throated hummingbirds fly straight and fast but can stop instantly, hover, and adjust their position up, down, or backwards with exquisite control. They often visit hummingbird feeders and tube-shaped flowers and defend these food sources against others. You may also see them plucking tiny insects from the air or from spider webs. 

Photo by Karen Oakes

Red-breasted Nuthatch


Sitta canadensis

Sparrow-sized or smaller, noticeably smaller than a White-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatches move quickly over trunks and branches probing for food in crevices and under flakes of bark. They creep up, down, and sideways without regard for which way is up, and they don't lean against their tail the way woodpeckers do. Flight is short and bouncy. These long-billed, short-tailed songbirds travel through tree canopies with chickadees, kinglets, and woodpeckers. 

American Goldfinch


Spinus tristis

Sparrow-sized or smaller, smaller than a Tufted Titmouse

These are active and acrobatic little finches that cling to weeds and seed socks, and sometimes mill about in large numbers at feeders or on the ground beneath them. Goldfinches fly with a bouncy, undulating pattern, and often call in flight, drawing attention to themselves. They often flock with Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls. 

Photo by Kerry Hardy

Common Yellowthroat


Geothlypis trichas

Sparrow-sized or smaller, larger than a Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Common Yellowthroats spend much of their time skulking low to the ground in dense thickets and fields, searching for small insects and spiders. Males sing a very distinctive, rolling wichety-wichety-wichety song.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Yellow Warbler


Setophaga petechia

Sparrow-sized or smaller, about the same size as a Yellow-rumped Warbler, slightly larger than an American Goldfinch

Look for Yellow Warblers near the tops of tall shrubs and small trees. They forage restlessly, with quick hops along small branches and twigs to glean caterpillars and other insects. Males sing their sweet whistled songs from high perches. 

Yellow-rumped Warbler


Setophaga coronata

Sparrow-sized or smaller, larger warbler, about the size of a Black-capped Chickadee

Yellow-rumped Warblers typically forage in the outer tree canopies at middle heights. They're active, and you'll often see them sally out to catch insects in midair, sometimes on long flights. In winter, they spend lots of time eating berries from shrubs, and they often travel in large flocks.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Black-capped Chickadees


Poecile atricapillus

Smaller than a sparrow


Their habit of investigating people and everything else in its home territory, and quickness to discover bird feeders, make it one of the first birds most people learn. They seldom remain at feeders except to grab a seed to eat elsewhere. They are acrobatic and associate in flocks - the sudden activity when a flock arrives is distinctive.

House Finch


Haemorphous mexicanus

Same size as a house sparrow, but more slender overall


The House Finch is a recent introduction from western into eastern North America. They are gregarious birds that collect at feeders or perch high in nearby trees. When they're not at feeders, they feed on the ground, on weed stalks, or in trees. They move fairly slowly and sit still as they shell seeds by crushing them with rapid bites. Flight is bouncy, like many finches.

House Sparrow


Passer domesticus

About the size of a Song Sparrow, but stockier


You can find House Sparrows most places where there are houses (or other buildings). Along with two other species, the European Starling and the Rock Pigeon, these are some of the most common birds. Their tendency to displace native birds from nest boxes causes some people to resent them.

White-breasted Nuthatch


Sitta carolinensis

Larger than a Red-breasted Nuthatch, smaller than a Tufted Titmouse


These are active, agile little birds with an appetite for insects and large, meaty seeds. They get their common name from their habit of jamming large nuts and acorns into tree bark, when whacking them with their sharp bill to "hatch" out the seed from inside. They may be small, but their voices are loud, and often their insistent nasal yammering will lead you right to them. 



Seiurus aurocapilla

Slightly larger than a Yellow Warbler, smaller than a Eastern Bluebird

The Ovenbird's rapid teacher-teacher-teacher song rings out in summer hardwood forests. It's so loud that it may come as a surprise to find this inconspicuous warbler strutting like a tiny chicken across the dim forest floor. It's olive-brown back and spotted breast are excellent disguise as it gleans invertebrates from the last letter.

Purple Finch


Haemorhous purpureus

About the same size as a House Finch or a House Sparrow


The Purple Finch is the bird that Roger tory Peterson famously described as a "sparrow dipped in raspberry juice." Separating them from House Finches requires a careful look, but the reward is a delicately colored, cleaner version of that red finch. Look for them in forests too, where you're likely to hear their warbling song from the highest parts of the trees. 

Cedar Waxwing


Bombycilla cedrorum

Between a Sparrow and a Robin


Cedar Waxwings are social birds that you're likely to see in flocks year-round. They sit in fruiting trees swallowing berries whole, or pluck them in mid-air with a brief fluttering hover. They also course over water for insects, flying like tubby, slightly clumsy swallows.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Dark-eyed Junco


Junco hyemalis

Slightly larger than a Chipping Sparrow


Dark-eyed Juncos are hooded sparrows of the ground. They hop around the bases of trees and shrubs in forests or venture out onto lawns looking for fallen seeds. You'll often hear their high-pitched notes, given almost absent-mindedly while foraging, or intensifying as they take short, low flights through cover.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

European Starling


Sturnus vulgaris

Nearly twice the size of a House Sparrow; smaller than an American Robin


Northern Cardinal


Cardinalis cardinalis

Slightly smaller than an American Robin


Northern Cardinals tend to sit low in shrubs and trees or forage on or near the ground, often in pairs. Cardinals don’t migrate and they don’t molt into a dull plumage, so they’re still breathtaking in winter’s snowy backyards. In summer, their sweet whistles are one of the first sounds of the morning.

Photo by Kerry Hardy

American Robin


Turdus migratorius

The largest North American thrush, almost half again as big as a bluebird.

The quintessential early bird, American Robins are common sights on lawns across North America, where you often see them tugging earthworms out of the ground. Robins are popular birds for their warm orange breast, cheery song, and early appearance at the end of winter. 

Photo by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

American Woodcock


Scolopax minor

Bigger and plumper than a Killdeer; slightly smaller than a Rock Pigeon.

Camouplaged against the leaf litter, the brown-tailed American Woodcock walks slowly along the forest floor, probing the soil with its long bill in search of earthworms. Unlike its coastal relatives, this plump little bird lives in young forests and shrubby old fields across eastern North America.

Photo by Karen Oakes

Mourning Dove


Zenaida macroura

Smaller, slenderer than Rock Pigeon


Mourning doves perch on telephone wires and forage for seeds on the ground; their flight is fast and bullet straight. Their soft, drawn-out calls sound like laments. When taking off, their wings make a sharp whistling or whinnying.

Photo by Sheri Romer-Day

Rock Pigeon


Columba livia

Larger than a mourning dove, smaller than a crow


 Pigeons often gather in flocks, walking or running on the ground and pecking for food. When alarmed, the flock may suddenly fly into the air and circle several times before coming down again.

Photo by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Common Grackle


Quiscalus quiscula

Larger than a Red-winged Blackbird; about the same size as a Mourning Dove

You'l often find Common Grackles in large flocks, flying or foraging on lawns and in agricultural fields. They strut on their long legs, pecking for food rather than scratching. At feeders, Common Grackles dominate smaller birds. When resting, they sit atop trees or on telephone lines, keeping up a raucous chattering. Flight is direct, with stiff wingbeats. 

Photo by Karen Oakes

American Crow


Corvus brachyrhynchos

Nearly twice the size of a Blue Jay; about two-thirds the size of a Common Raven


American Crows are very social, sometimes forming flocks in the thousands. Inquisitive and sometimes mischievous, crows are good learners and problem-solvers, often raiding garbage cans and picking over discarded food containers. They're also aggressive and often chase away larger birds including hawks, owls and herons.

Photo by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Fish Crow


Corvus ossifragus

Slighly smaller than an American Crow

Fish Crows are tough to identify until you learn their nasal calls. Look for them around bodies of water, usually in flocks and sometimes with American Crows. They are supreme generalists, eating just about anything they can find. Fish Crows have expanded their range inland and northward along major river systems in recent decades.

Photo by Cornell Lab of Ornithology




Golden-crowned Kinglet


Regulaus satrapa

Smaller than a chickadee; larger than a hummingbird

These tiny song-birds usually stay concealed high in dense trees, revealing their presence with thin, very high-pitched calls. They pluck small insects from clusters of conifer needles, often hovering briefly to reach them. In migration and winter, kinglets frequently join other insectivorous songbirds such as warblers, in mixed flocks.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Northern Parula


Setophaga americana

Larger than a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, smaller than a Red-eyed Vireo

A small warbler of the upper canopy, the Northern Parula nests can be found in old man's beard lichen. 

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Tennessee Warbler


Oreothlypis peregrina

Sparrow-sized or smaller

A dainty warbler that specializes in eating the spruce budworm. Consequently the Tennessee Warbler population goes up and down with fluctuations in the availability of the budworm.

Photo by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Black-and-white Warbler


Mniotilta varia
About the size of a Black-capped Chickadee; slightly smaller than a White-breasted Nuthatch

One of the earliest-arriving migrant warblers, the Black-and-white Warbler's thin, squeaky song is one of the first signs that spring birding has sprung. They act more like nuthatches than warblers, foraging for hidden insects in the bark of trees by creeping up, down and around branches and trunks. Despite their arboreal foraging habits, they nest on the ground at the bases of trees.

Photo by Karen Oakes

Black-throated Green Warbler


Setophaga virens

Larger than a kinglet, smaller than a titmouse

An abundant breeder of the northeastern coniferous forests, the Black-throated green Warbler is easy to recognize by sight and sound. Its dark black bib and bright yellow face are unique amongst eastern birds, and its persistent song of "zoo-zee, zoo-zoo-zee" is easy to remember.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Magnolia Warbler


Setophaga magnolia

Larger than a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, smaller than a Red-eyed Vireo

The Magnolia Warbler is a handsome and familiar warbler of the northern forests. Though it often forages conspicuously and close to the ground, we have relatively little information on its nesting behavior.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen at Fox Rocks

Blackburnian Warbler


Setophaga fusca

Sparrow-sized or smaller

A bird of the coniferous forests of the northeast, the Blackburnian Warbler is breathtaking in its brilliant orange-and-black breeding plumage.

Photo by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Brown Creeper


Certhis americana

Smaller than a White-breasted Nuthatch; larger than a Golden-crowned Kinglet

Brown Creepers are tiny woodland birds with an affinity for the biggest trees they can find. Look for these little, long-tailed scraps of brown and white spiraling up stout trunks and main branches, sometimes passing downward-facing nuthatches along the way. They probe into crevices and pick at loose bark with their slender, down-curved bills, and build their hammock-shaped nests behind peeling flakes of bark. Their piercing calls can make it much easier to find this hard-to-see but common species.

Photo by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

American Redstart


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Downy Woodpecker


Dryobates pubescens

About two-thirds the size of a Hairy Woodpecker


They join flocks of chickadees and nuthatches, barely out-sizing them. An often acrobatic forager, this black-and-white woodpecker is at home on tiny branches or balancing on slender plant galls and suet feeders.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Red-eyed Vireo


Vireo olivaceus

Slightly larger than a Yellow Warbler, slightly smaller than a Tufted Titmouse

A tireless songster, the Red-eyed Vireo is one of the most common summer residents of Eastern forests. These neat, olive-green and white songbirds have a crisp head pattern of gray, black, and white. Their brief but incessant songs—sometimes more than 20,000 per day by a single male—contribute to the characteristic sound of an Eastern forest in summer. When fall arrives, they head for the Amazon basin, fueled by a summer of plucking caterpillars from leaves in the treetops.

Photo by John Drury

Hermit Thrush


Catharus guttatus

Smaller than an American Robin, larger than a Song Sparrow

An unassuming bird with a lovely, meloncholy song, the hermit thrush lurks in the understories of far northern forests in summer and is a frequent winter companion across much of the country. It forages on the forest floor by rummaging through leaf litter or seizing insects with its bill. The Hermit thrush has a rich brown upper body with smudged spots on the  breast, with a reddish tail that sets it apart from similar species in its genus.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Song Sparrow


Melospiza melodia

Slightly smaller than a Dark-eyed Junco; slightly larger than a Chipping Sparrow


A rich, russet-and-gray bird with bold streaks down its white chest, the Song Sparrow is one of the most familiar North American sparrows. Don’t let the bewildering variety of regional differences this bird shows across North America deter you: it’s one of the first species you should suspect if you see a streaky sparrow in an open, shrubby, or wet area. If it perches on a low shrub, leans back, and sings a stuttering, clattering song, so much the better.

Photo by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Ipswich Savannah Sparrow


Passerculus sandwichensis

About the size of a Song Sparrow


The Ipswich Sparrow is a subspecies of the Savannah Sparrow with a breeding population isolated to Sable Island, Nova Scotia but a regular winterer along Maine’s coast.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen at State Beach

White-crowned Sparrow


Zonotrichia leucophrys

Slightly larger than a Song Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrows appear each winter over much of North America to grace our gardens and favorite trails (they live in parts of the West year-round). The smart black-and-white head, pale beak, and crisp gray breast combine for a dashing look – and make it one of the surest sparrow identifications in North America. Watch for flocks of these sparrows scurrying through brushy borders and overgrown fields, or coax them into the open with backyard feeders. As spring approaches, listen out for this bird’s thin, sweet whistle.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Nelson's Sparrow


Ammospiza nelsoni

Sparrow-sized or smaller

A secretive sparrow with a brightly colored face, the Nelson's Sparrow breeds along the edges of freshwater marshes and in wet meadows of interior North America, and in salt marshes along the northern Atlantic Coast.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Gray Catbird


Dumetella carolinensis

Robin-sized, slightly smaller than a Northern Mockingbird

If you’re convinced you’ll never be able to learn bird calls, start with the Gray Catbird. Once you’ve heard its catty mew you won’t forget it. Follow the sound into thickets and vine tangles and you’ll be rewarded by a somber gray bird with a black cap and bright rusty feathers under the tail. Gray Catbirds are relatives of mockingbirds and thrashers, and they share that group’s vocal abilities, copying the sounds of other species and stringing them together to make their own song.

Photo by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Hairy Woodpecker


Dryobates villosus

Robin-sized, about a third again larger than a Downy Woodpecker

The larger of two look alikes, the Hairy Woodpecker is a small but powerful bird that forages along trunks and main branches of large trees. It wields a much longer bill than the Downy Woodpecker's almost thornlike bill. Hairy Woodpeckers have a somewhat soldierly look, with their erect, straight-backed posture on tree trunks and their cleanly striped heads. Look for them at backyard suet or sunflower feeders, and listen for them whinnying from woodlots, parks, and forests.

Photo by Kerry Hardy