The Millstone Times January 2021

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Loggerhead shrike (the butcher bird) The loggerhead shrike may look like a small songbird, but the eyes of a killer stare out of its black mask. Sometimes called “the butcher bird,” the gray and white loggerhead shrike is a predator that preys on insects, birds, lizards and small mammals. Lacking talons and armed with a modest beak, this killer catches its prey and skewers it on thorns or barbed wire, leaving the carcass suspended for easy eating. Found across the Southeast, southern Great Plains and Southwest, look for them perched on fence posts, waiting for an opportunity to strike. You might see one and its un- fortunate victims at Joshua Tree National Park in California, Dripping Springs Natural Area in NewMexico and Holt Collier National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi. Loggerhead Shrike. Photo by Hanna Schwalbe, National Park Service.

Purple finch A delight to see perched in the forest or grabbing a meal at your birdfeeder, the purple finch eats mostly seeds and sings a high, warbling tune. The females are tan and brown, but males look like they’ve been dunked in cranberry juice. To include all the colors in its life cycle, purple finch eggs are greenish-blue with black spots. A courting male will sing, hop and fluff its feathers while holding a twig or a blade of grass in its beak. Sadly, the purple finch is in decline, slowly being pushed out by the more common house finch. Its range includes much of the eastern states in the winter, but it keeps mostly to northern forests for most of the year. You’re most likely to see one at Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge in New York, Acadia National Park in Maine and Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. Purple finch. Photo by N. Lewis, National Park Service.

Common murre No, these aren’t penguins. Common murres are abundant, gathering in large groups along the Pacific coast from California to Alaska and the Atlantic Coast north of New York. Daring hunters, they dive into the ocean and swim underwater to spear fish and pluck up squid and shrimp. This diet and exercise means murres can live more than 20 years. Nesting on rocky cliffs and rugged islands, they lay only one egg each nesting season. They have large colonies at Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Ref- uge and Olympic National Park in Washington. Common murres. Photo by Roy W. Lowe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Indigo bunting Another example of a bird species in which females are plain brown and males are brightly colored, the male indigo bunting is the shade of the sky on a clear summer day. When it isn’t flying over fields looking for insects and seeds, the indigo bunting spends a lot of time perched on telephone lines singing its bouncy tune. Another fun fact about this chipper bird is that it migrates at night, navigating by the stars. In the late spring and summer, the indigo bunting spreads across the eastern U.S., but spends the winter in the Caribbean and Central America. So head out to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge or Cumberland Gap National Historical Park in Kentucky this

July and August to see one before it flies south in the fall. Indigo bunting. Photo by N. Lewis, National Park Service.

Sora Whether spending the summer in the northern states, migrating in the spring and fall, or wintering on the south- ern fringes, the sora can be found almost everywhere in the lower 48 at one time or another. Despite the fact that it gets around so much, the sora is really difficult to see. This secretive brown and gray bird stays hidden in reeds and rushes, prowling shallow wetlands on really long toes and weaving floating nests with its bright yellow bill. It is most active in the early morning or evening and reveals its presence with a rising, whining call. It is ner- vous around humans and other animals, but aggressive when dealing with other soras. We’re pleased to report successful sightings at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts, Kulm Wetland Management District in North Dakota and Big Boggy National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Sora. Photo by Larry Palmer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Birdwatching is a great outdoor hobby for people across the country, but be careful, it can be addictive. Before you know it, you’ll be dreaming of colors and crests and calls, finding excuses to wander into the forest, and studying field guides to identify your new feathered friends.

6 The Millstone Times

January 2021

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