Category Archives: Perching Birds

North American Robin – Turdus migratorius

General: The American Robin is one of our most common and recognizable birds. I always look forward to the first Robin of spring. For over forty years I have also looked forward to finding discarded pieces of blue American_RobinRobin eggs while walking through my neighborhood in mid-spring (after the chicks hatch the parents carry the shells away from the nest).

The North American Robin is a member of the thrush family. In winter Robin roosts can be huge, sometimes including a quarter-million birds during winter – something I have witnessed crows doing in winter along the Hudson River in Troy, NY.

The American Robin is the state bird of Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

The Robin breeds throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada southward to northern Florida and Mexico.

Because the robin forages largely on lawns, it is vulnerable to pesticide poisoning and can be an indicator of chemical pollution. Robins found in suburban and urban areas have lead levels in their blood that are roughly twice as high as robins from rural areas and the amount of lead in their blood suggest that some symptoms of lead poisoning are being manifested. Researchers have found that Robins appear to be a favored target of mosquitoes and many have Nile-Virus antibodies in their blood, this means that they were infected but have survived. (1)

In spring, males attract females by singing, raising and spreading their tails, shaking their wings and inflating their white-striped throats. They nest commonly above the ground in a bush or in a fork between two tree branches. The female lays three to five light blue eggs, and is incubates them alone. Incubation is about 12-14 days, theAmerican_Robin_Picture chicks are helpless at birth, mostly naked with spare whitish down. They fledge in about 14-16 days. The adult male and female both are active in protecting and feeding the fledged chicks until they learn to forage on their own. Robins usually have 2 broods during breeding season.

Identification: American Robins are fairly large songbirds with a large, round body, long legs, and fairly long tail. They are 7.9”–11” long with a wingspan of 12.2”–15.7”. They weigh approximately 2.7–3 oz. Robins are the largest North American thrushes.

American Robins are gray-brown with orange under parts and dark heads. In flight, a white patch on the lower belly and under the tail can be conspicuous. Compared with males, females have paler heads that contrast less with the gray back.

Habitat: American Robins can be found on lawns in fields, and city parks, as well as in more wild places like woodlands, forests, mountains up to near treeline, recently burned forests, and tundra. During winter many robins move to moist woods where berry-producing trees and shrubs are common.

Territory: The American Robin has an extensive range throughout North America, wintering south of Canada from Florida to central Mexico and along the Pacific Coast.

Migration: Most North American Robins migrate in August to winter south of Canada from Florida and the Gulf Coast to central Mexico, as well as along the Pacific Coast.

Food: The Robin’s diet consists of invertebrates (such as beetle grubs and caterpillars), fruits and berries. Nestlings are fed mainly on worms and other soft-bodied animal prey.

(1) National Science Foundation: West Nile Virus: The Search for Answers in Chicago’s Suburbs

American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos

General: The American Crow (Common Crow) is a common bird found throughout much of North America.  They can be spotted in forests, farmland and cities. In the Northeast US I have watched American Crows gather in large communal roosts at night. In the Capital District of upstate New York (Albany, Troy and Rensselaer) 10’s of thousands of these birds roost along the Hudson River in winter. During these roosting periods, it is common to drive just at twilight and see branches of trees totally covered with crows. This scenario is repeated in other towns and areas throughout their range.

The American Crow is an intelligent and adaptable bird. It is one of only a few species of bird that has been observed modifying and using tools to obtain food.

They are also an aggressive bird and will protect territory, food and nests from almost all intruders. It is common to see American Crows chase larger birds such as hawks, falcons, owls and herons. I have watched as a mob (that is what a “flock” of crows is called) of crows attack squirrels and mink.

When nesting, both members of a breeding pair help build the nest. They make the nest with twigs with an inner cup lined with pine needles, weeds, soft bark, or animal hair. Nest size is quite variable, typically 6-19 inches across, with an inner cup about 6-14 inches across and 4-15 inches deep. Crows typically hide their nests in a crotch near the trunk of a tree or on a horizontal branch, generally towards the top third or quarter of the tree. They prefer to nest in evergreens, but will nest in deciduous trees when evergreens are less available.

The female lays 3–9 eggs that are 1.4” – 1.9” long 1” – 1.2” wide. The eggs are pale bluish-green to olive green with blotches of brown and gray toward the large end.

American Crows are highly susceptible to the West Nile Virus.

Identification: American Crows are generally 15.7” – 20.9” long with a wingspan of 33.5” – 40.0” and a weight of 11 oz – 22 oz. The American Crow has iridescent black feathers all over. Its legs, feet and bill are also black. They are long-legged, thick-necked with a heavy, straight bill. In flight, the wings are fairly broad and rounded with the wingtip feathers spread like fingers. The short tail is rounded or squared off at the end.

When not sure if you are viewing a crow or raven remember, the American Crow is about two-thirds the size of a Common Raven (Ravens can be almost the size of a Red-tailed Hawk). And Raven tails in flight are wedge shaped.

Habitat: Virtually all types of country from wilderness, farmland, parks, open woodland to towns and cities are inhabited; it is absent only from Pacific temperate rain forests and tundra habitat where it is replaced by the raven.

Territory: The range of the American Crow extends from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean in Canada, on the French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, south through the United States, and into northern Mexico

Migration: This crow is a permanent resident in most of the USA, but Canadian birds can migrate some distances southward in winter.

Diet: American Crow is omnivorous, usually feeding on the ground and will eat almost anything. It will feed on invertebrates of all types, carrion, scraps of human food, seeds, eggs and nestlings, stranded fish on the shore and various grains. American Crows are active hunters and will prey on mice, frogs, and other small animals. In winter and autumn, the diet of American Crows is more dependent on nuts and acorns. Occasionally, they will visit bird feeders. I often see them along roadsides feeding on road-kill.

I have read that “though their bills are large, crows can’t break through the skin of even a gray squirrel.” I have spent time observing crows feed on a gray squirrel that had been hit by a car two days earlier. They were able to break through the skin of the squirrel.

White-throated Sparrow

General: White-throated sparrows are fairly common species. They are fairly abundant and their range is substantial. Compared to many migratory bird populations white-throated sparrow numbers appear to be comparatively stable.

The White-throated Sparrow The White-throated Sparrow comes in two color forms: white-crowned and tan-crowned. What is interesting is that individuals almost always mate with a bird of the opposite coloration. Additionally, both male and female white-stripe birds are more aggressive than the tan-stripe birds.

White-throated sparrows nest either on the ground under shrubs or low in trees. Their eggs are approximately .7″ and are pale-green flecked with brown.

The chicks hatch in about 11 – 14 days and fledge in 7 – 12 days.

The White-throated Sparrow The White-throated Sparrow and the Dark-eyed Junco occasionally mate and produce hybrids.

Identification: The White-throated Sparrow is a large, full-bodied sparrow, roughly 6″ – 7″, with a fairly prominent bill, rounded head, long legs, and long, narrow tail.
White-throated Sparrows are brown above and gray below with a striking head pattern. They have a black-and-white-striped head and a bright white throat and yellow between the eye and the gray bill.

Woodlands, forest edges, residential areas, shelterbelts In the northeastern U.S. and across most of Canada, white-throated sparrows breed in semi-open coniferous and mixed forests that are regenerating following logging, fires, or insect damage, and where secondary growth provides a low, dense understory.
Territory: Found in their summer range from Alaska to Newfoundland, New England, the Great Lakes Region, and much of Canada. It migrates in the southeastern third of the United States.

They mainly eat seeds, insects and berries. They are frequent visitors to bird feeders and can be seen on the ground searching for seeds that have fallen.

Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter
The Audubon Society – Field Guide to North American Birds (Eastern Region)
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Dark-eyed Junco – Junco hyemalis

General: The Dark-eyed Junco is one of the most common birds in North America. Dark-eyed Juncos are birds of the ground. They are common at winter bird feeders and can usually be seen flittering in tree branches and hopping on the ground searching for seeds.

The White-throated Sparrow and the Dark-eyed Junco occasionally mate and produce hybrids.

Dark-eyed Juncos generally nest on or near the ground.

Dark-eyed Juncos eggs are pale green brown spotted occasionally unmarked. the eggs are approximately 7/10ths of an inch.

The chicks will hatch in 12-13 days and will fledge in 9-13 days

Identification: The Dark-eyed Junco is a medium-sized sparrow, 5″ to 6 1/2″ with a rounded head, a short, stout bill and a fairly long, conspicuous tail. In general they’re dark gray or brown birds brightened up by a pink bill and white outer tail feathers that periodically flash open, particularly in flight.

Males tend to have darker, more conspicuous markings than the females.

Juncos vary across the country, in fact up until the 1980’s several variations of the Dark-eyed Junco, Oregon Junco, White-Winged Junco and Slate-Colored Junco were considered separate species.

Inter-breeding occurs where these variations meet.

Habitat: Dark-eyed Juncos breed in coniferous or mixed-coniferous forests ranging from sea level to more than 11,000 feet

Territory: Dark-eyed Juncos can be found from Alaska to Newfoundland south to Mexico and Georgia. They do migrate and in winter can be found as far south as the Gulf coast and Northern Mexico.

Food: Dark-eyed Juncos are primarily seed-eaters. At feeders they seem to prefer millet over sunflower seeds. Dark-eyed Juncos also eat insects.






Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter
The Audubon Society – Field Guide to North American Birds (Eastern Region)
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Cornell Lab of Ornithology

American Goldfinch – Spinus tristis

General: The Goldfinch is the state bird of New Jersey, Iowa, and Washington.
It is migratory, ranging from southern Canada to North Carolina during the breeding season, and from just south of the Canadian border to Mexico during the winter.

They are social birds, and will gather in large flocks while feeding and migrating. They are common visitors to birdfeeders. Often time they are overlooked or misidentified when they are in winter plumage.

American Goldfinches molt their body feathers twice a year, once in late winter and again in late summer.
American Goldfinch nest is an open cup. They typically build in a shrub or low tree in the open. The first Goldfinch nest I found was in a scraggly maple tree in the open about 12′ up in a crotch next to a suburban street

American GoldfinchThe eggs are pale blue and approximately .7″ long. The chicks hatch in about 12 – 14 days and fledge in about another 11 – 17 days.

According to Audubon, the American Goldfinch is a late breeder. This is presumably due to their diet of seeds and when the food source is available. Because they breed late in the season they typically only raise one brood.

Identification: The Goldfinch is approximately 5″. Adult males in spring and early summer are bright yellow with black forehead, black wings with white markings, and white patches both above and beneath the tail. Adult females are duller yellow beneath, olive above. Winter birds are drab, un-streaked brown, with blackish wings and two pale wing bars

Habitat: The goldfinch’s main habitats are weedy fields and grasslands where plants such as thistles and seedAmerican Goldfinch bearing weeds and shrubs grow. They’re also found in farmland and suburban areas.

Territory: American Goldfinches are migratory birds. In summer they can be found as far north as Nova Scotia in the east and British Columbia to the west. They migrate south to the Gulf coast states in the winter. Except for the extreme western deserts, American Goldfinches can be found throughout the contiguous states of the USA.

Diet: Goldfinches eat seeds almost exclusively. At feeders prefers nyjer and sunflower.


Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor

General: The Tufted Titmouse is a small songbird found in North America. They are common at winter bird feeders and often join with other small birds, such as chickadees, to form mixed flocks. Although not as tame as chickadees, I have had the pleasure of having a titmouse land on my hand to take a seed.

They typically nest in tree cavities or bird boxes. Many times Titmice use old woodpecker nests.

Tufted Titmouse eggs are white with brown dots and are approximately 7/10ths of an inch. The chicks will hatch in 13-14 days and will fledge in 15-18 days

Identification: The Tufted Titmouse is approximately 6″, about the size of a sparrow. Tufted Titmice have grey upperparts and white under-parts with a white face, a grey crest, a dark forehead and a short stout bill. Their sides are rust colored. The sexes are similar in appearance.

Habitat: Tufted Titmouse habitat is deciduous and mixed woods as well as gardens, parks, swampy areas and shrubland. They typically are found below 2,000 feet elevation.

Territory: Tufted Titmice are found from Wisconsin/Michigan east to Maine and south Florida into Texas and northeastern Mexico. They are all-year residents in the area of the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern US.

Food: Tufted Titmice are primarily insect eaters but also eat seeds and berries. They are known to hoard food and will often build caches of seeds and nuts from bird feeders.

Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter
The Audubon Society – Field Guide to North American Birds (Eastern Region)
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Cornell Lab of Ornithology