The Bird Garden is located at 3203 route 114 in Edgett's Landing, New Brunswick. We manufacture unique bird feeders, houses, iron hangers and among other things make the best peanut butter suet ever.
We also have a stall at the Moncton Market, Westmorland Street, (but we're closest to the Robinson Street entrance), Moncton, New Brunswick, Saturdays from 7 am - 2 pm.

*****Since we can no longer compete with online discount sites like Amazon, we are no longer carrying commercial feeders. For now, we will be concentrating on our unique feeders and accessories, bear with us while we update our website. *****
Plug your current location in the google maps at the bottom of each page for driving directions to our two locations.

Questions from the past week

The subject of this weeks most frequent question is Robins.  I've been getting several calls and emails a day asking if they could be seeing Robins at this time of year or to  report a sighting.  While it's common to see a few linger every winter in Southern New Brunswick there seems to be more than usual.  I've also had calls from farther north and there's been several reports from folks who've been birding the area for years and not seen Robins at this time of year. 
I doubt it means anything other than a fairly easy winter and lots of fruit left on trees and shrubs from our wet summer.  We could still get some expected winter weather so I wouldn't pull the boats and motorcycles out of storage just yet.  
Another question I received this week was about the lack of an expected feeder bird, the Evening Grosbeak.  If I was to go by my own experience I'd have to agree the numbers are down, when I first moved here Grosbeaks were one of the most common feeder birds in our yard.  They gobbled up a disproportionate amount of my seed budget as well, they've been observed eating 96 sunflower seeds in 5 minutes, that's selecting the best seed, cracking the shell, dropping each half and swallowing the kernel every 3 seconds.  It would be an understatement to say their bills were well adapted to eating seeds.  
Although I don't get the large flocks coming to feeders like in the past there seems to be lots around, other folks are still getting them regularly and in North America, populations are high and their conservation status is listed as "Least Concern".  They do eat a lot of insects, fruit and wild seeds, the flocks we had this fall didn't come to feeders, they were quite happy foraging in the maple trees.  Keep an eye out though, as winter progresses we'll likely have more at feeders.  
There're even more Bald Eagles around this winter, I received a picture today with 9 in one tree, at least 4 different stages of their plumage represented.  The attraction...truck loads of fish arriving at the Cardwell Farms composting facility in Penobsquis.  I often notice a few eagles from the highway on route to Sussex, I've always been rushing to get somewhere and it's a dangerous place to stop, the facility is actually accessed on route 114 (not the same 114 that takes you from Moncton to Alma, we have two, my luck when my wife calls the ambulance to come for me, it'll go the the wrong route 114). 
Over the years the eagle numbers seem to be growing, a group of birders this January counted 90 and figured there were even more.  Some pictures on Birding New Brunswick ( show the large pieces of waste fish that were being eaten in the top of trees.  If this keeps up we'll rival the Annapolis Valley's Eagle Festival.  
The best Eagle watching is on days the fish arrives, you may rely on luck or you may want to give Cardwell Farms a call if you have a long drive. 
There are always a few to be seen around our second most popular Eagle attraction, the Westmoreland Albert Solid Waste Corporation, which isn't all that far from the fish feast.  I wonder if the fish truck drives down Berry Mills Road and the Eagles follow it out to the would be interesting to see how long it takes for 100 Eagles to arrive, from how far away they come and what exactly alerts them to the arrival of the chow.  
At the end of last year I wrote about the best birds of the year and asked for you to let me know if I missed any and I'd include them in a follow up column, I was reminded of the Sandhill Cranes spotted last fall on the Tantramar Marsh.  One or two of these guys show up every now and then in New Brunswick, sometimes when they find a field or lawn they like they stay put for quite a while, allowing lots of us who don't travel much, a first time look.  
Not to be confused with the Great Blue Heron which isoften referred to as a crane, this is a true crane.  The main difference would be noticed in flight, while the heron flies with its neck folded back on itself, the crane flies with the neck fully extended.  A closer look shows a difference in standing and resting posture, (a Sandhill Crane looks like it's wearing a bustle.)  If you can get close looks at the bill, the crane's is long but made more for probing, not the dagger-like weapon the heron sports for catching fish.  
I was also reminded of the invasion of Red-bellied Woodpeckers, I hadn't forgotten this species, I left it out because I had just written about them and mentioned them in two other columns, but they should have been included in the best birds of the year, along with the good numbers of Red-headed Woodpeckers that moved up at the same time.  I still have a male Red-bellied but no luck attracting a Red-headed to the yard.  If you see any different woodpeckers, let me know.

Contributing to Nature, Helping Ourselves

As bird lovers, there are easy things we can do to lend a hand to our feathered friends, of course the bird feeder is the place most of us start.  Feeders help more birds survive winter and in summer, have larger, healthier broods, but that's just the beginning.  For some, protecting birds and their habitat has become a life long campaign that benefits all wildlife, including us.  I don't just mean by having cleaner water and air, although that is a nice by product, I'm thinking of the economic spinoff from ecotoursim, I wonder how many rooms would get booked in the Inns and B and Bs on Mary's Point Road if not for the Sandpipers and just how big of a boost was the Eco-Centre at La dune de Bouctouche is to the local economy.  
So when you're out birding remember to tell as many people as possible why you're in their community spending money, you don't need to carry a soap box, just carry your binoculars...everywhere you go, like a badge of honor.  I'm guilty of slipping my binoculars off when I go into a store or restaurant, now I try to remember to leave them around my neck, they're safer there anyway.  How many binoculars have been stolen off the seat of a car, only left unattended for a minute while you pay for your gas and visit the little birder's room.   They're also less likely to be broken if you wear them, this happens a lot, you'd be take your binoculars off to go into a business, then you drive down the road a bit and see an interesting bird, use your binoculars and set them on your lap.  The next time you get out of the car, you forget that you took the strap from around your neck and your new, expensive binoculars are smashed on the pavement.  Binoculars are synonymous with birdwatching, so leave them on and advertise your hobby.  
Some birders and clubs have cards printed that say something like, "I'm a birdwatcher who came to your area because of it's natural resources.  Protect the area, and the birds who live here and I'll be back."  This can be left on the counter of service stations, convenience stores or table of a restaurant (unless you're a cheap tipper, then it may do more harm than good.)
Other ways to help may be as simple as a polite phone call to the manager of a tall office building to tell them the importance of turning the lights off at night, especially during migration.  Maybe they weren't aware of the birds that are killed when they're attracted to the lights.  (I've actually picked up dead warblers in Moncton.)
Educating friends, family and neighbours on the importance of keeping cats indoors helps birds tremendously, (cats too).  If you don't want to wade into that debate, at the very least lead by example, I once tried to convince someone that outdoor cats are one of the leading causes of population declines for many birds.  Their reply..."our neighbour is the president of the nature club and his cats go outdoors!"  Touché.
Did you know your choices in hot beverages can impact bird populations?  I don't mean you should donate a percentage of your "roll up the rim" winnings to habitat protection, I'm referring to "Bird Friendly" coffee.  This is a certification that first the coffee is grown organically and also the plantation has to have a minimum shade coverage, it's sometimes referred to as Shade Grown, a lot of coffee plantations clear the forest so they can plant more coffee per acre, taking away habitat and increasing erosion and pesticide run-off.  Not to say that all coffee that doesn't have this certificate is grown in a way that has harmed birds or habitat.  Certification is an expense that some of the smaller growers can't afford, it's also likely they can't afford pesticides and fertilizers needed to grow coffee in an unsustainable way, some coffee is grown right in the forest and is hand picked, although this way of growing is best for birds, it's impossible to get certification.  Ask your favourite coffee shop/roaster how their beans were grown.  
There are other fun ways to contribute, simply getting out birdwatching and reporting your finds to various sites, participating in any of the "Citizen Science" programs like The Great Backyard Bird Count, Project Feeder Watch, Christmas Bird Counts and more, show trends in bird populations at various times over the year.  A couple weeks ago I mentioned noticing an increase in Mallards and decrease in Black Ducks in both PEI and Moncton when we did our little Christmas morning bird outing.  After reading more about the Christmas Bird Count on the Audubon website I learned it was because of the annual count this trend was discovered and measures were put into place to correct the decline.  
It would simply be impossible to conduct such a wide spread survey in such a short time without volunteer help.  I also mentioned not being able to access some of the rural bird counts.  I looked into it and it's because there's a $5 fee per counter to submit count data, half of the fee goes to Bird Studies Canada and half to The Audubon Society, this helps cover the cost of analyzing, publishing and maintaining a the website with the data for everyone to access.  
I think if you're going to do a count, pay the gas and spend a day in the cold, you'd want your data to be used as widely as possible.  Also, there's the personal satisfaction of looking back years from now, perhaps with my grandchildren and saying, "Your father and I found this bird, it was the first time ever on a Christmas Bird Count."  A small price to pay for future bragging rights, if it ever happens.  
If there are ways you help birds or their habitat, send them to me and I'll pass them on in a future column.  

Owls of New Brunswick

I was reading a book about owls to my son last night, he kept asking, "Do we get that owl?"  I'd look at the picture and say yes or no but when I'd read the page on each owl I found out we only got one of the owls that were written up in the book.  Many of them looked like our owls but were different species from other continents.  
He said I should write a column on owls and I replied that I didn't really know enough about owls to write a whole column.  By the time we finished he had me convinced to write a column on New Brunswick's owls.  
The first owl in the book was the Barn Owl, he didn't ask me if we got it or not because he was sure we did.  It took a minute to realize he was doing what many people do, he confused the Barn Owl with the Barred Owl, which is his all time favourite owl.  
When he was very young, before he could walk, we had him parked on a blanket on the floor and I was keeping him entertained with my excellent renditions of owl calls. (I know 4, actually 5 if you count two that sound the same but different cadence).  I was doing the Barred's who-cooks-for-you , who-cooks-for-you-all, when I sneezed at the end.  It came out as who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-aaaaaachooooo, he went wild and when he settled down he was asking for more, I hooted until my lips hurt and for the next few years I'd use it to get him out of a bad mood and to entertain him on long drives.  
Reading the kids book he asked me what sound the Barn Owl makes and I said I can't do that one, it's a kind of screech I think.  He said no, no you know how and did the Barred Owl sneezing.  That's when I clued in to the common confusion.  After we got that straighten out, I said, "Is that why you hang around the Barn Owl cage at the zoo so much?"  
He said, "Yeah, I was waiting for one to sneeze."
I vaguely remember one Barn Owl being reported in the wild since I moved here, it was over a dozen years ago and it was either found dead or died shortly after.  
The Barred Owl (lots of emphasis on the "d") is fairly common, as far as owls go.  We hear them quite a bit, I got in trouble one night for waking my son up to hear one.  My wife got up to see what was going on and we were sitting in his bedroom with our heads out the window, in February.  He went right back to sleep and in the morning thought he'd had a dream.  No harm, not even a sniffle, thankfully since my wife watched very carefully, so she could say, "Told you so."
There are 12 owls on the New Brunswick bird list, 8 or 9 could be expected in any given year.  The Barn, Screech and Burrowing Owls are rare, I didn't even know we ever hosted a Burrowing Owl, too bad I lost my copy of New Brunswick Birds, An Annotated Checklist, maybe somebody'll send me the details.  
I know some of you will say, "I hear Screech Owls all the time."  But, you have to remember that all owls that screech aren't Screech Owls, the same as all owls that hoot aren't "hoot owls".  The Great Horned both hoots and screeches.  The Long-eared hoots and makes a noise that could be called a screech, if that's how you'd describe a cat with it's tail caught in a fan belt.  Google it and imaging being alone at night, deep in the woods and hearing that directly overhead.  (I just played it from BirdTunes and the Guinea Pig is still flipping out.)
I went my whole life, and the last 20 odd years searching without luck, for an owl pellet, last winter my son was literally finding them everywhere.  An owl pellet is a small oblong package containing the bones and fur of the owls meal, the ones he was finding looked very much like a single piece of poop about 2.5 inches long.  The first was in the driveway on the way to the car, silly me, I look in the woods.  He said he thought it was a pellet, I glanced and agreed but said I doubted there'd be one in the middle of the driveway.  When I stepped back and looked up, it was directly under the power line coming into the house, which was also directly over the ground feeder, full of rodent attracting cracked corn.  I went back to take a closer look, he'd already teased out a skull and several bones.  Chalk another one up for the 6 year old.  
Then he just started showing off, he was finding them everywhere, I don't know if it's because he's so interested in scat (fancy naturalist term for poop) or because he's so close to the ground.  We'd be walking down a trail, he'd fan out his arms and legs like a crime scene technician that found an important piece of evidence in a crowded room, and yell, "OWL PELLET".  So, now we have a bag of owl pellets in the freezer that I'd just as soon not know the origin, (the skulls are large and they're rodent) and I have a whole new appreciation for owls, as I've not seen any of these large rodents around myself.  
Most of my owl knowledge and everything worth writing about comes from hanging around with my kid.  I'm sure I can say that about a lot of things.   

Looking Beyond the Backyard

If you’re an aspiring birdwatcher and want to see something other than the birds you’ve been attracting to the backyard, it’s soon going to be a great time to get out get your feet wet...figuratively and literally.  There are already a few puddle ducks around, and soon they will be everywhere, the prime hotspots are usually the first places to have open fresh water.  So check where there is moving water, at the head of a pond and in the “channel”, where the water will be moving faster.  On warm days any roadside ditch could be productive.  The best place to look on cold days, when most of the fresh water will be frozen, is right at the end of the pipe at your local sewage lagoon (and yes, when I say “fresh water”, I mean not salt.)  
Soon our resident hoards of Mallards will be joined by a much more diverse crowd, so if you see a green head in the ditch, don’t automatically assume it’s a that of the Mallard.  I’ve seen the beautiful Northern Shoveler in the ditch and the little wetland area at the corner of Vaughn Harvey and Assumption, pretty cool sighting in the city.  
I got my feet wet at the Gray Brook Marsh in Hillsborough, even though I’d been seeing ducks my whole life, I never really stopped to look at them.  Once I did, there was no turning back, I was hooked.  If you’ve never really looked at ducks you’re missing out.  I can’t think of many things in New Brunswick more beautiful than the Wood Duck, but many of the others rank high on the list.  
The same as the sparrows mentioned last week, this time of year is easier to differentiate the species.  The males are in there finest feathers, the females are a little tougher to identify, but it’ll only get harder as the season progresses, feathers wear and molt and those pesky immatures are hanging around to confuse us.  The other nice thing… the females are usually hanging around with males of their species, so at least you have a clue where to look in the field guide.  Also, if you get birding before all the ice is out, the ducks will be easier to find, when the ice is gone, the ducks will be able to hide better in the longer grass around the edges.  Then they will be nesting and more likely to be disturbed by nosey birders, not that it’s OK to disturb them early in the spring, one should always try to observe from a respectable distance.  If the ducks flush, you got too close.  I like the largest pond in the Gray Brook Marsh because it opens down the middle first, it’s a good distance from the road for observing with binoculars, (no scope required) and you shouldn’t have to disturb any birds.  On cold or rainy days you can see most of the open water from the shelter of your vehicle.  
New Brunswick is a great place to be for waterfowl migration, one of the first to show up will be the Ring-necked Duck, then others will be joining, maybe the merganser trio, Common, Red-breasted and Hooded, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Black Duck, Wood Duck, Northern Shoveler, Pie-billed Grebe and the Greater and Lesser Scaup.  A little later and the teals will make an appearance, Blue-winged and Green-winged.  Not to mention the more rare species that may turn up, somewhere there’ll be a Redhead Duck, maybe Eurasian Wigeon or Teal, maybe a Gadwall (although maybe not all that rare, I’ve never seen one, so I’ll list it here).  
Don’t forget to check the long grass, when the snow melts, you’ll maybe see Sora, (you’ll no doubt hear this secretive little bird first, they’re hard to spot), you might see other rails as well, American Bittern, Great Blue Heron and maybe some of the more rare herons, Little Blue, Tricolored, Least Bittern, the Night-Herons, who knows, but if you see any of these last mentioned “more rare” herons on your first trip out, I don’t want to hear about it.  Everyone has a few birds they can’t seem to get lucky with, these are mine.  When I was younger and more foolish, I spent hours at Waterside Marsh when one of these were reported.  
If you venture toward the brackish marsh and salt water you’ll find a whole other world of ducks.  The Bay of Fundy is a major migratory route for sea ducks, and since it narrows nicely, the ducks get funneled in as they fly up the bay and into the rivers, making it easy to spot them from shore.  You could see thousands of ducks flying over Moncton/Dieppe as they cross overland, to the Northumberland Strait.  (I’m the guy holding up traffic in the left turn lane at Champlain Place, counting ducks while you lean on your horn).
Most of the sea ducks you’ll see will be Common Eider, and the Scoters, (pronounced with a long “O”), Black, Surf and White-winged.  They are usually flying, but you may see some riding the incoming tide or rafting in a sheltered area in the bay.  You may even step outside on a calm night and hear the wing whistle of migrating scoters.  One of my favorites is the Long-tailed Duck, they’re around in the winter but you’ll see them migrating as well.  There are some rarities that’ll show up in this crowd too, a King Eider, Tufted or Harlequin Duck would definitely raise my heart rate and make my day. 
Although there are some challenges when it comes to identifying ducks, most of them have big, obvious field marks that jump out at you.  You’ll still need a field guide or very good memory, but differentiating them (especially the males) is doable.  Mother Nature has messed with our minds a little, some ducks are hybridizing with other species, so keep that in mind.  If you see something that looks like someone photoshopped two species into one, that’s quite possible what it is.  The Mallard x Black Duck is the common one, and often shows up as an identification challenge, the males usually show some green on the head, but the females can be difficult.  A female Mallard can be hard to differentiate from a Black Duck, a quick gaunt around the internet and you’ll see many such errors.  One good field mark is the white tail feathers on the Mallard, the problem is if they’ve been dragging their butts up the banks of the Petitcodiac the tail’s no longer white, making them look even more like a Black Duck.  A special challenge for area birders.  

Red-breasted Nuthatch in New Brunswick

The first bird to eat out of my hand was a Red-breasted Nuthatch, I was trying to convince some Chickadees to come to my handful of sunflower, I took the feeder down and held my hand out in the same location.  The Chickadees were having nothing to do with that, they did however continue using the feeder that I was holding between my legs.  I was watching this when I felt the faintest weight change on my palm, when I glanced back at my hand, there was a Nuthatch staring me right in the eye.  He chirped a little thank you and darted back into the tree.  Him and a couple of his Nuthatch buddies came to my hand regularly from that day on, for some reason the Chickadees wouldn't join in.  When one finally came to my hand, it was only a matter of minutes before a dozen were alternating turns with the Nuthatch.  By the middle of that winter the two species were following me all over, even jumping into the seed bucket when I walked around filling feeders.  
It's been a few years since I've had time to slow down and let these little guys train me to always carry a pocket full of sunflower seeds.  I do have to work on it though, there's no better therapy than holding a tiny bird in your if I can just get my son to sit still long enough. 
I saw a neat tip for hand feeding wild birds, a lady stuffed a pair of coveralls, made a fake head with one of those realistic rubber masks, (I think it was Clinton) and a fake hand.  It was all placed on a lawn chair and the "hand" and lap were filled with sunflower seeds.  The birds soon got accustom to the face and would land for the seeds.  Any time the creator wanted to experience hand feeding she just sat in Bill's lap with a handful of seeds.  Clinton of course, denied the whole arrangement.
I've seen pictures of Blue and Gray Jays coming to feed in people's hands, I'm sure that takes a lot of time and patience and I've seen hummingbirds coming to hand held nectar feeders and recently a video of them coming to a bit of nectar held in a cupped palm (really cool, it's on YouTube).
The Red-breasted Nuthatch still holds a special place, being my first, we still have a few dashing to and from the sunflower feeders or hanging, usually up-side-down from the suet feeder.  Like the Chickadee they grab a seed and take it to a nearby branch to open, unlike the Chickadee who holds the seed between its feet to beat them open, the Nuthatch finds a suitable piece of raised bark or crevice to hold the seed while it hammers it open.  (Somewhere on the evolutionary chain, the Nuthatch must have hit its thumb one too many times.)  If the seed pops out the bird wastes no time zooming to the ground to retrieve it, honoring the 5 second rule.  Once my old Golden was sleeping under a tree, a Nuthatch dropped a seed on her back, it rummaged through her hair, teased the seed out and was back in the tree before she woke up (although I'm pretty sure it was our laughing that woke her). 
    The Red-breasted is our most common nuthatch, we're often privileged to spot the odd White-breasted in our yard, although not even once a year on average.  When they do stop by our yard they usually stay for a few weeks, it gives us a chance to get familiar with their similar but different calls.  Their behavior is pretty much the same as their cousin, but they are larger, the breast is all white and they have a big white cheek that appears even larger because they don't have the black eye-line breaking it up, like the Red-breasted.  
The last time we had one, I called my son to sneak over for a look, when he saw it he said, "yeah, must have followed us from Grandpa's..." and walked away unimpressed, he'd just returned from Ontario, where White-breasted are the common Nuthatch. 
There are other nuthatch species, but none of them come to New Brunswick, yet anyway.  We have a couple other birds you might subconsciously think are Red-breasted Nuthatch, only because of their size and the way they forage around the tree bark.  By taking a closer look you might find new bird for one or two of your various lists.   
Last spring my son called me to the window to see a bird he thought might be a Nuthatch by the way he was scooting around the tree, but it was all "stripy", when we relocated the bird we found a Black-and-white Warbler.  They are among the first warblers to return each spring, because it forages for food in tree bark it can migrate earlier, before there are many flying insects that most warblers dine on.  
From a distance, at a quick glance, the Brown Creeper resembles a Nuthatch, watch it for a bit though and you see a difference in the way it moves, more mouse-like and it goes up the tree head-first.  Not the way the Nuthatch comes down the tree, head-first, giving it a local nickname, that when I first moved here thought was an Albert County thing, but now I hear it in most of South Eastern New Brunswick.  The first time I heard it was from my 80-something neighbour who told me she had one in her yard yesterday.  ("I had an ___-__ in my yard yesterday!")  All that summer I avoided pointing my binoculars in that direction.  Raise your hand if you know what I'm talking about.  

Identifying the Little Brown Birds that will be coming along any day..

We’re only a couple weeks away from another major migration, unlike the hawks that I mentioned last week, this one won’t be specks in the sky, it’ll happen right on the ground.  Well, not the migration, it’s not like they walk north, but you’ll see them on the ground and with very little preparation, you’ll be able to see a lot out of your own window. 
I’m talking about sparrows, we have a few around now, the American Tree Sparrow is one that we really only see in winter and they are in good numbers.  There could be the odd representative of almost any sparrow over winter, Song and White-throated Sparrows aren’t uncommon in winter and the odd rarity will show up and decide it’s easier to stick it out here than try to make the long, dangerous journey south.  
Soon though, we will have thousands of sparrows passing through and if you don’t have them on your various lists, it’s a good time to brush up on field marks and get ready with a little feed.  So many people simply pass over sparrows when birding, lumping them into one category, LBB’s (little brown birds) or LBJ’s (little brown jobs).  I remember hearing the latter for the first time, a birder from the US, I thought he was saying this beautiful Savannah Sparrow reminded him of their former president.  I just let it go.  
If you don’t take a closer look you’re really missing out, and now is the time to see them at their best and brightest.  They’ll be wearing there finest plumage and the differences will be standing out (and outstanding), later in the summer and fall they’ll have worn feathers, be molting and those pesky immatures will be hanging around in their drab feathers.  Spring is the time, once you are comfortable with identifying adult males move on to adult females, then after a few years and many hours studying you might get proficient with the fall sparrows.  If you say you just can’t tell the difference between a spring Savannah, Song and a White-throated male, then you aren’t really trying. 
Start by narrowing the groups, does it have a streaked breast?  Yes, then it’s a Savannah or Song.  That was easy... does it show yellow through the streaks on the head?  Then it’s a Savannah.  You say, the White-throated also shows some yellow, but the White-throated has a clear breast, it’s an elimination game, you just need a few broad clues to greatly narrow the choices.  
The other broad group is the rusty capped sparrows, Chipping, Tree, Field or Swamp would be the first choices.  Dot on the breast...Tree.  Black line through the eye, white line over… Chipping.  Pink bill, white eye ring… Field.  White throat, no wing bars... Swamp.  I know that’s simplifying it, but it’s a great place to start.  There’s always going to be some that will leave you scratching your head, but if you don’t dive in you’ll never get it.
For beginners I’d recommend an “Eastern” guide, even checking facts for this column I had to ditch the “big” Sibley’s guide, there are so many species included, it’s hard to keep them straight.  I still go to Peterson (but Sibley’s Eastern is great too) for our common sparrows, I’m familiar with the layout and without Peterson, I’d still be glancing over the LBB’s and really missing out.  Soon I’ll get with the times and have all the guides on an iPod or iPad so I can have all the experts in my back pocket.  It’s about time, all my (very) much older birding friends have one, and I can always get my 6 year old to teach me how to find things.  
Now that you’re ready with guide in hand, you’re really going to need a pair of binoculars, they don’t have to be great or even good for that matter, but if the bird is much more than 20 feet away you won’t be able to see the subtleties.  Find that old pair you inherited from WW1, dust them off, polish the up, and put them on the window sill.  
To make things easier and to increase your chances of attracting many of our sparrow species, pick up some white millet.  It can be fed on a raised platform, (fancy name for a board nailed to the top of a post) or just spread on the ground.  Put it within viewing distance of the window you spend the most time.  All winter I throw it on the snow, in evergreen trees and in the middle of a very dense honeysuckle bush.  Some gets eaten by our winter sparrows, juncos and Mourning Doves, but I know a lot of it get covered by snow.  No big deal, it’s very waterproof, compared to some things like cracked corn, and as the snow melts and the sparrows arrive, it’ll be exposed and eaten.  If you do feed cracked corn, put it in an area separate from your sparrow setup, it’ll be attracting all kinds of black birds and jays, not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just they will be needlessly chasing the sparrows away from the millet. 
Once you attract the sparrows and have some identified, watch them, you can learn a lot more by observing their behavior, seeing them from all sides and how they compare to the other sparrows in the bunch than you ever will from a photograph.  
There might be some other interesting birds show up to ground fed millet.  Here’s a short checklist of what you might expect, in loose order from “likely” to “probably not” then “unfortunately”:
Clicking the bird name links to a picture on Birding New Brunswick.

  • Song Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • American Tree Sparrow
  • Field Sparrow
  • Fox Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Lincoln's Sparrow
  • Lark Sparrow
  • Snow Bunting
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Mourning Dove
  • Rock Pigeon
  • House Sparrow
  • Dickcissel
  • Bobolink (F)

Decreasing Black Ducks, Increasing Mallards

Last week I mentioned birding around my old home town on Christmas Day, it reminded me of the changes that I've noticed since I was a kid. I used to do some hunting and my father and brother were fanatical, I don't recall seeing many mallards back then, now we're finding Mallards anywhere there's still open water. If PEI is anything like the Greater Moncton area, when the water freezes they move into parks and bird feeder yards.
The Mallard is well known for hybridizing or crossbreeding with other species of ducks, perhaps the most common cross is the Mallard x Black Duck. The males of the cross are rather easy to spot, they usually look like a Black Duck with variable amounts of green feathers on the head, especially if you're looking at a backcross (offspring of a hybrid mating back to purebred) and they often have the Mallard's curled tail feathers. The females tend to be more tricky to identify but when found with female Mallards, she will be darker, or the speculum (the bright patch of metallic feathers on the wing) will have white but not as much white as the rest of the Mallards.
When the Mallard chooses the Northern Pintail the male offspring are spectacular, it reminds me of a science fiction movie about gene splicing, the first time I saw this photo by Denis Doucet I thought it was photoshopped. It has the shape of a Pintail but the head's green, there's a ring around the neck and the long "pin tail" is curled a bit like a Mallard's.
Mallards will cross breed with the much smaller Green-winged Teal, the result being confusing at first but once you start thinking hybrid it's easy enough to pick out the characteristics of both parents.
In 1822 JJ Audubon shot a duck he'd never seen before, after careful observations he decided it was a new species and named it the Brewer's Duck, after an ornithologist friend of his, Thomas Brewer. He proceeded to prop it up in a typical Audubon pose and paint it for the record. He describes this "species" in depth (easily found online), but mentions that it may be, and he hit the nail on the head, "a hybrid between that bird [Mallard] and some other species, perhaps the Gadwall, to which also it bears a great resemblance."
So what's the harm in the Mallard spreading their genes far and wide, other than confusing and perhaps embarrassing the most accomplished birder (I'd never be embarrassed, some of these are way over my head). The problem is, and it's more a function of captive-raised Mallards being released into the Black Ducks breeding range and taking over. The Black Duck's populations decreased greatly in the middle of the last century, I hadn't known this until I was looking at an Ontario hunting license and noticed the daily bag limit for Blacks was 1 when Wood Ducks were 3 (they're 2 now), I'd been away from hunting and not yet into birding and didn't know the Black Duck was in decline.
Decreasing daily limits was one of the solutions implemented in 1983 and in 1989 the Canada and the United States started the Black Duck Joint Venture. The BDJV monitors populations, researches and educates groups to conserve habitat and manage Black Ducks and other species that share its range. The Black Duck population is increasing but remains below the desired level.
A quick check of the Christmas Bird Count historical data found on the site shows more of what I've been noticing locally. (If you can find and figure this site's loaded with great information.) In the 1984-85 count there were 434 American Black Ducks and 185 Mallard in the Moncton count; in 1991-92 it was 109 to 52, then it skips to 2002-03 where it flips to 1016 Mallard to 46 Black and last year, (this year hasn't been compiled yet) it was 1551 Mallard to 36 Black Ducks.
It doesn't, by itself, spell doom for the Black Duck, it may be the Mallards are heading to urban areas for hand outs. The rural NB counts that I could get into don't show such a change in populations.

Herons in New Brunswick

Quick, how many herons do we get in New Brunswick?  Most of us would say one, the Great Blue Heron, some of us who listen to the news might hear the odd rare bird story and be able to name one or two more herons.  Then some of us may have read through the field guide and seen a few more herons, we noticed these because they have "heron" in the name, then we notice they are very similar to some of these other birds that we had no idea were herons, so we decide to count New Brunswick's heron species.  Did you know there are 12 species documented in our province?  
Sure some of these are very rare and cause quite a stir when located, but many are very common and many of the uncommon herons show up often enough that the novelty wears off...a bit.
I grew up calling the Great Blue a crane, but there are differences, the most obvious being the neck.  A heron has special vertebrae allowing it to coil their neck into an S shape, then spring it to full length to catch fish (and many other prey).  A crane's food tends to be much slower, grain, seeds, invertebrates, so they don't need the spring-loaded neck to catch it.  This difference is most evident in flight, herons fly with their neck folded back, so they look like they have a very short neck and large crop, a crane flies with its neck fully extended, like a goose.  
The Great Blue is a common site along any of our coasts, inland ponds, lakes and streams.  They'll fish any water shallow enough for them to wade in, but they'll eat almost anything small enough to swallow, including frogs, mice and bugs.  
They're hardy birds, some show up on the NB winter list every year, and there are usually a few on Christmas Bird Counts.  Until recently, (7 years ago to be exact), we'd have time on Christmas day to take a little drive around central PEI, the day wouldn't be complete without at least one heron (and kingfisher).  As winter progresses and more of the open water freezes over these birds surely have to head for warmer climates, but they're back at the first sign of open water, trying to be first to stake claim on the best breeding grounds.
  The next most common of our herons is the much smaller and inconspicuous American Bittern, they take camouflage to a whole new level, extending their neck and bills straight up and even swaying with the reeds.  When you see one it's usually luck, or you almost tripped over it.  They'll often stay put and rely on their camo, I used to have a Peterson's CD rom and on many of the species pages you could click the RTP icon and listen to Roger Tory himself give a personal account of that bird.  He told of the time he walked right up to a bittern and picked it up, unfortunately the bird didn't really like this and its neck was longer than Roger's arms.  He got struck in the lip and since could never "grow a proper mustache".  Every now and then someone will drop by with a box full of injured bird, if the description sounds anything like a heron I hear Roger's voice and reach for the full face shield I use for metal work and very carefully open the box.  It's one thing to be pecked in the crotch by a gander who thinks the park is his exclusive territory, getting stabbed in the face by the herons dagger-like bill would leave a more lasting mark.  
Three egrets make somewhat routine forays into New Brunswick, last week I mentioned the Cattle Egret and Great Egret as being a couple good birds for 2011, the Snowy Egret also impresses us occasionally.  Size wise they're in the middle of the two above, they too are all white, the bill though is dark and the most impressive difference has the be the black legs with contrasting bright yellow feet, they look like they're wearing rubber gloves.  
We get two "night-herons", the Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned, the first being common the latter, rare; although I've yet to see either.  I guess as I get older I'm no longer as active at night, maybe this'll be the year I stake out a likely marsh at dusk.  
The rest of the heron family would create a buzz when they venture into our area, the Green Heron is similar in size and shape to the bittern, they're one of the few tool-using birds, they use bait like worms, insects even crusts of bread to lure fish to the surface where they become heron dinner.  
The Least Bittern resembles a small Green Heron, these little guys can forage in deeper waters where their longer legged cousins can't fish.  They are small enough to straddle reeds or walk on vegetation.  
The Little Blue Heron is a medium-sized heron, the adults are a uniformly dark blue, they lack any of the contrasting white, black and rufous of it's Great cousin.  Where these guys would trip me up is in juvenile plumage, they're all white, size is one indicator, but it's hard to judge size of a lone distant bird, so you may have to do a bit of detective work, checking for yellow rubber gloves, leg and bill colour to rule out any possible similar herons. 
The Tricolored Heron is another of medium size, mostly similar to the Little Blue, but they do have contrasting white on the belly, throat and head plumes. 
I have to be honest, until today I didn't know a Little Egret had ever ventured into New Brunswick, it must have been a tricky identification, they are only distinguished from the Snowy Egret by careful study of the lores (area between eye and bill), leg colour and plumes.