Animals, birds, Family, Life Lessons, Nature, photography, Seasons, Uncategorized

Give Me the Bird – Birding & Bird Calls in New England

How many birds can you identify by their calls?

A crow – pretty easy, a duck- every kindergartner knows that “quack”, but what else do you know?




Did you know lots of birds have complete repertoires to sing? Bluejays, for instance, have their emergency signal that they pass to each other when one is injured or a predator lurks. They have another kind of deep chime-like sound, too.

Each spring, I became convinced that my maple tree housed a rousing bird bacchanal in the paling darkness before dawn. Dozens of bird songs, every single morning. But it was not the work of party animals. It was one desperate, lonely dude looking for love. In fact male mockingbirds woo and

A Murder of Crows and Fish Crows

coo with more than 30 amour inducing songs/pick up lines. And they keep their options open by learning to sing the love songs of dozens of other species of birds. At 4 am when the lovelorn mockingbird starts to recycle the same lines as if stuck on the bird version of auto repeat, I’d beg to be left to sleep til dawn; meanwhile the sanity of the fictional Finch family comes into question.

Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat  up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Harper Lee from “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Duck Butts

Recently I heard a different song, more a crazy duet, coming from my roof top – ducks and crows singing together: “Caw Quack, Quack Caw”.  Yet the  48X digital zoom on my camera failed to locate the sources of the avian mash up. Plenty of crows, but I couldn’t find the duck.


Snowy Egret

Then, a chance meeting with a birdwatcher from Merrimack Valley Bird Club gave me the opportunity to ask a seemingly ridiculous question: “Is it possible some of my crows have laryngitis that makes them sound like ducks?” Remarkably, she didn’t laugh, and she had the answer: “Fish Crow”.  A fish crow looks very much like a typical American Crow, but is a relative newcomer in New England. They recently moved into coastal areas of southern New England from the southeast. At sunset, our native crows  enjoy riding the thermals in large groups of friends before heading to roost for the night, and now these new birds have been accepted as part of the flock. And they say Northerners aren’t friendly! If you want to hear what I heard, check out this website.

I had a lot of questions and a receptive reference source: Is the female Baltimore Oriole more canary yellow than orange (yes), what’s the Holy Grail of birdwatching, has she seen anything unusual lately?

Turkeys watching the sunset

(Recently a lesser Bittern on Plum Island). Is this blurry bird on my camera most likely a blue bird? (yes) I showed her some of my bird photos from this summer and she said, “You’re obviously a birder, would you be interested in joining our club?”

“Obviously a birder?” No I’m not. I just notice stuff flying around me and I use a telephoto lens to compare native birds to the illustrations in my Golden Books Birds of North America guide and try to figure out who’s singing what.

Oh….  Am I really this oblivious? First I find out I’m a gardener, and now I’m a birder. What next, a bunny lover?

Great Blue Heron flees the paparazzi

My bird stalking skill is still in its infancy. An outcropping really of my nature loving wanderlust. I traipse the  waterfront, fresh or salt, and the woods, and fields and my yard. But my photos seem to suggest a penchant for water birds.

Right now, I’ve got my mind and camera focused on a Great Blue Heron living nearby. I’ve captured him just standing there any number of times, but I want to up the picture-taking ante and capture some sort of action shot. But so far he watches me for a while and then just squawks a loud and discordant bird profanity before swooping off obscured by trees. I’m sure as soon as some swan gets him to admit he’s a “peopler”, he’ll become a more willing model, just as I’ve become a more willing birder.

NOTE: Not one of the photos in this blog were taken specifically for the blog. I had them all in my archives including the header shots which to my untrained eye could be L-R: Tree Swallow, Goldfinch, Robin, Sandpiper, Grey Goose, Red Bellied Woodpacker

©2012 by Alison Colby-Campbell

7 thoughts on “Give Me the Bird – Birding & Bird Calls in New England”

  1. I got a kick out of this! Nice to find out you belong to another “group,” isn’t it? Watch the move Big Year, if you haven’t seen it yet! 🙂


  2. Thank you! I’ve heard American Crows my entire life (southwestern Pa—I’m 52), but only began hearing ‘quacking’ crows in the past few years. I decided to investigate online, came across your blog this morning & now know that it’s Fish Crows I’ve been hearing, rather out of their normal range.


    1. thanks so much for reading…. I love learning new things. In fact this morning at 630 am or so from my back deck I saw what I thought was a Baltimore Oriole whose color was so brilliant who probably should have moved on by now, but then I get me zoom lens and realize it is a Robin that just caught the early sun in a remarkable way that made it’s color seem different. In fact there was quite a collection of robins…these may be the migrating type practicing their flocking before the great migration or the type from Canada that tend to stick around and over winter. In any event, a very pretty sight to behold.


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