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June 3-20 Bird Sightings

The courting birds in May are now either incubating their eggs or feeding and protecting their young ones, that is, those who have not lost their eggs or hatchlings to predators. Even though the Painted Turtle does not incubate her eggs, herself, she is seeking a favorite dry and sunny spot in the ground to deposit her eggs – the Earth will be the incubator.

The Common Eider hatchlings were few and far-between during the first days of June in Wharf Cove and the South Shore/Picnic Point locations. Michelle observed only three in Woodlanding Cove, and they seemed to disappear. Female eiders were seen along the South Shore and Backshore without young in tow, sometimes with the males. Michelle suggested that perhaps the female eiders were unable to bulk up on enough nutritional requirements for their egg production. However, several days later ~ 13 baby eiders appeared in Wharf Cove where at high tide the seaweed-fly larvae were again abundant – protein rich morsels for the chicks. Female eiders without chicks (“aunts”) assist the mother eiders, providing extra protection from predators. The male eiders are of no help with the young, with good reason you see – they are in the beginning of a complete feather molt leaving them flightless and vulnerable to predators themselves. However, the males do hover nearby their mate while she incubates her eggs. She will on occasion come off the nest to drink, but not eat, and at that time the male stays close-by to her. The males are gradually leaving here, though, to join other large groups of males in ‘retreats’ to molt in protected areas, somewhere in the Gulf of Maine. Over 7,000 male eiders have been recorded in the Petit Manan Island archipelago, and 10,000 in the Metinic Island archipelago (1).

Female Common Eiders and Chicks

The following day, ~ 22 hatchlings were seen in Woodlanding Cove surrounded by eleven protective female eiders – mothers and aunts. These eiders, too, were feeding at high tide on fly larvae or small invertebrates in the floating seaweed mat. The trick to chick survival is having as many female escorts as possible. Seagulls are abundant, and they are big and hungry with their own chicks to feed.

Lobsterboat, Bucko and Numerous Seagulls

The Bald Eagle is not abundant but they are huge and hungry and adept at plucking fish from the sea. A floating eider chick is easy prey. Two years ago I spotted a crow carrying an eider chick. The female eiders show no concern when a Double-crested Cormorant flies over their young, but a seagull, even slightly nearby elicits immediate alarm. The mother eider expresses her alarm with a distinct ‘grunt’ call. The aunts and chicks immediately rush into a tight ball. To get to safety a chick will ‘run’ over the water’s surface - a tiny puffball with little wings and big webbed feet.

Female Common Eiders and Chicks in a Ball

If a seagull approaches too closely, the female eider will jab and attack it. This strategy is effective, but not for those independent chicks that wander off in search of perhaps more plump larvae and bottom invertebrates – away from the protective covering of the female eiders:

Lone Common Eider Chick

And yes, the hatchlings can actually dive with all of their puffy down feathers; these feathers are ‘wettable’ (Please see May blog for details). Listen closely to the chicks, they utter a high-pitched note of contentment while feeding or a monosyllabic piping when distressed (2).

For whatever reason, by June 1, only 4 out of the original 13 chicks were left in Wharf Cove and Spar Cove. The chicks on the South Shore have so far faired better with two groups of ~ 20 chicks (with many mothers and aunts) feeding in the cove at Picnic Point. A lone mother is a good target and is frequently seen with only a few chicks in her protection:

Lone Mother Common Eider and Chicks

Several observers initially saw a female Black Duck with her 10 hatchlings on Brackett Pond. Michelle watched them as the mother led her chicks up 3rd Street from the South Shore, returning to the pond. What was her strategy? It was a risky venture. She must be a savvy protector of her young for, as of June 16, there were nine young following her. How has she kept them from harms way when the Bald Eagles frequent the pond for bathing and perhaps a meal.

Female Black Duck and Ducklings, Brackett Pond

Female Black Duck and Ducklings, 3rd St

Photo © Michelle Brown

Bald Eagle Drying Wings at Brackett Pond

One early day in June a roar of crow calls was heard at Brackett Pond. Generally one can observe mobs of 6-20 American Crows chasing potential predators of their own chicks. However this mob of crows consisted of nearly 100 individuals – all screaming at one time. How did the 2-3 crow families around the Brackett Pond woods gather others together into such a large crowd? From where did they come so quickly? Whatever interest this eagle had at the pond, the crows wanted nothing to do with it and drove the large bird away. Crows in fewer numbers were also seen driving immature eagles (all brown coloration as compared to black and white of the mature eagles) offshore toward Ram and Cushing Island. The young eagles may have been in route to the seagull (Herring and Black-backed Gulls) and Double-crested Cormorant rookeries on Ram Island. On one occasion I observed a flurry of activity on this small island. Even at a distance it was clear that there was a large brown predator flying amongst the disturbed seagulls and cormorants. It descended to the ground, perhaps to grab one of their chicks.

Crows relentlessly attack our resident Common Raven pair to the extent that they probably left their long-standing nesting area near Brackett Pond due to these smaller but abundant 'cousins'. If the ravens now come close to the Brackett Pond woods, the crows will consolidate into a mob of ~ 6-20 screaming banshees.

American Crow Family

Their dive-bomb technique is to fly high above the perched raven where they get the best speed and accuracy, followed by a rapid descent from their azimuth. Any contact would surely result in two dead birds, so the crow must pull out of its dive at the last moment. The technique is effective; it drives off the raven. During flight the crows continue their attack, but the raven can now defend itself by rolling over 180-degrees exposing its talons, that could pluck the offender from the sky. The crows appear to respect this maneuver. My understanding from literature written on raven behavior is that they will not kill their corvid cousins, the crow (3, 4), but perhaps no one has told the crows yet.

The great news is that the ravens have four fledglings and they are very busy feeding, protecting and teaching essential survival strategies to them. These highly intelligent birds require more nurturing than most, and will not be weaned from their parents until the end of summer and into fall, at which time the parents chase them off to fend for themselves. These immature ravens will hopefully find other sub-adult ravens that form groupings or ‘gangs’ until they have learned from each other the skills required to be productive adult ready to select a mate, to breed, to build a nest, and to care for young themselves (3, 4).

Juvenile Common Ravens

The Glossy Ibises and Black-crowned Night Herons can be seen in several of the ponds and marshes on the island. Two observers, one man from the mainland who came over to PI for the day to enjoy our birds and one man on his bicycle near Brackett Pond, commented on how lovely it is to see the Glossy Ibis here.

Glossy Ibis at Brackett Pond

The breeding population appears to be moving its way up the eastern coast to Maine. Sibley’s Guide to Birds shows their breeding range extending from the southerly eastern seaboard to the southern tip of Maine, with spotty occurrences in other parts of the state (5). Hopefully they will find their favorite foods in enough abundance in the ponds that can support raising their young here. Did anyone see juvenile ibises last year?

Black-crowned Night Heron at Beaver Pond

The return of the Black-crowned Night Herons is a treat to see here on the island. Last fall juveniles were observed in Brackett Pond. This heron is currently on Maine’s Threatened Species List. This spring the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee voted to elevate this heron’s status from ‘threatened’ to ‘endangered’ (Bill LD807)(6).

The Black Guillemots have been seen off the Backshore – one was in its non-breeding plumage (immature?) and one in its elegant plumage of all black except for a white-wing patch, and red inner beak and legs. One can see Maine Audubon’s white tent on Outer Green Island where interns monitor the breeding pairs of the guillemots and Common Terns. Last year 15 active guillemot burrows were found (7).

Maine Audubon Tent at Outer Green Island

The competing Black Duck and Mallard pairs have returned to their more peaceful co-existence at Spar and Wharf Coves feeding on seaweed fly larvae. The male Mallard has lost some of the green sheen on his head, and no apparent young were present. Has anyone seen either of these species with hatchlings?

Mallard Pair at Spar Cove

Black Duck at Spar Cove

Additional Information

Kathy McCarthy subscribed for me a membership to the Sorrento Scientific Society that publishes – The Guillemot – “… an amateur, bimonthly newsletter concerning the natural history in Maine.” In it is a comprehensive listing of bird species observed by Maine residents. These reports give us an idea of what species we might see here, but perhaps overlook. There are no obligations to this membership except for a $5 annual fee: [Sorrento Scientific Societ; 12 Spring Street; Bar Harbor, ME 04609-1330]

Reviewers: Sam Wainright, Michelle Brown, and Marty

Thank you Kathy, Michael, Michelle, the man from the mainland, the man with his bicycle, and 12 participants in the PEAKS-Fest Bird Walk, for your observations and comments.

Thank you for your interest in our Peaks Island birds. If you have any bird sightings that you want to share or a list, please share them with us and we can post them on the next blog. Please contact Michelle:

Written by: Patty Wainright

Photos: © Patty Wainright (except where otherwise noted)

Complete Bird List seen or heard June 3-20:

1) An * indicates evidence (sighting of nests or nesting behavior) of breeding species.

2) A + indicates those species seen on the PEAKS Fest Bird Walk with Michelle Brown on Saturday, June 20. As quoted from Michelle “It was a very nice crowd (~12) and we had fun just enjoying the beautiful early morning.”

3) The stars of the ‘show’ during the PEAKS Fest Bird Walk were: Eastern Towhee, Black-crowned Night Heron, and Cedar Waxwing,

4) ...along with four juvenile Black Ducklings:

5) Another featured species seen this month is the Willow Flycatcher by Michael: "There is a Willow Flycatcher on back shore drive north of the battery steele sign and path, and just north of the spillway, fairly close to the road. (I) saw it this AM, with long, close looks, then played the video/audios and looked again. Definitely a willow and not an alder." This is the first recorded sighting of the Willow Flycatcher for Peaks Island!


Black Duck and Ducklings * +

Mallard *

Wood Duck +

Canada Goose

Common Eider and Ducklings* +


Common Loon (one immature off Backshore)


Double-crested Cormorant * +


Great Blue Heron +:

Great Egret

Black-crowned Night Heron +

Glossy Ibis


Turkey Vulture


Bald Eagle and Immatures *


Laughing Gull

Herring Gull * +

Great Black-backed Gull *

Ring-billed Gull (2 individuals seen on June 15 at South Shore)

Common Tern


Black Guillemot


Mourning Dove * +


Downy Woodpecker *

Northern Flicker * +

Pileated Woodpecker * (Note large holes in trees):


Eastern Phoebe *

Great-crested Flycatcher *

Eastern Kingbird *

Willow Flycatcher (Seen at Battery Steele Marsh by Michael; I saw a flycatcher with double bands on wings.)


Red-eyed Vireo *

Yellow-throated Vireo (Heard)


Blue Jay * +

American Crow *

Common Raven* and Juveniles


Tree Swallow * + :

Barn Swallow:


Black-capped Chickadee * +

Tufted Titmouse *


White-breasted Nuthatch


House Wren *

Carolina Wren


Robin *

Veery *


Gray Catbird * +

Brown Thrasher


Cedar Waxwing (~ 100 in one flock; pairs *) +

Warblers (There are several more warblers that were heard but not identified.)

Yellow Warbler * + :

Black-throated Blue Warbler *

Common Yellow Throat Warbler *

Pine Warbler

Black and White Warbler

Redstart *



Northern Cardinal * +

Indigo Bunting (at Michelle’s feeder in May)


Song Sparrow *

Chipping Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow +

Eastern Tohee +


Red-winged Black Bird * + :

Common Grackle * +


American Goldfinch * +

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (seen at feeders in May)


1. Savard, J-P. L., B. Allen, D. McAuley, G.R. Milton, and S. Gilland. 2005. Abundance and distribution of the common eider in eastern North America during the molting season. In: Second North American Sea Duck Conference, November 7-11, 2005. Annapolis, MD.

3. Heinrich, B. 1989. Ravens in Winter. Summit Books, NY.

4. Heinrich, B. 1999. Mind of the Raven. Harper Collins Publishers, Inc. NY.

5. Sibley, D.A. (2000). National Audubon Society: The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. NY.

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The Backshore Bird Blog


The objective of The Backshore Bird Blog is to share the wonder and diversity of bird species seen along the Peaks Island shore.

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