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July 13-19 Bird Sightings

Snowy Egret at Woodcutter's Cove

This blog is in four parts. First, 'hot-off the press' photos of a Black-billed Cuckoo that Butch discovered recently on Peaks Island - spotting and eating a caterpillar. Second, a description of several social interactions between parents and their young. Third, the results of a great bird walk that Michael initiated including a Bald Eagle sighting by Michelle’s dog, Sampson. Fourth, comments on where some of our winter resident birds and spring migrant birds nest further north.

Part 1: Butch's Black-billed Cuckoo (BBCU) Photograph Series

All BBCU photographs: Photo © David (Butch) Sullins

BBCU looking for a caterpillar

Caterpillar in its sights

BBCU ready to pounce

Got it!

Yum. Please note the subtle white markings on tip of each tail feather = Black-billed Cuckoo.

Part 2: Social Interactions of adult and juvenile birds in July

Common Ravens

The juvenile Common Ravens have matured significantly since June when they stayed close to their secure nest sight and when their awkward flight maneuvers consisted mostly of jumping and fumbling from branch to branch. Their flight skills have improved and they now accompany the adults on excursions. Their ‘flight school’ training consists of learning to soar, fly high, defend against mobsters, and navigate. Early on in their training, the adult ravens select one or two juveniles at a time leaving one or two at the nest sight. Those ones left behind are developing other skills such as foraging on the ground, at the pond, or in trees.

Juvenile Common Raven Ground Foraging

They improve their communication skills during dual or private ‘voice lessons’ – a sort of warbling of new syllables. However, they mostly remain quiet to avoid the attention of predators. Loud calls occur though, when an adult arrives with food, when the excursion crowd returns, or when they lose sight of the other sibling.

Juvenile Common Raven 'Voice Lessons'

One can distinguish between the American Crow and the Common Raven: Ravens demonstrate a more elegant manner of flapping their wings, and, most importantly, they can soar. The crows can only flap their wings to keep in flight and their flaps are not graceful. The crows flick their wings when they land – another distinguishing characteristic between these two species. The ravens do not flick their wings - they are more stealth. And, the raven is huge - crow is just big:

American Crow and Common Raven at Ottawa's Museum of Natural History

Common Eiders

Juvenile Common Eiders are seen along the Backshore feeding, preening or resting alongside the female adults. The juvenile male plumage looks similar to the adult male’s molting plumage - a ‘messy’ arrangement of mottled black and white, interspersed with dark brown feathers. These plumages are difficult to tell apart. However most male eiders have left our shores to congregate with other male eiders at their ‘molting spas’ (Please see June Blog for more information). The juvenile female eiders are even harder to distinguish from the adult. They are slightly smaller and their beaks are more lightly colored, more conically-shaped, without an upper bulge. The good news is that some of the ducklings have survived – Michael recently saw five young eiders off Picnic Point.

Male Juvenile Common Eider ?

Male or Female Juvenile Common Eider

Dabbling Ducks

Chris, an avid birder and statistician counted 24 adult and juvenile Black Ducks on Peaks Island centrally located ponds. He detailed an account of a mink/martin (with three juveniles) taking a duckling as the adult female watched. She verbally expressed her loss – a series of what Chris described as extended ‘cries’. We as humans, err on the conservative side of acknowledging that other animals have emotions as we do. We fear that we may be anthropomorphizing – a large word frequently thrown about when we talk of animal behavior as compared to human behavior. However, why wouldn’t a duck feel grief of some manner, as she has invested a lot of her time and energy in raising her young (quote from Sam), occasionally risking her life.

Incidentally, I am questioning my own identification of these relatively nondescript brown ducks … female Black Ducks do not have white wing bars or white on tail (1) whereas, female Mallards do. My photographs of some of these ducks show white in both places. Black Ducks and Mallards do hybridize. As in many species the adult females and juveniles are sometimes difficult to identify. If you have any opinions on these ID issues please share your thoughts with us.

Female Mallard ?

Female Mallard ?

Juvenile Mallard ?

Juvenile Mallard ?

A female Wood Duck and three ducklings seem to have survived predation from the mink/martin predator, so far. As Chris said, “no one likes the predator”.


Near Evergreen Landing Chris has been observing an Osprey nest. One evening he watched as a ‘murder’ of crows “brought down a juvenile Osprey in flight to the ground, where it stayed overnight in his yard”. One of the adult Ospreys circled - calling into the night for the distressed young Osprey.

Glossy Ibises

The Glossy Ibises are visiting most of the ponds. Along with Chris, Sam and I saw five ibises fly onto a tree in Beaver Pond. Their striking plumage with bright chestnut brown bellies and fluorescent green backs suggested that they were adults. Has anyone seen any juvenile Glossy Ibises – with their more drab plumages? Chris also noted that two of the ibises were on the pond shores communicating with each other using their guttural calls – were they renewing their pair bonds or just having an ibis conversation?

Glossy Ibises at Beaver Pond

Black-crowned Night Herons

The Black-crowned Night Herons are still frequenting most ponds, intermittently during the day. Several juveniles have been seen as well – one in Wharf Cove finding edibles in the boulders at low tide. Their juvenile plumage is also more drab - with blurry streaks on their chest and mottled back - than the adults.

Black-crowned Night Heron at Beaver Pond


Terns appear more abundant on the shores and flying over Peaks Island this year. The Common and Arctic Terns may both be nesting in Casco Bay (and further north along the Maine Coast and into Canada’s Maritime Provinces). Though further north and west these two tern species do not overlap their breeding ranges. The Common Tern breeds in the lower and easterly provinces of Canada and the Arctic Tern breeds further north and westerly in Canada and Alaska – some above the Artic Circle (thus its name). The Roseate Tern also nests along Maine’s Coast with several pairs on Outer Green Island where National Audubon Society, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and US Fish and Wildlife Service Gulf of Maine Program work together to monitor their nests and protect them from predators (mammal-free nesting island) ( With their mostly orangish-red beaks and legs (breeding adults), and their gray and white plumages, these three species can be hard to identify. The professionals describe their subtle field marks better than I (1). We are most likely to see the Common Tern, as it is most abundant here.

Common and Artic Terns from Ottawa's Museum of Natural History


The three swallow species, Tree, Bank, and Barn, appear to have left the marshes in front of Battery Steele and the marsh at the South Shore. After their chicks fledge, do they move to other feeding grounds to stock up on nutrients before their migrations? Are there fewer seaweed flies available here now? In late August thousands of Tree Swallows gather near the mouth of the Connecticut River followed by an abrupt departure to the South. On their arrival they do not appear all at once but for many days; each night they arrive in distinct groups before settling into the tall river grasses for the night. Do our Peaks Island Tree Swallows congregate together with other ones of their species somewhere nearby, until they coalesce later in flocks such as the one on the CT River?

Tree Swallows over the CT River, Autumn 2014


The Herring Gulls, Great Black-Backed Gulls, and Double-crested Cormorants have been raising their families nearby on Ram Island. However a more ‘urban’ group of Herring Gulls are raising their young in the Old Port in Portland. Kathy observed a Herring Gull family on a shelf outside of the Casco Bay Parking Garage – watching as the fledgling puff-balls developed into juveniles. A large group of Herring Gulls nest atop the metal roof of the building where the Hamilton Marine, XPRESS COPY, and the ‘ibec’ Stores are located:

They are free from ground predators there, that is, until the young fledge and take chances on the city streets. One such juvenile Herring Gull had a broken wing, but managed to stay on course on a sidewalk with its sibling at its side – dodging pedestrians in front of the Residence Inn on Fore Street. They were intent on their march and appeared to ‘have a plan’ – but their destiny did not look hopeful. Apparently some of these fledglings are banded for studies at the University of New England. Natalie Underdown and Dr. Noah Perlut seek information from anyone who observes a Herring Gull with leg bands – either seen as live and well, or dead.

Part 3: July 19 Bird Walk

On an early foggy morning Michelle led Sam, Michael and me from Brackett Pond to the central ponds near Battery Steele and the transfer station, with a glimpse of the shoreline. It was quiet and bird songs were clear. Highlights of the walk included Cedar Waxwings, a Veery, a bathing Song Sparrow, two warblers, two juvenile Common Ravens, Black-crowned Night Herons, and the Glossy Ibises. Watching a Double-crested Cormorant navigate through the thick fog, I wondered how did it determine where to go? No fog horns to orient this bird. The cormorant though, seemed intent on its trajectory - toward Ram Island where it may have had fledglings waiting for a fishy meal.

Michael’s List of Birds:



Please note how Michael lists his birds in an Alpha Code format as established by the American Ornithological Union (AOU) - a more efficient way to list birds while in the field. See if you can put names to these codes (answers below*).

For example:

1. If the common name is one word, take the first four letters of it.

2. If the common name has two words to it, take the first two letters of each name.

3. If the common name has three words, take the first two letters of the first name and the first letter of the second name.

4. If the common name has four words take the first letter of each word.

5. Expect some variations from above, just to keep it interesting.


Northern Cardinal American Crow House Sparrow European Starling Black-capped Chickadee Song Sparrow

Herring Gull American Robin American Goldfinch American Black Duck Double-crested Cormorant Common Tern Black-crowned Night Heron

Yellow Warbler Gray Catbird Cedar Waxwing Common Yellowthroat Red-winged Blackbird Common Grackle Eastern Phoebe Common Raven Glossy Ibis Downy Woodpecker


Michelle’s dog, Sampson’s sighting of a Bald Eagle:

“One morning a couple weeks ago, [Michelle] took off with her dog and binoculars for a walk around Brackett Pond into the nearby woods. Deep in thought, she had her head down and wasn't looking or thinking about what was around her. Suddenly, her dog Sampson started barking from behind her. He isn't much of a barker so this was strange for him. Michelle turned around to see what Sampson was barking at and strangely, once again, Sampson wasn't barking at something on the lake or nearby woods but upwards. She followed his gaze and saw a Bald Eagle glaring at Sampson from the top of a dead snag only 20 feet away from the trail. She had walked right by it without seeing it and it was probably the closest she'd ever been to a Bald Eagle! The eagle, being irritated with Sampson's barking, appeared to fly off in a huff right over Michelle's head. It was a good lesson in keeping your eyes peeled and your attention where it should be.” What was the eagle thinking as Michelle and Sampson walked below it?

Part 4: Examples of where some of our winter resident birds and spring migrant birds nest further north

Range maps in bird guides show us where our winter residents and spring migration ‘stop-over’ birds breed in the summer. We had opportunity to see some of our Peaks Island winter birds in their summer breeding habitats early July while visiting upper New York and southern Ontario.

Ring-billed Gulls were here in the spring during the ‘feeding frenzy’ in Wharf Cove (Please see the April Blog), after which they disappeared. Where did they go? (photo of adult and parent) Some favored small islands in the Ottawa River with a view of the Parliament:

These gulls were non-aggressive in their feeding styles at Wharf Cove, and they appeared to be mild mannered in Ottawa as well – they shared their islands with the Double-crested Cormorants:

These gulls were also seen in the northern New York following tractors in search of disturbed insects:

– or asking for a handout on the highway:

A female Common Merganser (Please note the white neck band) with a pretty large clutch of ducklings preferred the more remote waterways around the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence Seaway. This merganser is seen infrequently in the winter on the Backshore.

Female Common Merganser and Ducklings, Thousand Islands

Common Loons frequently seen offshore, leave for the freshwater lakes in Maine, the Midwest and Canada. A pair of these loons gave a beautiful visual and vocal display at Peck Lake in Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park. In the late afternoon, as we hiked around the lake a lone loon dozed offshore. At early dusk this loon called to its mate followed by a return call. This loon immediately flew to its mate in the lake where they ‘danced’ and dove for fish in unison. One can only describe it as magical.

Common Loon from Ottawa's Museum of Natural History

Peck Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario


1. Sibley, D.A. (2000). National Audubon Society: The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. NY (pages: 232-235).

Additional Information

Thank you for your interest in our Peaks Island birds, and if you have any additional bird sightings you would like to share or questions regarding Peak's bird life, you can send them to:

Written by: Patty Wainright

Contributors: Kathy M., Michael L, Chris B., Sam W., Michelle B., Butch S.

Reviewers: Michelle Brown, Sam Wainright

Photos © Patty Wainright (except where noted above)

All BBCU photographs: Photo © David (Butch) Sullins

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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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take a look at our list of the 100 varieties of birds that have been spotted around the Island here. How many can you spot?

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