Thom Smith's Naturewatch: Southern visitor surprises birder


Q: Yesterday morning I saw a bird at my feeder that I had never seen before -- shaped like a wren, with bright orangy-brown back and wings, a white eye streak, and a butter-yellow breast and abdomen.

When I looked it up I found that it was a Carolina wren. What is a southerner doing up here in the north in the dead of winter? If these birds are common up here, I would think I would have seen one before.

MARTHA, South Egremont

A: There are a few things "southern" about the particular Carolina wren you have at your feeder. Its name, and the town in which it is located.

While once very rare visitors from the southern United States, they were first recorded in Berkshire County not in South County, but in Williamstown, in 1931, and are now seen fairly regularly throughout the year.

Carolina wrens are now breeding in the Berkshires, with the first known documentation in Stockbridge in 1954. Apparently, the species has not adapted well to old-fashioned winters, and their numbers will sharply drop following a severe winter.

Suet feeders attract them, but they also gladly accept a seed handout, and may nest in a bird box. But do not be surprised if you find one nesting in a secluded flowerpot in a shed or garage.

This sometimes shy wren, is somewhat of an adventurer, exploring our yards, sheds, garages and even wood and compost piles. It can be confused with the darker common house wren that lacks the light-colored breast, longer tail and white stripe above the eye.

This is a good time to begin logging birds seen around the yard. While feeder birds will continue as usual for a while longer, new species are already arriving, not particularly for the food, but to nest.

Recent reports of the red-wing blackbird and common grackle, a larger lanky blackbird with long legs and an even longer tail and distinctive pale golden eyes that appear white to me. They will visit feeders.



In the (somewhat distant) past, while camping, I would take along some dry firewood as space allowed in my car or pickup. No more!

Following the discovery of emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis, "EAB") this past summer in the town of Dalton, officials from the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) have announced that a quarantine will be established in Berkshire County beginning today.

Emerald ash borer is an invasive wood-boring pest that attacks ash trees. It is responsible for the death and decline of tens of millions of ash throughout the U.S., from the Mid-west to New York state and south to Tennessee.

The quarantine order means that certain products will be regulated from moving outside the regulated area, including all hardwood firewood (any piece of wood smaller than 48 inches), all ash nursery stock, and any ash lumber (including from lumber mills) that has not been treated.

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email


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