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Woodpeckers aren't shy or quiet when looking for a mate. They'll bang on anything to attract one


The rose-breasted grosbeak is common in the Berkshires. 


Q: We have a problem very early in the morning — what I assume is a bird pecking at our gutter over our bedroom. I get my broom and tap it out my bathroom window, as we live in a ranch home. Do you think there is a nest up there? ... happened last year also.

– Paula R.

A: My thought is that it is a woodpecker, perhaps a downy or hairy woodpecker attracting the attention of a female. This "drumming," or pecking in rapid rhythmic succession may be for one or two reasons, to establish territory and attract mates. Drumming at this season can be on any sound-producing source. Some years ago, when we lived next to a cemetery in Dalton, just inside was a metal sign telling visitors to not bring pets on the grounds and, about this time of the year, was a constant source of a racket by downy woodpeckers. They also usually tap on metal chimneys, metal roofs, and anything that resonates. And if this is noisy, wait until a pileated woodpecker decides to bang away! They will l not last long! 

Q: On April 29, as we were passing Pontoosuc Lake, we saw a large black bird with white tips on the underside of its wings. Looking it up discovered it was likely a black vulture. How rare are they in our area?

We can’t feed the birds at our home because it attracts other critters and we have two dogs we have to protect. But we love watching the birds and looking up the ones we don’t know, after guessing what they might be.

— Sue K., Pittsfield

A: I first saw a black vulture in December 1965 in Homestead, Fla., (without my "Birder’s Life List" I would never remember when and where) And I saw a flock in Sheffield in the winter of 2011 (seen much earlier by others). The first seen in the Berkshires was found dead in Sheffield on December 21, 1932. And the first seen alive was in 1951. In at least two years I learned of at least one in a Sheffield (Ashley Falls) barn that has a family of black vultures. They are seen in lesser numbers north of Great Barrington.

On the subject of “love watching the birds and looking up the ones you don’t know," may I suggest you consider giving The Hoffmann Bird Club a try. Go to hoffmannbirdclub.org for additional information. It is the best time of the season to join a group of enthusiast birders to “taste the water or feathers.”  New members please sign up for the eNews by emailing hoffmannbirdclub@gmail.com

Q: For the first time ever, I saw what I was able to learn is a rose-breasted grosbeak in our crabapple tree. How common are they here in Central Berkshire? We live in Pittsfield near the Lenox border.

— Anonymous, Pittsfield

A: This species is a common breeder in the Berkshires. They have become more common at warm-weather bird feeders and are attracted to sunflower seed and are early May arrivals. I learned to identify this bird by listening for a glorious singing robin. Or as Cornell Laboratory (allaboutbirds.org/guide/Rose-breasted_Grosbeak/overview) says:  These stocky birds look differently between the sexes with the males having a distinctive red breast blackhead (and back black with some white). The female is unlike the male being heavily streaked brown back with white eyebrows brown-yellow streaked below.

The first rose-breasted grosbeak I ever saw was at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary on May 10, 1959, when I worked part-time on weekends with Alvah Sanborn, then the director (1948-1972). Alvah was more a teacher than a boss. He, Bartlett Hendricks, S. Waldo Bailey, and Chan Vincent, Sr. were bird educators that I will never forget. And if you are interested in a next to little to nothing charge, join the Hoffmann Bird Club; I’m sure there are birders among the members today there that may rival these birders.


Nancy S., of Pittsfield, wrote, “Had my first hummingbird of the season this morning, so I'm making the nectar now. Hummer repeatedly pecked at pussy willow catkins, not gone to seed, then later perched on the branch. Have never seen them at catkins before, have you?”

NatureWatch: No.

Ned K., of Pittsfield, wrote, “It has been a while since we’ve communicated, but I read your column almost every week. I saw that you wanted to be informed when readers saw their first ruby-throated hummingbird. Yesterday (5/1) I saw one fly by our feeder (up since 4/21). Today (5/2) there were three at the feeder. I’ve been tracking their return since 2013 and this ties (2018) the earliest they have arrived.”

Kathryn K., of West Stockbridge, wrote, “First hummingbird on May 1, 2022, in West Stockbridge.”

Mike H., from Becket wrote, “ I saw my first hummer of the year this morning. I was working in the garage, and it flew in, looked around, and flew out.1300 feet elevation. Full sun.

Jasper S., wrote, “ While visiting the Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Pittsfield on April 30 (the earliest I have ever seen them in the Berkshires) I saw two hummingbirds. The following day I saw another at Springside Park.”


Thom Smith, NatureWatch columnist.

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