April 22, 2021, 10:12 a.m. — I just observed my first male hummingbird in Williamstown about 10 minutes ago.
— Michael W.
This year, NatureWatch welcomes reports of the first sightings of ruby-throated hummingbirds with the number seen, date, location and your name. Please email Naturewatch41@gmail.com.
In 1900, according to "Birds of Berkshire County, Mass.," Walter Faxon and Ralph Hoffmann (our local bird club is named after this gentleman) listed this bird’s earliest arrival as May 3. In 1999, the earliest was only one day earlier, according to "Birds of Berkshire County" by Bartlett Hendricks, who listed May 2 as being the earliest, and May 15 as being the average.
The earliest a ruby-throated hummingbird has been seen in the Berkshires was on April 4, 2000, (in Windsor), in "Annotated List of the Birds of Berkshire County, Massachusetts," by David P. St. James in 2017. The earliest record for the arrival of this hummingbird in "Birds of New England," by Edward A. Samuels, published in 1870, was rather vague — between May 15 and 25.
Q: I used to enjoy the almost daily visits of wild turkeys who cut through my property on their way to wherever, but they've stopped coming in recent years. A former neighbor used to feed them with corn, which I think she kept in a sort of barrel. If I wanted to get back in the turkey-feeding, or at least turkey-attracting business, what should I do? I know that scattering corn on the ground will only make the squirrels happy.
A: Both the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife prohibits baiting. And my thought on the subject is that feeding wild turkeys can be misinterpreted with baiting.
Q: We still have juncos at our feeders on and off, and I don't think they have ever been here so late in April. Isn't this kind of late?
— Linda, Adams
A: The overwintering juncos have left by now and are replaced by migrants of breeding pairs. The spring migrants arrive in March and may stay until mid-May, so it is difficult to say who is doing what for around two and a half months.
Those coming from farther south are headed to their breeding grounds to the north or locally in pine and hemlock or other evergreens forests above 800 feet and could already be in the breeding mood. So, our dark-eyed juncos are not merely winter birds. Juncos are seen in parts of the Berkshires throughout the year. They are breeding in higher elevations, such as the Greylock Range, October Mountain, the Taconics, Hoosac Plateau and in places like Peru, where I nearly stepped on a junco nest at the edge of a friend's driveway while getting out of our car some years ago. I assume they also nest the other plateaus located in South Berkshire County.
Q: I'm watching crows chasing a bald eagle between Med-Express and Harbor Freight [in Pittsfield]. Do crows take on eagles?
— Nancy M. Pittsfield
A: "What's an eagle, but a hawk on steroids," as an old birder once said to me. Crows will mob just about anything with feathers that flies and that they consider a danger or competition. These include hawk, eagle, owl, great-blue, or just about any other bird that gives them worry. The animal does not always have feathers; both wild and domestic mammals are fair game for mobbing.
Mobbing is a term used to explain a bully tactic that crows incorporate, as will other birds, including blackbirds, especially red-wing blackbirds, kingbirds, swallows and others.
Crows mob hawks, eagles, owls and even ravens, as these birds are perceived as a threat. Most often, the attackers will mob to drive away the larger bird, often perceived as a threat. On their own, birds like crows and as small as sparrows can't successfully mob a bird the size of a hawk or eagle. But when joined by others of their kind, it becomes a mob and something to fear.
Sometimes, a smaller bird will mob a larger bird to protect its territory.
And despite its talons and sharp bill, the eagle, hawk or owl cannot outmaneuver a crow, let alone a half-dozen or more.
Crows may not be at the top of the mobbing order if there be such a thing. Smaller birds, such as blackbirds and the kingbird, will mob a single crow, and ravens mob both crows and birds of prey (raptors). Smaller birds will mob a single crow if it gets too close to the smaller bird's nest. After all, a crow will prey upon its eggs or hatchlings.
Even the pretty insect-eating warbler, the Massachusetts state bird; the black-capped chickadee; or its traveling companion throughout the winter months, the white-breasted nuthatch, will mob about any bird entering its territory or getting too close to its nest.