Thom Smith | Naturewatch: A colorful and exciting visitor


Q: We have a colorful evening grosbeak here this afternoon (Oct. 28). Don't see that too often. He wouldn't be traveling with the siskins that arrived today would he?

— Paul, Windsor

A: Even though our fish and wildlife biologists say "no," considering the feeder-marauding bears are still active, enthusiasts have already begun feeding wild birds. And some have already complained that their feeders have disappeared! I will say that because the feeders I recently stocked are at second floor level and have yet to be stolen, though I may yet learn that bears can climb siding.

I have been getting a fair number of species, but no siskins or grosbeaks. Now to the evening grosbeak's arrival: I, too, would be excited. I came across Ron Pittaway, Ontario Field Ornithologist's 2018-2019 Winter Forecast ( And we may just have a good winter with Evening Grosbeaks coming in moderate numbers; maybe not the deluge we had in the 1950s and 1960s. Back in those days we didn't as much count the number of EGs at our feeders as the number of 50-pound bags of striped sunflower seeds they consumed. In April 2016, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada listed the Evening Grosbeak a species of Special Concern due to strong population declines occurring mainly in central and eastern Canada. It is hard to believe.


The winter finch general forecast by Ron Pittaway reads, "This is an irruption (flight) year for winter finches in the East. Cone and birch seed crops are poor to low in most of Ontario and the Northeast, with a few exceptions, such as Newfoundland, which has an excellent spruce crop.

Pittaway's predictions for this coming winter, and we may well get a good sampling, include pine grosbeak, purple finch, red and white-wing crossbill, common and hoary redpoll and pine siskins. Not mentioned, but we may get numbers of red-bellied nuthatches also.

Q: At breakfast this morning, we had several excellent views of a hawk, eating something (with its back speckled with white to us) on the back lawn. When in flight, its white breast and tail with horizontal stripes were clearly visible; also, when perched on an old stump. I haven't found the bird guide in the house that would probably make this note unnecessary. Can you help?


— Mark, Pittsfield

A: Even if you found your book, the problem with "a" bird guide" is that images of breeding plumage or even both breeding and winter plumages don't always provide the correct answer. Often it takes the additional images of different plumages of both male and female. Hence, I save myself a lot of time by going first to my copy of "The Sibley Guide to Birds" by David Allen Sibley, that in the case of hawks (Diurnal Raptors) presents views in flight as seen from below, images of many in juvenile (first year, and adult plumages, and in some cases dark and light color phases, images showing back, with side and front when perched.)

I suspect what you saw was a light juvenile red-tailed hawk. More information is needed for me to feel safer with this identification, such as size, even as vague as it was a large hawk, or it was a small hawk. The red-tailed hawk is probably the most common hawk is this area today. For instance, it is the most common hawk reported along the Massachusetts Turnpike, and on transmission poles and street lights in towns and cities in both Massachusetts and, I suspect, Vermont. Along New England coastal areas, the osprey, with its white underneath, out number hawks.


The fourth annual Berkshire Natural History Conference will be held Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Berkshire School, Route 41, Sheffield.

Features include Joan Walsh, author of "The State of the Birds for Mass Audubon" that updates previous publications. Her work highlights actions that we might take soon in order to maintain healthy populations of birds that now appear vulnerable. Other speakers will focus on local endangered species (like the bog turtle) with Angela Sioris, "A Natural History Year at Simon's Rock" with Sarah Snyder and Andrew Madden's return visit with an update on black bears.

This event is cosponsored by Hoffmann Bird Club, BCC, MCLA, Green Berkshires, BEAT, Williams College Center for Environmental Studies, Mass Audubon's Berkshire Sanctuaries, Hoosic River Watershed Association, and others.

To register now, contact Tom Tyning at For more information, visit

Thom Smith welcomes readers' comments and questions. Email him at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions