Thom Smith | Naturewatch: Sandhill cranes becoming more prevalent in the region

Q: While driving through south Berkshire, don't know exactly what town, maybe New Marlborough, I saw a tall bird that wasn't a heron. It was standing in a field. It took me a while to get to look at a bird book. When I did, I think it was probably a sandhill crane. Could it have been one?

— Edward, Great Barrington

A. Yes, these spectacular birds are increasing in the Northeast and have been seen throughout New England. They are nesting in Massachusetts and regular reports come from Berkshire County, mostly the southern part. I have also heard of individuals seen in Brandon, Vt., and would welcome news of the species being seen in our Bennington, Brattleboro and Manchester, Vt., environs.

Sandhills are the most numerous cranes throughout the world and number over one-half million. They breed coast to coast in Canada and the northern United States, and I'm sorry to say that I have only seen them wintering in Florida. Maybe next year I'll see a nesting pair here in our lovely part of the world.

Q: Are clearwing moths and hummingbird moths different or just different names for the same. I have seen several over the past week and some looked different from others.

— Shirley, Bennington

A: They are sometimes called hummingbird moths because of often being confused with the hummingbird, although they are much smaller, 1-1/2 inches long to the ruby-throated hummingbird's 3 inches. Most commonly seen is the hummingbird (clearwing) moth It has an olive back, a red-brown abdomen, and light-colored legs. The other, although less often seen, is the snowberry clearwing, and is usually yellow and black, with black legs, a species I have not knowingly seen.

They feed on the nectar of flowers and hover as would a hummingbird. With transparent wings beating so fast, they are almost invisible with a long proboscis extended beaklike into a flower, they are easily confused at first. They also sound somewhat like a hummingbird.


The gulls we see in our fast food parking lots and elsewhere far from the ocean are not sea gulls? Actually, sea gull is a collective name for all species of gulls regardless of where they live. Our common inland gull is the ring-billed gull that prefers nesting near large fresh water lakes.


Don't feed the bears is both an often-heard phrase, and too often ignored. Yes, we often leave our bird feeders out too long after the bears begin foraging in late winter or during warm periods. Keep in mind black bears are not true hibernators that are difficult to awaken, although they are heavy sleepers and stay put during the coldest, and most inclement weather.

What irks me are the reports I get about someone's "neighbors" feeding kibble dog food and table scraps to bears on a regular basis. This is asking for trouble, and sooner or later, trouble will manifest itself. Either a person will be mauled or the bear will be so conditioned it will find itself captured for relocation or shot. Keep bears wild!


The Massachusetts Audubon Society is offering opportunities to go birding with an experienced birder.

"Fall Birding at Pleasant Valley," for adults, will be held from 8 to 10 a.m.Wednesday, Sept. 6, at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox.

"Fall Birding at Canoe Meadows" will be held from 8 to 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 8, at Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, Pittsfield.

If you have never been to Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, a great opportunity to do so is "Fall Birding at Lime Kiln Farm," for adults, from 8 to 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, at the sanctuary in Sheffield.

No registration needed for any of the birding field trips. For more information, call 413-637-0320

               BIRDS' WINTER GARB

Have you noticed many of the birds you have been accustomed to during the summer don't look the same now, as they change their breeding outfits for winter (non-breeding) attire? And contrary to the ease of identifying spring birds, many become more drably-colored and difficult to name. It's a good time to go birding with an expert!

Thom Smith welcomes your questions and comments. Email him at or write him care of

The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.


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