Birds of Madison, Wisconsin: Brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater)

brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater)

The much-maligned brown-headed cowbird is a common urban bird, but easy to miss. The males are black with glossy brown heads whose color is hard to see outside of direct sunlight. The females are brown. Neither are much bigger than house sparrows. Read more …

Birds of Reston, Virginia: Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) and White-Throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)

white-throated sparrow in an evergreen bush in reston, virginia

A sparrow is a sparrow is a sparrow…. Or is it? I saw house sparrows on my walk today, but I also saw a song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) and white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis). Here’s how to tell the difference.

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Birds of Reston, Virginia: Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

carolina wren on tree branch in reston virginia singing

I was just complaining yesterday about how the Carolina wrens are difficult to get photos of because they spend so much time in the leaf litter, only hopping out onto the base of a tree trunk long enough for me to point my camera at them before immediately disappearing into the leaf litter once more. Read more …

Birds of Reston, Virginia: White-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

blue-gray White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) on a tree trunk in reston Virginia

Nuthatches are not woodpeckers, though they eat a similar diet of insects gathered from tree bark, along with nuts and seeds. They also hop around a lot like woodpeckers—probably more so. This inspired me to invent a game called “Find the White-Breasted Nuthatch.” Read the post to play.

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Birds of Reston: Yellow-shafted northern flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) at bird feeder in Reston Virginia

The northern flicker doesn’t have “woodpecker” in its name, but it is one. And what a distinctive one! Although the black-and-white stripes on its tail are reminiscent of other woodpeckers’ black-and-white checks, it’s polka-dotted breast is what makes it stand out among birds. Quite fashion-forward. Read more …

Birds of Reston, Virginia: Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) and friends

yellow-bellied sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius on tree trunk in reston virginia

It was well below freezing today. I went outside with every bit of skin covered except for the area right around my eyes, since seeing is useful. But it was still a good day for birding. I saw three new species for me—a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a Carolina wren, and a northern mockingbird—and also a pileated woodpecker, which I’ve seen before but never at home. Read more …