Weekly Bird Report | CAI

Weekly Bird Report

The Weekly Bird Report with Mark Faherty can be heard every Wednesday morning at 8:45am and afternoon at 5:45pm.

Mark has been the Science Coordinator at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary since August 2007 and has led birding trips for Mass Audubon since 2002. He is past president of the Cape Cod Bird Club and current member of the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee.

Caleb Putnam / flickr

The Cape and Islands near shore waters are currently experiencing a visitation of Sooty Shearwaters. These remarkable birds are one of the most abundant seabirds on the planet and are found in every ocean. Their only need for land is for use as a platform to lay a single egg; they are dependent on the ocean for all their needs.

BlPlN / flickr

Birds, the most mobile and migratory of animals, are at their most vulnerable while nesting.

Right now the breeding season is in full swing for Cape and Island bird life. Some species - the Neotropical migrants that only have one brood - are close to finishing their nesting chores, while others like Mourning Doves and American Robins are well into round two.

Vern Laux

The Memorial Day Weekend just past was fabulous despite the weather forecasters being wrong about the weather for the entire weekend. The Cape and Islands had OK weather, throngs of people were everywhere and the familiar traffic patterns of summer reasserted itself for a short while. As always the birding was hard to beat and the last push of migrant landbirds arrived on the morning of May 25th as well as good numbers of shorebirds. Spectacular numbers of birds were seen at North Monomoy and off of Chatham all weekend long.

Isidro Vila Verde / flickr

Last weekend as birders scoured the Cape and Islands, many taking part in a Birdathon raising funds for bird conservation, a wealth of birds were found. An egret from the Old World, a Little Egret was discovered on Nantucket where North America’s first Little Egret was discovered some twenty five years ago. A lingering Snow Goose and a Snowy Owl were also found, birds that should be long gone, far to the north of this region in mid-May. Despite a dearth of migrant thrushes, vireos and warblers, the determined birders managed to find many unusual birds.

Kenneth Cole Schneider / flickr

We are fortunate to live in the northeastern United States with its fabulous display of remarkable, gem-like, wood warblers that pass by in their gaudy spring plumage, and then again in the fall when much drabber, when they are known as confusing fall warblers. These beautifully marked long-distance migrants are some of the best looking birds in the world. These small insectivorous birds spend the winter in the Caribbean, Central and South America and only grace us with their presence during a brief breeding season.

Cláudio Timm / flickr

The invasion of European shorebirds and Northern Wheatears to Newfoundland continues, as the keep arriving in unheard of numbers: over 200 Eurasian Golden Plovers, 11 Black-tailed Godwits, 15 Northern Wheatears, 2 Redshanks and a Ross’s Gull. Sadly for those of us on the Cape and Islands and all over New England, none of these birds have been reported further south - they have all stayed in Newfoundland so far. As they get restless to return to where they wanted to go, they may yet wander to our part of the planet this spring.


The visiting Snowy Owls that enthralled the region this winter have slowly and silently begun to make their way north. A few are still in the area, but no ill-fated battles between Ospreys and Snowy Owls were reported, and they seem to have not caused any problems for locally breeding birds.

Vern Laux

At this season the Cape and Island’s nesting species of raptors engage in courtship displays and behavior only seen a few weeks a year. Most amazing is the sounds that they make - since the birds are mostly silent for the rest of the year, it is a mild shock to hear what they sound like!

Kelly Colgan Azar / flickr


Ospreys are back on nest poles all over the region. Their arrival at precisely the same time as the herring return to area estuaries and streams, which I'm only aware of because I have been watching Ospreys catching and eating these anadromous fish, is like clockwork. The herring also attract other fish eating birds including Double-crested Cormorants, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons. The Ospreys are nest building, displaying, mating and will be laying eggs in the near future. The far-carrying, shrill, high-pitched calls of the male as he hangs in the sky dangling a fish for his mate will be a common sound near Osprey nest poles over the next couple of weeks.

cuatrok77 / flickr

Ospreys, “the Cape and Islands harbinger of spring” returned on Saturday afternoon, March 15th, in at least 5 places almost simultaneously. This is very early and all these reports and careful, excited observers were accompanied by photos indicating they knew what a big deal this is. Ospreys were reported from Orleans, Dennis, Falmouth, West Barnstable and Nantucket from 2:30-4 P.M. on March 15th, which is really early. Just knowing these birds are back brings a smile to not only my face but to all happy to see that the winter is finally going to come to an end.

Will Snowy Owls and Ospreys Come to Battle?

Mar 12, 2014

No one really knows what the Snowy Owls are going to do next: when are they going to leave, are they going to nest here, will they be back? It is assumed most will start making their way north, but some may very well take a leisurely route back, which will bring them into contact with many species that they have never encountered and conversely have never encountered them. With ospreys on the move out of South America, the first males arriving here about a week from now, the potential for conflict is very real.

Vern Laux

In March and April one of the best kept secrets on the Cape and Islands is the display of the American woodcock. Woodcock are nocturnal birds, and while rarely seen, they are surprisingly common. They make a living by eating earthworms at night with their ridiculously long bill as a probe.

In Praise of Poison Ivy (Really). Birds Love It.

Feb 26, 2014
Dean Gugler / flickr

While nasty for most humans, poison ivy has immeasurable value to shoreline areas and wildlife due to its salt tolerance and ability to grow in impoverished soils. For many birds it is vitally important, as its fruits provide calories that would otherwise not be available, and without which the birds would not survive the winter at this latitude.

V. Laux

Dovekies are crazy cute, small black-and-white birds resembling nothing so much as a wind-up bathroom toy.  Once ashore Dovekies are in serious trouble as they cannot walk on land or take off unless on water. Helpless on land, they become victims of gulls and other predators. Humans, glad to take a little “penguin” under their protection, adopt others.

Simply Col / flickr

As we creep toward spring, roaming flocks of blackbirds may show up at any time.

Red-winged blackbirds are one of the most widespread and successful land bird species on this continent. They range across its entirety, breeding from central Alaska to Newfoundland south throughout the United States. They occur in winter south to Costa Rica in Central America. They are hardy, adaptable and abundant.

Vern Laux

On Saturday February first, WCAI’s Morning Edition Host, Dan Tritle and his wife Janet Gardner were visiting Nantucket to participate in the third annual Moby Dick-reading marathon. Having heard me carry on incessantly about this year’s Snowy Owl incursion, Dan and Janet were hot to see one of these magnificent birds.  So after they had completed their Moby Dick readings, we headed out to try to find one.

Vern Laux

This winter is breaking all the records as we experience an “irruption” of Snowy Owls that is unprecedented and historic. For birders and photographers, Snowy Owls are a dream bird: they are big, stay out in wide-open areas (making them very visible), and, unlike most owls, are active in the daytime. Because they nest “in the land of the midnight sun” - an expression that describes life in the Arctic during the summer months, when the sun literally does not set for almost 3 months - they must be able to hunt by day.

Don't Stop Feeding Those Birds - and Here's Why

Jan 22, 2014
Chiot's Run / flickr

If you feed birds then you know what a scene is going on just outside your windows. All the birds that have been visiting your feeders sporadically are now left with no choice of a place to find food. The drifting snow has covered all food that they had access to and now they are counting on your ice-free and food-filled feeders and scattered seed to make it through this stressful and lean time. Most birds will still have some stored fat reserves that they are likely burning through, and access to food is critical during and especially after fierce winter storms.  

Daniele Zanni / flickr

"Poor birds," you're thinking. "They look so frail hunkered down against the blowing snow!"

Well, think again.

Birds have developed and evolved many special adaptations to survive brutal winter conditions.

Vern Laux

The season's annual Christmas Bird Counts show an unprecedented number of these magnificent birds.  Nantucket ornithologist Vern Laux says it's a delight to see them.

Hunter Desportes / flickr

As special as the Snowy Owl incursion is this winter, Snowys are not the only owls around. With the start of the Christmas Bird Count Season 11 days ago, the attention of birders shifts to finding all the nocturnal raptors possible. The Cape is fortunate to have good numbers of several owl species. A small owl called Screech Owl is fairly common and widespread on the Cape. Using woodpecker holes and natural cavities as well as man-made boxes, these attractive birds come in two morphs, or color phases: red or gray.

Vern Laux

Snowy Owls are an irruptive species. Rarely, an invasion or irruption will occur and several or more may arrive as they move south in search of food. The entire northeast is currently involved in “the mother of all irruptions” as an unprecedented incursion of these powerful and awe-inspiring owls is happening as you hear this. The species has been reported from beaches all over the Cape and Islands and it seems no beach or headland in the region has not had owls reported this past week. This “irruption” is already of historic proportions.

Andrew Reding / flickr

Should a desire to burn off some calories and move about after planned feasting this week occur, grab a pair of binoculars - or better yet a spotting scope - and head down to the closest beach. Check out the birds that are sitting on, flying over, and diving under the water’s surface. From virtually any location one will see both Common and Red-throated Loons. These fish-eating birds are relatively large and actively pursue fish in near-shore waters. Take a look in a field guide at these species and then try to differentiate them.

Number 1 Tip for Finding Owls? Get Out Early.

Nov 20, 2013
Alexandre Roux / flickr

Early mornings tend to be much better for hearing owls calling than just after it turns dark. There is far less human activity than at dusk; many fewer humans are awake and driving their cars in the wee hours before dawn than just after dark, and consequently there is far less road noise. Cars traveling along a roadway can be heard well over two miles away.

eren {sea+prairie} / flickr

Nor'easters in November have historically brought to our region “wrecks” of birds in the family called the alcidae (alcids). These include razorbills, thick-billed and common murres, Atlantic puffins and the tiny dovekie (or “pine knot” as they were called by old Cape Codders) that would periodically appear after fearsome November Nor’easters in ponds, yards and fields. Once ashore these cute little black and white birds, resembling a miniature penguin, are doomed. They are helpless and incapable of taking flight.