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Let’s Talk Birds: Hummingbirds

By Donna L. Cole

It happened on Tuesday – the first notification I’ve seen that hummers are back.  This one was posted on the MD Notable Bird Sightings & Discussion Group and the bird was seen in St. Mary’s County.  EBird also has reports to our south – in Virginia. Get ready, Anne Arundel!

Let’s talk hummingbirds.  They really are magical, small birds, fluttering here, there and everywhere and doing it with astounding speed and purpose.  They’re captivating, cute and colorful.  In Maryland, according to (which also has a very cool map for tracking migration), we get the Ruby-throated, Rufous and Calliope.  EBird seems to agree with that, but Rufous and Calliope are less common than Ruby-throated.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “You can attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to your backyard by setting up hummingbird feeders or by planting tubular flowers. Make sugar water mixtures with about one-quarter cup of sugar per cup of water. Food coloring is unnecessary; table sugar is the best choice. Change the water before it grows cloudy or discolored and remember that during hot weather, sugar water ferments rapidly to produce toxic alcohol. Be careful about where you put your hummingbird feeders, as some cats have learned to lie in wait to catch visiting hummingbirds.”

In addition to nectar, they eat insects too. There’s some fascinating information about Ruby-throated hummingbirds here –

And this video is an absolute must –

Below: Ruby-throated hummingbird.  Credit – Louise McLaughlin, National Park Service




Let’s Talk Birds: The Wood Thrush

By Donna L. Cole

This is a story of a bird – a migratory bird.  And for that matter, a teenage girl too.  Because, you know, teenage girls are so into – birds.  No, they’re not, or if they are, they’ll never admit it, or at least mine won’t, so follow along with me on how this story came to be.

It was a beautiful May afternoon last year.  I heard a loud thump – the kind of thump I despise hearing.  I knew immediately what it was – no doubt about it.  I started checking all of the windows to figure out which one it was.  And on the last window checked, I looked down at the ground.  Despair. Not one, but two birds struck at the same time.  They must have been chasing one another – different species.  One was dead, the other completely stunned.  Because my house is in a heavily wooded area and I do have barred owls, I did not want to take a chance on the owls or any other raptor, fox or whatever taking this stunned bird.  I gently moved it behind a bush and checked on it over the next hour – it wasn’t moving, but was alert.  I also called a friend – the one I always call for help identifying birds (thank you, Dan Haas – a friend to many birds and birders), because I’d never seen this type of bird before.  Dan not only told me what it was – a wood thrush, but for me to do everything I can to keep it alive, as it’s a species in decline, due to loss of habitat (woods).  Great – that’s exactly what I wanted to hear when getting dressed to go out to an event I couldn’t get out of. I knew the bird would be ok where it was and I told my teenage daughter I’d be home in a couple of hours.  Then I left.

About an hour into the party, my daughter calls and tells me she’s bringing the bird inside.  Um, what?????? I have two, big dogs that despite them not ever used for it, are actually hunting dogs, driven by — catching prey. Like, for instance, birds. No, the bird can’t come inside.  She then explained it’s getting really dark out and it looks like a storm. I came home, in the pouring rain, to find the bird, in a box, on her bed, with dogs locked out of her room. The bird and my daughter slept in the same room that night.  Next morning, we took the box outside, opened it up and off went the wood thrush, flying as if it had never hit a window.  My daughter’s actions likely saved this bird’s life.

The wood thrush is gorgeous –a beautiful bird with an equally beautiful call.   According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Wood Thrushes cross the Gulf of Mexico in a single night’s flight. They spend the fall and winter in Central America. They return north in spring 2 to 6 times faster on a route that’s generally somewhat farther west. Males arrive on breeding grounds several days before females.”

Where can you see them? This is a bird that likes the woods and deep forests.  Listen for them.  Quiet Waters, London Town and Truxtun all have suitable habitat.

Suggested reading  –

What can you do to help the wood thrush?  Keep the trees – don’t cut them down, plant new ones, protect wooded areas – your own and others.  Also, for what it’s worth and education is worth a lot, a few years prior to this wood thrush incident, my daughter had learned to handle birds at school, where there’s an entire curriculum for fourth graders specifically geared at educating them about the birds of this area. That education, I’m fairly certain, helped create a conservationist, albeit a teenage one who would never admit to it.

Below: two images of wood thrush, by Donna L. Cole

Wood Thrush 1Wood Thrush 2

Let’s Talk Birds:  Guess Where I Am and Identify the Birds

By Donna L. Cole

I’m on vacation this week, but I thought it’d be fun to guess where I am.  Maybe some of these birds can be found in the Four Rivers Heritage Area, but maybe not.  And all of these photos were taken by me on a previous trip to where I’ve gone this time.

In the comments below, don’t just tell me where I am, tell me what the bird is too.  At least two of these photos offer hints.

Happy Easter and/or spring break to all.

All photos below by Donna L. Cole

Guest Blog Post #5 – Let’s Talk Birds: The Baltimore Oriole

By Donna L. Cole

It’s that one elusive, frustrating, why-haven’t-I-ever-seen-it, does-it-really-exist bird. We’re at the halfway point for my guest blogging about migratory birds with Four Rivers Heritage Area and I think this one post deserves a very important bird.  Not to diminish the importance of the birds I’ve already written about, or will in the coming weeks, but this one has a special role that goes beyond frustrating me – it’s our state bird.

Let’s talk Baltimore orioles. Let’s first talk about birds you’ve always wanted to see, but never have DESPITE HOURS spent in the outdoors with the hope of seeing one, just one.  You know, the elusive ___ (fill in the blank).   In the comments below, tell me what that bird is.  For me, it’s the Baltimore oriole.  I’ve spent my entire life in Maryland, short of a few years when I didn’t.  That’s a lot of years to have never seen our state bird.  How is that even possible? To rub it in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website, which offers a wealth of information about all birds, states, “Baltimore Orioles are easily lured to backyard feeders.”

As for the Baltimore oriole itself, it is a vibrant, absolutely stunning, black and orange bird – males, like many bird species, hit the genetic lottery with the brighter, more flamboyant coloring. Just like the baseball team with the same name, Baltimore orioles give us their presence during the spring and summertime, heading south in the colder months.

Here’s perhaps where I’ve gone wrong – again, according to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website, “Baltimore Orioles seem to prefer only ripe, dark-colored fruit. Orioles seek out the darkest mulberries, the reddest cherries, and the deepest-purple grapes, and will ignore green grapes and yellow cherries even if they are ripe.”

Where can they be seen in the Four Rivers Heritage Area?  Obviously, I’m the wrong one to ask, but seriously, I know many people see them, and see them in their backyards and all of our area parks.  I’m just not one of them.  Wish me luck this year.

More information on our state bird –

image001 (1)

Guest Blog Post #4 – Let’s Talk Birds: Purple Martins

By Donna L. Cole

The other day I was driving along a route I take for no other reason than to see birds.  I’ve mentioned before I often have entirely too much time on my hands, right? Back to the story – it’s a waterfront street, within the Four Rivers Heritage Area, loaded with birds – good birds.  But on this day, I wasn’t seeing any, which led me to contemplate which type of bird I should write about this week.  And then, by some strange coincidence, fate (and my car) led me right to the decision.  No, I didn’t see a bird, but I did see a purple martin apartment complex – the luxury type, on the water, with multiple, currently uninhabited units, at the ready for seasonal visitors.

Let’s talk about purple martins. Actually, let’s first talk about our relationship with them – especially on this coast.  Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection put it best – “If humans were to stop supplying martins with homes, they would likely disappear as a breeding bird in eastern North America.” Those are some strong words, but why is that? According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Use of gourdes to supplement nesting cavities was first used by Native Americans in the southeast. This practice is now a response to habitat destruction, the widespread removal of snags as a land management practice, and the introduction of non-native birds such as European starlings that take up natural nesting areas before purple martins arrive. Purple martins of the eastern United States use these gourdes almost exclusively, while birds in the west still use natural nesting sites like woodpecker holes and other naturally occurring cavities in snags.”

Now let’s talk about the bird itself – purple martins are considered large within the world of swallows.  Like many types of birds, males are more colorful with a purple, iridescent appearance.  Females, not as much.  They fly and roost en masse and can be picked up on weather radar during their migrations – they winter in South America and summer here in the U.S., as well as parts of Canada. The most curious fact about these birds – they eat and drink while flying. We will be seeing them here very soon – some nearby already have.

The most comprehensive website on this bird comes from the Purple Martin Conservation Association –

Purple martin image001purple martin image002

Pictured above: Purple Martin Apartment Complex in Edgewater – photo by Donna L. Cole

Below: Roosting purple martins –  photo credit to Missouri Department of Conservation



Guest Blog Post #3 – “Let’s Talk Birds: Hawks”

By Donna Cole

We’ll eventually get to some smaller birds, but if you haven’t noticed by now, there’s been a theme with my guest blogs thus far (this one and this one).  So, yes, I believe in starting big and I’ll stick with that theme, but just for a little while longer. It’s all about hawks this week and not one type in particular, but lots of them.   We do have year-round hawks within the Four Rivers Heritage Area, but there are also migrating hawks we’ll see return to the area, as well as some passing through.  And this is prime time to see them.

Is there a way to know who migrates and who doesn’t?   Here’s a great explanation from the peeps at Hawk Mountain, which is on my list of must-visit places –

What hawks can we see in the Four Rivers Heritage Area?  Red-tailed, red-shouldered, Cooper’s, sharp shinned and broad winged for sure.  Though the State of Maryland has a few more on their list, the ones I’ve seen are those I listed.  Where do I go if want a good chance of seeing a hawk?  A red-tailed couple has made its home at Quiet Waters Park for a number of years.  Hawks also like to frequent utility lines and light poles on the side of roadways all around our area.  Please, please, please don’t throw litter out of your car, as it attracts rodents, which attracts bird of prey and they can and do get hit by vehicles as a result.  What I’ve learned over the years and learned entirely in my own yard with hawks and owls (yes, my house is in the woods and I’m lucky), if I want to see a raptor, I listen for the crows.  While birds of prey, such as hawks, will definitely make noise, crows make more.  And they are relentless when it comes to mobbing raptors.  Crows don’t like birds of prey and once they’ve found one, they dive bomb it en masse until the raptor leaves its perch. If you want to see a hawk or any raptor, listen for the crows. If you want to see hawks up close and personal, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has a Scales and Tales program and they’ll often be at events around the area.

How do you identify the hawks you see?  Good luck.  I’m not the best with it, but as I’ve mentioned in the past, there are some great birding groups on Facebook and at least two local to our area. There are plenty of people in the groups that are very knowledgeable and helpful when it comes to identifying birds.

Anne Arundel Birding –

MD Birding –

Red Tailed HawkDNR Red Tail

Editor’s note: Four Rivers is very excited to welcome Donna Cole, of Annapolis Creative, as our guest blogger for spring! We’ll hear about the birds migrating through the area over the next few months, from someone who really knows her subject! 

Images above: top, Red-tailed hawk and its lunch at Quiet Waters Park, by Donna L. Cole; bottom, Red-tailed hawk from the DNR’s Scales and Tales program, by Donna L. Cole.

— Donna Cole, Annapolis Creative

Guest Blog Post #2: “Let’s Talk Birds: The Osprey”


Editor’s note: Four Rivers is very excited to welcome Donna Cole, of Annapolis Creative, as our guest blogger for spring! We’ll hear about the birds migrating through the area over the next few months, from someone who really knows her subject! 

The Chesapeake is our backyard and since it’s now March (insert applause), we absolutely, positively have to talk about one bird in particular.  It is our harbinger of spring.  And it’s the osprey.

While some maintain ospreys arrive back to our area exactly on St. Patrick’s Day every year, I have yet to personally witness that.  And yes, because I occasionally have way too much time on my hands, I do look for them on St. Patrick’s Day.  And pretty much every day in March.  Whatever the exact day, ospreys return from their winter homes in Florida, the Caribbean, Central and South America in March.  Maybe some might be a little late and others a tad early (one was seen last weekend on Kent Island and one last week at Fort Smallwood Park), March really is the month of the osprey for us.

Ospreys often return to their same nest locations, with their same mates.  They mate for life and though they don’t necessarily spend the winter months together, or make their long journey back to us talon-in-talon, osprey couples return to the same nest / nest area within days of one another.  Their first job upon return – build / rebuild their nests, which you will see in trees, on platforms, poles, lights and channel markers/buoys.  That building / rebuilding process does take some time – they need just the right building material (sticks/branches) and it’s a one-branch-at-a-time selection and delivery process.  It’s slow going.  As time progresses, mating takes place, then eggs, then babies.  The beauty of all of this is we can often watch every step of the process with those birds that make their nests within our viewing distance.  Take for instance those on platforms in waterfront communities, the nest at the foot of the South River Bridge, southbound/Annapolis side, or the ones in the light above the athletic field at Truxtun Park – just a few examples of many within the Four Rivers Heritage Area.  Ospreys are fish-eating, birds of prey and like other raptors, you will often see them getting mobbed by crows.  Ospreys leave in the fall, though in recent history there have been sightings of some year-round within the Chesapeake watershed – I’ve seen one in December in Annapolis.

The following websites offer loads of great information about ospreys  –

Very informative, lots of resources, osprey platform plans and you can register to become an osprey watcher –

Follow ospreys as they migrate –

Very important information for home/boat/business owners should ospreys decide to nest on your property –

Chesapeake Conservancy’s Osprey Cam –

To learn more about our local birds, join the MD Birding group on Facebook.  It offers a wealth of information and beautiful photos by Maryland’s bird-enthusiasts –


Images above: top, Osprey by Donna L. Cole; bottom, Osprey montage by Donna L. Cole.

— Donna Cole, Annapolis Creative

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