Category Archives: bird names

Nighthawks on the Move over Philadelphia

Fall migration is underway and one species that might get overlooked is the Common Nighthawk. These nocturnal birds breed across most of the United States and the southern half of Canada, though in our area they are not that common. However, Sheryl Johnson, who runs the Nighthawk Watch at Haverford College, Haverford, Delaware County, has just contacted us to say that migration is underway and that the last couple of nights have been excellent, with counts of 718 and 177 respectively. I saw that Andy Fayer reported an amazing 1700 from the Militia Hill Hawk Watch site in Fort Washington, Montgomery County sunday evening.

Peak flight time, as they pass through the Delaware Valley, is usually between the last week of August and the first week of September. Sheryl will be counting nighthawks daily, weather permitting, between 6:30pm and 8:00pm, through Labor Day Sept 7th, and everyone is welcome to join her at the Haverford College Observatory Bleachers.

Being active at night, and very cryptic in coloration as they rest during daylight hours (above), the best time of observe Common Nighthawks is in the early evening hours during fall migration. They overwinter in South America and will not be back until late April. Nighthawks get their name from their habit of hunting insects at nightfall.

photo © adrian binns

Avocets have Arrived

The sexes in American Avocets (above) can be separated by the upturn on the bill, with the female (center bird) having a more strongly upturned bill than the males. One of our more beautiful and distinctive waders is the American Avocet, in particular in its breeding plumage. There were a few records of Avocets breedingContinue Reading

Icteria, Icterus, Ikteros

It is not often that I get to see an oriole in the neighborhood so it was a pleasant surprise to see an immature male Baltimore Oriole (above), Icterus galbula, in the yard earlier this morning. Orioles belong to the family Icteridae, that includes meadowlarks, cowbirds, grackles, blackbirds and bobolink, and are certainly the mostContinue Reading

A Starling gets its Spots

This immature European Starling (above) is beginning to molt from its juvenile plumage, which would be an even drab grayish-brown, into a non-breeding adult. On the cropped photo below, we can see the iridescent feathers on the greater coverts (part of the wing) with cinnamon fringes, as well as the beginnings of its white spottedContinue Reading

The Law of Priority

In my last blog I talked about birds that had dubious common names. Now we’ll look at the scientific names of two species that fall into that category. In wildlife nomenclature there is a Law of Priority which essentially states that the name given a new species by its original describer stands if the publicationContinue Reading


I wonder how several species actually got their name, because to my way of thinking, they do not seem to make much sense. Take the Ring-necked Duck (below), which is found throughout North America. How many have seen the faint cinnamon ring around the base of the neck on the male? It is really onlyContinue Reading

Can Vultures Smell? Can Birds Smell?

A Turkey Vulture uses sight and smell to locate food Whether it is due to global warming or as a result of increased roadkill, vultures circling overhead are becoming an increasingly common sight. Today I came across a lone Turkey Vulture feeding on a roadkill rabbit (below). Vultures cover a great deal of territory whileContinue Reading

American Goldfinches are Breeding

Male American Goldfinch feeding on thistle I am noticing fewer female American Goldfinches at my nyjer (thistle) feeder at the moment. Being one of our last birds to nest they are now sitting on eggs. Their diet is almost exclusively seeds, even during the period that they feed their offspring. The timing of their late-seasonContinue Reading

Day 16: Serpent Tongue

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird chicks (above) are now big enough that I can see all the upper portion of them, their bodies protruding out the ends of the nest. There are records of hummers fledging as young as 15-16 days, but I can not imagine them surviving. The white throat is filling in nicely and theContinue Reading

Bird Names: Color

Common names are usually used to describe a certain attribute, body part or physical appearance of a species that can differentiate it from another member of its genus. A great many names use coloration to make this distinction such as Chestnut-sided Warbler, Rufous-backed Robin, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Purple Gallinule, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-tailed Hawk, ScarletContinue Reading