Local Birding News

Spring Feeder Birds

Rose-breasted Gosbeaks

Every spring we are fortunate to see Rose-breasted grosbeaks visit our feeders for an all too brief time as they make their way north to breeding areas. The male is very handsome, sporting black and white plumage, with a v-shaped splash of vibrant red on the chest. The female’s plumage is primarily brown and white, with its underparts heavily streaked. On females you may also see the yellow wing linings. Both males and females have a large, triangular shaped bill. Some years they are scarce at the feeders but others we see small flocks of these birds settle in to feeding areas and seemingly remain for as much as three or four weeks. It’s very likely that you are seeing a daily exchange of at least some of those grosbeaks, though. Birds you saw yesterday may already have moved on to be replaced by new arrivals. They readily accept a variety of seeds, mostly sunflower and safflower, and most tube, hopper, and platform feeders accommodate them nicely. Let us know when and how many you see.

Indigo Bunting

Another very nice bird, although not as common in numbers at feeders as the RB Grosbeak, is the Indigo Bunting. A breeding male Indigo Bunting is blue all over, with slightly richer blue on his head and a shiny, silver-gray bill. Females are basically brown, with faint streaking on the breast, a whitish throat, and sometimes a touch of blue on the wings, tail, or rump. Immature males are patchy blue and brown. One may see them feeding on sunflower, safflower, millet, and finch feed. They are apt to visit hanging feeders as well as forage on the ground.

This small bright blue bird spends its winters in central and southern parts of South America, and can been seen across eastern North America in the spring and summer months. Indigo Buntings eat small seeds, berries, buds, and insects. They are common on the edges of woods and fields; along roads, streams, rivers, and power line cuts; in logged forest plots, brushy, and abandoned fields where shrubby growth is returning. A great local spot to see Indigo Buntings is along the Harpeth greenway that runs behind Ensworth high school and Warner parks where the field hits the tree line along the Harpeth River. They can be seen darting in and out of the tree line foraging for insects and small seeds in the fields and trees.

Like all other blue birds, Indigo Buntings lack blue pigment. Their jewel-like color comes instead from microscopic structures in the feathers that refract and reflect blue light, much like the airborne particles that cause the sky to look blue.

Baltimore and Orchard Oriole

The Baltimore and Orchard Oriole are not really common spring feeder birds but worth mentioning. They migrate through TN on the way to their breeding destinations, which tend to be north of TN. Some of my bird store associates in Iowa and Ohio do a very strong “Oriole” business because they are in the heart of Oriole breeding territory. Both species of Oriole are insect, fruit and nectar feeders.

We often encounter a customer that reports a Baltimore at their seed feeder which would be extremely unusual, but not impossible. After a few questions and shared pictures it is usually determined to be a male Eastern Towhee. There are similarities but when seen side by side very distinct differences.

The Baltimore is the more familiar of the two and is known for its bold orange and black plumage. Females are olive to brown above and burnt orange-yellow below. White wing bars are very noticeable. Baltimore’s are about 8” in length, long tailed, and have sharply pointed beaks.

The Orchard Oriole is slightly smaller. The male is a rich chestnut color on its underparts and black above. Females are an olive-green above and yellowish below, much like female Tanagers, but have distinguishable white wing bars.

Over the course of 25 years I have tried various proven methods of attracting Orioles to my yard with little success. Available information about Orioles suggests orange halves and jelly are the two most common food choices to grab an Orioles attention. None of my attempts with these offerings ever produced results.

The years I did attract them I did nothing specific to make it happen. A few times I had multiple male Orioles visiting hummingbird feeders, and other years it has been the moving water source (fountain) that is very popular with all birds. The times they decided to come to hummingbird feeders were likely a result of a lack of natural food sources they would normally be drawn to during their spring travel. Over the course of the few days Orioles were visiting my hummingbird feeders I also presented orange halves in plain view, because that’s what you always see pictures of them feeding on, but they showed no interest and seemed to be content with the sugar water nectar.

Winter bird activity

We hope everyone had a great holiday season and many thanks to all of you who shopped with us and brought us baked goods. We greatly appreciate all of you. During the holidays we get so busy running the store our weekly blog takes a vacation. Many of you give us favorable feedback on our blogs, which is nice to hear, but if there is a subject you think we should touch on please let us know.

So far this has been a fairly uninteresting winter for bird feeding enthusiasts. Although people have seen Red-breasted Nuthatches at feeders sightings have slowed. If you live where there is a presence of pine or cedar trees keep a close eye on your feeders this cold weekend. Red-breasted Nuthatches show a preference for areas with pine and/or cedar. Since I have no pine trees I recently ventured out to Montgomery Bell State Park and only had to step out of my truck in the visitor parking area to see a group of 5 or 6 in the cedar tree I had parked near. By the way if you really want to see Red-headed Woodpeckers you will see them at Montgomery Bell. They, too, seem to prefer open areas adjacent to forest along with lots of pine trees. I enjoy golfing and birding at MB and marvel at the great numbers of “Red-heads “present.

Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Red-headed Woodpecker.

Red-headed Woodpecker.

With the fluctuations in temperature come fluctuations in feeder consistency. On warm days, anything in the 50’s or more, insects become active and your feeder birds may gravitate to the sudden availability of protein. Birds do not live on seed and suet alone and never will. Customers sometimes make the comment “the birds must be confused”. Not likely. They simply adapt to changing weather patterns and take advantage of whatever food sources become available. Although, on Tuesday when it reached nearly 70 degrees I heard some birds singing which is usually reserved for spring and summer. So maybe they are a little confused, or perhaps eager.

Some notable sightings around Nashville include numerous reports of Sandhill Crane flocks flying over, a Bald Eagle regularly seen around Hillwood Golf Course, and a Snow Goose at Radnor Lake. One sighting of an Evening Grosbeak in east TN got me a bit excited because it’s been 30 years since notable numbers of them have been seen in this area. And they like to visit bird feeders. But more sightings were not reported and the chance to see them here fizzled.

Sandhill Crane.

Sandhill Crane.

Evening Grosbeak.

Evening Grosbeak.

Fall Migration Notes

Fall Migration is underway and while your birdfeeders will slow down as we approach October birdwatching will only get more interesting.  Have your binoculars with you and ready because warblers are pouring through middle Tennessee stopping to feed in the early mornings on insects and berries.  Mornings are the best time to see lots of different species of warblers.  And mornings after a storm tend to be even better.  Make time to visit one of the many great local birdwatching areas this fall to see some of them.  For information about great places to birdwatch click on the links below…

  • Tennessee Birding Trails is a great website for locating trails for specific types of birding.

  • Tennessee Birding Facebook group has an active community of birders who post often.

  • Tennessee Ornithological Society (TOS) Nashville Chapter is having their Radnor Lake Wed morning bird walks September 19th and continue each Wednesday through October 10th. Please meet in the west Parking lot outside the Visitor’s Center at 7:30am. Come rain or shine. With the exception of ongoing downpours or thunderstorms.

  • TN-BIRD email list is a free list that allows you to get updates of bird sighting from other birders in the area. to receive emails simply click on “find and join” at the top right of the tn-bird page, search for list name tn-bird, and follow the instructions on signing up your email.


One of the more interesting, easy, and fun things to see in the fall is the migration of Chimney Swifts and Common Nighthawks. In the evenings, particularly in areas where there is outdoor lighting, like high school football games and shopping malls, Common Nighthawks gather and feed on insects. Downtown areas tend to be very productive areas to see both.

The Common Nighthawk, a member of the Goatsuckers family, measures around 9 1/2 “in length. They are gray-brown with slim, long wings that have a distinctive white bar near the tips. They are most active at night but can be seen midday as well. They fly with long easy strokes but can quickly change direction and appear erratic as they catch flying insects. Male Nighthawks have a white throat and white band across a notched tail. Listen for the unusual “peent” call of the Nighthawk.

The Chimney Swift is a short swallowlike bird with long, slightly curved wings. Peterson’s field guide to Eastern Birds describes it as a “cigar with wings”. Always in motion, Swifts appear to continually fly never landing to rest and constantly “twitter”. They measure about 5 ½” in length and are uniformly grayish to brown. During migration Swifts have been known to roost together by the thousands in a single chimney. On more than a few occasions I have witnessed a “funnel” of swifts descending into the chimney of a downtown building while on my way to a Predators game. It is a fascinating sight.


And About Hummingbirds

We may see Ruby-throated hummingbirds well into October so keep your feeders out with fresh nectar as there may be several waves of hummingbirds still coming through TN on their return to Central and South America. The belief that feeders should be taken down to cause the birds to migrate is incorrect.  They will leave when they are ready whether there is a feeder present or not.  

Differences in Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

The differences in male, female, and juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are subtle but if you know what to look for you can identify between the three fairly easily. Keep in mind that from the beginning to the middle of the hummingbird season (mid April to mid July) you won’t be seeing any juvenile birds. After the young leave the nest in July they will be considered an adult bird but with juvenile plumage.

Adult male hummingbirds of course have the ruby throat but it is not always apparently red. In certain lighting or at certain angles it can appear black. Adult and juvenile females have a white throat that is sometimes marked with faint grey or buffy streaking. Juvenile males may also have a white throat like a female, but more often it is streaked to a greater or lesser degree with black or green.

Tails are also a good way to tell birds apart. Adult males have a more forked tail with pointed outer feathers that are solid black. Females and juvenile males have a blunt rounded tail that is mostly black with white tips to the outer feathers.

Both sexes, adult and juvenile can vary slightly in size and weight depending on the time of season however it is not uncommon for birds to almost double their weight in August and September in preparation of the fall migration.

Adult male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Notice the difference in the male and female tails. The male is forked where the female is blunt with white tipped feathers.

Adult female Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Notice the light spotted throat compared to the male on the right.

This adult female is showing off her more blunt tail with white tipped feathers. The male is more forked and lacks the white.

In some lights the throat of the adult male can appear black.

Juvenile male with his ruby throat beginning to come in.


Visit the Warner Park Nature Center Saturday August 25th for their Hummingbird Celebration.

Visit the Warner Park Nature Center Saturday August 25th for their Hummingbird Celebration.

Click here  for more info on the Warner Parks Nature Center's Hummingbird Celebration.

Click here for more info on the Warner Parks Nature Center's Hummingbird Celebration.

Celebrate Hummingbirds at the Warner Park Nature Center August 25th from 9:30 am to 2 pm.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are migrating South. Celebrate our smallest bird with local nurseries and other groups dedicated to conserving hummingbirds. Nashville Natives, Kona Ice, The Wood Thrush Shop and the Bellevue Branch of the Nashville Public Library will also join us to celebrate. All ages are welcome, and no registration is required. 

Hummingbird Happy Hour

The Warner parks have been conducting bird research since the 1930's. Today, Park staff and volunteers conduct extensive banding and bird counts, and take part in Project FeederWatch, a survey of winter bird populations across North America conducted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.

Join the Warner Park Nature Center for the second annual Hummingbird Happy Hour on Friday, September 7, 2018 from 6:00pm- 9:00pm. Proceeds from ticket and art sales will support the Bird Information, Research and Data (B.I.R.D) programs, keeping these programs free and available for schools, families and Park visitors.

Tickets are available for purchase at the Warner Park Nature Center or online through the Friends of Warner Parks website. Click Here to purchase tickets.