Birds of Penobscot Bay

Zipping and zooming aerial displays greeted me when I set up residence at Forest Farm. It turns out that I was moving into an already occupied house, as a family of Eastern phoebes lived under the balcony, overlooking Penobscot Bay. I soon realized that birds of all feathers, shapes, and sizes soared over the land and sea. They are very easy to spot and enjoy now that I have removed my bird blinders and actively acknowledge their omnipresence. Once I look, I discover that birds are everywhere and share the same habitats with me that I love and cherish. The gulls and terns flitter and glide as I swim in the shallow cove or explore the tide pools. Warblers dip and dive from the trees catching insects. Hawks, herons and eagles fly high overhead as I go about my day. Such is life in Penobscot Bay, haven for humans and birds alike. My binoculars and Sibley field guide joined me as I settled into the residency at Forest Farm. What follows are brief encounters and descriptions of a few choice bird friends.

Early into my life at Forest Farm on Cape Rosier, I was surprised to meet an entire family of wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo). A large, solitary female led her brood of nearly one dozen young chicks across the road before disappearing into the underbrush. The chicks had most likely emerged only 1-2 weeks before, as they were quite small. They will follow mom around foraging for nuts and seeds until they learn enough to adeptly survive, at which time they will join a flock with other families.

wild turkey with chicks, just like I saw near the road

A wild turkey with chicks, similar to the family I saw crossing the road. Photo by Kevin Cole.

Eastern phoebes (Sayornis phoebe) dazzled me daily in spring with their acrobatic hunts for flies and other winged insects. The parents nursed a nest with a few chicks, which we could hear but not see, about 15 feet above our heads under the balcony of the Nearing home. When a parent would arrive, we could suddenly hear the gentle shrill of the chicks hungry for their meal. Sadly, the phoebes were found dead, independently, in what appeared to my detective work to be collisions with the large living room window facing the sea just beneath their nest. I was really looking forward to watching the chicks fledge, but I fear they died once the parents no longer furnished food. Sad face.

Eastern phoebe, which I used to see catching insects and delivering them to its young.

Eastern phoebe, like the ones I used to see catching insects to deliver to their young. Photo by Manjithkaini.

My living alarm clock, American robins (Turdus migratorius) bring me joy, if not sleep, when I hear them. Their call seems to usher in the new day, bright with possibilities, which lifts my spirits. Although I have seen them everywhere, and their ubiquity borders on drudgery when in search of other birds, I enjoy their presence on the farm. They sneak into the garden after we have left for the day, then shamelessly fly away when they see me approach.

Myriad warblers enliven our shore scene, but the yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia) stands out. They perch above the stream that empties into the cove in Penobscot Bay, then dash about collecting insects. Their distinct yellow body with chestnut streaks make them easy to identify, and their call spells summer, sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet.

Great blue herons (Ardea herodias) gracefully stand near the shore of the bay on the lookout for a meal of fish, snails, or crustaceans. In fact they eat just about anything they can catch. I encounter them about once each week. These large, beautiful water birds usually roam independently, which is why I was delighted to see five of them flying together above our cove. They landed in spruce trees near the water perhaps building nests, or “heronries.” Hopefully this means many more future herons for our cove.

Great blue heron stands still at sunset in the cove

A great blue heron stands still at sunset in the cove

Belted kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) are such fun birds. They swoop and dive in the hunt for small fish, and in the process entertain me. Their loud cackling call alerts me to their presence. They are large, distinct, and powerful in flight. I see them occasionally patrolling the cove in search of a meal, or perched on trees near the water.

American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) have been my favorite songbird since I started thinking about birds in 2nd grade. My teacher, Mrs. Cornell, adored birds and helped instill in me an appreciation and respect for birds and nature. I remember drawing a pretty decent goldfinch in her class if I may say so myself. I love their coloration, which impresses with brilliant yellow and a black cap and wings. Their mere presence makes me smile.

What incredible forest camouflage does the ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) enjoy! I like to think of them as chickens of the woods. They roam the perimeter around our farm and betray their presence by crashing rather loudly through the forest floor. They do not shy away when I inch closer to admire them, until a high pitched warning call convinces me to withdraw.

The ruffed grouse, like the one pictured here, scavenges for food along the forest floor. Photo by Gerry.

The ruffed grouse, like the one pictured here, scavenges for food along the forest floor. Photo by Gerry.

No one can really complain about a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) sighting, because these large, easy to identify birds induce a thrill every time. Shortly after the the signing of the Declaration of Independence, founding fathers choose the bald eagle as our national emblem: an enduring, if not detached, symbol of “America” and “patriotism.” Benjamin Franklin wrote of the bald eagle that it is “a bird of bad moral character.” Funny that this bold predator and symbol of American pride very commonly scavenges and steals its meals from others. That said, when we see our bald eagles swoop into the area they are without fail being pestered by crows.

Birds bring a joy and vivaciousness to life on the farm. Start to notice the birds around and they just might uplift you, too. For more information on birding in the beautiful state of Maine, check out Maine Audubon’s Birding Guide. Happy trails!



Sam Adels

About Sam Adels

Sam and his wife Claire are the resident stewards of the Good Life Center, the homestead of Helen and Scott Nearing in Harborside, Maine. They are learning from the example that Helen and Scott set with their lives: living simply, gardening, and welcoming visitors to their homestead. They are transplants, and like a seedling, they are together putting down roots in order to grow.