The question all the people that are sharing the Baltimore orioles on Lambert’s Cove Road, and now one in Oak Bluffs, are asking is, why are they still on Island? There are two answers, and they both have to do with genetics. Unlike many of the waterfowl that learn how to migrate from their parents, passerines or dickie birds are programmed by the genes of their parents. Therefore orioles, which are passerines, can innately navigate to their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. However sometimes there is a glitch in these inherited programs and either the young birds remain in their summer digs or, more commonly, a youngster makes a 180-degree turn and reverse migrates. So the Baltimore orioles here on the Vineyard were either born here and didn’t leave this fall, or came from points south. Unfortunately most of these birds will not survive the winter — although some do. The crew on Lambert’s Cove seems bent on keeping the young male alive with oranges and jelly! Good luck.

Bird Sightings

Laurie Walker and Katharine Colon spotted long-tailed ducks and red-breasted mergansers fishing in the waters off East Chop on Jan. 7. The next day the two women were in Menemsha and spotted American pipits. Also on Jan. 8 Laurie almost hit a great horned owl that flew across in front of her on South Road just north of Abel’s Hill. This is an interesting sighting as there have been no up-Island sightings of this large owl. At present we have pairs of great-horned owls on Chappaquiddick, Edgartown and Tisbury. Long-eared owls used to nest near Abel’s Hill, but there have been no sightings of these owls in many years. Both these owls are brown and large! Birders around Abel’s Hill should listen at night or keep a lookout for large owls. It would be great to have more reports!

On Jan. 13 Katharine Colon had a sharp-shinned hawk sitting on her deck in Vineyard Haven.

Eastern bluebirds are being reported all over the Island. Mary Johnson had between 40 and 50 eastern bluebirds feeding on the berry bushes in her backyard off the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. The snow covered the berries so Mary’s father, Francis Bernard, shook the snow off the berry bushes and the bluebirds returned to feed! Susan Shea reported six eastern bluebirds in her Oak Bluffs yard on Jan. 14. Susan also had a Baltimore oriole, and a hairy woodpecker. Tufted titmice have been regulars in the Shea yard all winter. Anne Richards reports three males and two female eastern bluebirds in her Christiantown yard on Jan. 14 and 16. Not only were they on the deck but also on her feeder. Down the road a piece in North Tisbury, Deb Cini had her first eastern bluebird of the winter at her feeder on Jan. 15. She is also enjoying four tufted titmice. Laurie Walker watched six or seven eastern bluebirds at her Abel’s Hill suet and seed feeders on Jan. 18 and 19. My guess is that the food in the wild may be sparse so the bluebirds are taking advantage of other sources of food.

Hatsie Potter called to say she had a hermit thrush in her Chappaquiddick garden on Jan. 14.

Jean Wexler had a visit from a female ruby-crowned kinglet. The kinglet was on Jean’s feeder, so Jean and Happy Spongberg could see that there was no ruby crown on the bird. The ruby crown is only present in the male of the species.

Richard and Bonna Whitten-Stovall called to say they had seen an American wigeon near Maciel Marine in Vineyard Haven on Jan. 18. They also saw a goose that they thought might be an immature white-fronted goose. I checked with Gus Ben David and he said that what the Whitten-Stovall family saw was a Toulouse goose. The Toulouse goose is the common gray barnyard goose and the one on the Lagoon has obviously left the farm!

The Robert Culbert family, due to the abundance of crabapples in their yard, has been hosting a flock of 40 robins. On Jan. 18 Rob spotted a snow goose in with a flock of Canada geese at Katama. Chilmark Pond was the only south shore pond with open water on Jan. 18, and here Rob spotted a greater yellowlegs, common merganser and green-winged teal.

Allan Keith was contacted by Strickland Wheelock to suggest places to bird on the Vineyard and to take him to Norton Point. The group came and here are some of the highlights of the 74 species they found during the weekend of Jan. 15. The group spotted 21 species of waterfowl — the best being two king eiders just outside Vineyard Haven harbor. They also had both northern shoveler and northern pintail ducks at Janet Norton’s farm in Edgartown. Long-tailed ducks were spotted off Wasque and harlequins off Squibnocket. The group enjoyed the barn owls at Felix Neck but also had three screech owls at the state forest. The hawks seen were northern harrier, Cooper’s and merlin. Gay Head, as usual, gave the group their best show. There were razorbills flying by and black-legged kittiwakes and northern gannets in a feeding frenzy. They had gray catbirds, eastern towhees and an Ipswich sparrow on Moshup’s Trail and Lobsterville Road.


Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail to

Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds2; visit her new Web site at