Little Tin Horn is the name that Eric Cottle gave the bird that seems to be gracing everyone’s feeders this season. Nothing sounds more like those penny whistle tin horns than the red nuts — (the name bird-watchers give the red-breasted nuthatches).

Also known as the topsy-turvy-bird or devil-down-bird, this four-inch bundle of energy is a great occasional addition to the Vineyard bird community during the fall and winter. Primarily a resident of the boreal forests north of here, the little tin horns only grace us with their presence when the seeds of the conifers fail and they seek greener pastures.

A frequent question I get from beginning birders: “Is that a male or female?” Most of the time I have to answer, “You will have to ask them,” because many songbirds are not sexually dimorphic (different). This is not the case for the red nuts. The little tin horn males have a black cap, white eye line and a dark rusty belly. The females, on the other hand, have a paler rust colored belly and a lighter gray cap. This is hard to see in the field, but one should be able to distinguish the gents from the dames on your feeder.

The red nuts are feisty and can be quite aggressive at a feeding station. If you are here for Thanksgiving and do not have a feeder visit Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary and check out their feeders or, if you are in the neighborhood, even the feeders at Farm Neck have red-breasted nuthatches visiting them.

Don’t forget the Fall Festival at Felix Neck the day after Thanksgiving. I will be leading a bird walk starting at 9 a.m. and the festivities begin at 11 a.m.

Bird Sightings

Catching up with Tim and Sheila Baird is always enlightening. Their best bird recently was a short-eared owl that was first seen on Oct. 28 and then again on Nov. 2 hunting State Beach. This striking owl used to be a common sight hunting the fields of the south side of the Vineyard. Now it is a rare visitor.

Other Baird records of interest include eight brant in Oak Bluffs on Nov. 9, white-crowned sparrows on Oct. 16, golden crowned kinglets on Oct. 17, red-breasted nuthatches, pine siskins, purple finches and chipping sparrows on Oct. 19, white-throated and dark-eyed juncos on Oct. 22, gray catbird, hairy woodpecker and northern flicker on Oct. 24, yellow-bellied sapsucker and female Baltimore oriole on Oct. 31. As of Nov. 17 the Bairds no longer have pine siskins or purple finches, but have red-breasted nuthatches daily and a white-headed chickadee is in residence and has been since Oct. 24.

Allan Keith reported a bizarre hybrid Canada/barnyard goose on Nov. 12. He described it as larger than the normal Canada goose, with a longer black neck with whitish flecks, lots of white around the face and cheeks, and some white on the sides. Allan added that it is full-flying and could turn up anywhere. Allan also had a red-headed woodpecker at his Turtle Brook Farm feeder on Nov. 13.

Rob Bierregaard e-mailed me that the Vineyard’s young osprey “Belle is the only bird on the move right now. She’s taking us on a tour of some interesting geography as she heads south towards Amazonia All the adults seem to be settled down. They’ll be heading north in three to four months.” As always if you want more information go to

The ruby-throated hummingbird that was visiting the Fischers’ was last seen on Nov. 13 in the morning. The evening grosbeaks that were visiting Lanny McDowell’s West Tisbury feeder are gone, but Genevieve and Mike Jacobs called to let me know that there is a male and female evening grosbeak at their head of Lagoon home in Tisbury on Nov. 13.

Deb Carter photographed a hermit thrush that has been visiting her Katama yard the week of Nov. 8.

Tom Rivers spotted a nice raptor at Prospect Hill on Nov. 11. Again a species that used to be a common winter resident, the rough-legged hawk Tom saw is a good sighting. Tom and Barbara also are hosting around a dozen pine siskins at their Tea Lane home. And speaking of siskins, Julia Hoffman has been invaded; she has been feeding close to 50 pine siskins at her Old County Road home.

Bert Fischer watched three ring-necked ducks paddling around an Aquinnah pond, and on Nov. 13 he spotted a brown thrasher near his Aquinnah home. Beanie Alley called both me and Bert to describe four birds that were hovering around evergreens on Osprey Lane in Chilmark. Beanie was surprised to see a non-hummingbird hovering. His description was confusing me until he mentioned that on top of the bird’s head was a black football shaped cap with a yellow stripe through it. The birds were golden-crowned kinglets. Nice description!

Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stephens report that the pair of great horned owls have settled in at Northern Pines. Ten eastern bluebirds visited Penny and Scott’s Pilot Hill yard. Matt Pelikan saw a merlin near the hospital on Nov. 17.

Our Quenames bird feeder has two pine siskins daily and on Nov. 16 we had a hairy woodpecker along with the three downy woodpeckers we usually have. I joined Lanny McDowell and Pete Gilmore on a trip to Katama and Norton Point on Nov. 11. Our best birds were two first winter common terns and a great cormorant. On Nov. 13 Flip Harrington, Lanny McDowell, Peter Gilmore, Bob Cohen and Jaime Rubens and I went to Squibnocket to bird. Our best birds were red-throated loons, American wigeon, six harlequin ducks, northern gannets and nine ruddy ducks. Lanny found a northern shrike while the rest of us were looking offshore.

Although it is not Vineyard bird news, it is still fun to hear what is going on at Cuttyhunk. Tim Simmons reported seeing a red-shouldered hawk coming from the direction of the Vineyard on Nov. 12. He also spotted an American kestrel, a peregrine falcon, northern harrier and a red-tailed hawk the same day.


The Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline is changing its telephone number. Please now call 508-645-2913 to leave your bird sightings. You may also leave your bird sightings in an e-mail addressed to birds@mvgazette.

Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is