The time is drawing nigh for Santa Claus to land on the roof and slide down the chimney with a satchel full of toys for young and old. There are a good number of Vineyard homeowners that have a cap over their chimneys to prevent birds, squirrels and other critters from coming down the chimney for an unexpected visit. Those of you who have caps and worry about Santa Claus not finding an alternate route to enter your house and deliver your Christmas goodies might think about removing the chimney cap. However, I do not suggest this and here is why!

Just before Thanksgiving, David Ferraguzzi and Patricia Carlet stopped by a house on Lambert’s Cove Road that David caretakes. When David entered the house he heard a peculiar sound, like someone hitting a window with a towel. He headed toward the sound and discovered a barn owl beating against the kitchen window trying to escape. David called Scott Stephens and Penny Uhlendorf for assistance. Scott zipped over to the house with a towel in hand to help remove the owl from the house. When Scott arrived and met David they entered the kitchen to find, in Scott’s words, “the majestic barn owl standing on top of the refrigerator.” Trying to be the least intrusive, Scott and David opened the door to the outside in hopes the owl would fly out. Unfortunately, the owl flew to a closed window and tried to exit that way to no avail. Scott carefully placed the towel over the barn owl and carried it outside where the owl immediately flew to a nearby pine tree.

It is not uncommon for barn and screech owls as well as raccoons and squirrels to seek shelter from the weather in a chimney that is not in use. Gus Ben David has had multiple calls from people who have found sooty owls and other wildlife in their houses or have heard strange noises coming from their fireplaces. Evicting owls or other creatures from the flue of a chimney is not an easy job and unfortunately more often than not the owl or other creature does not survive.

If you are considering a gift for your feathered friends this year, along with bird seed and suet you might consider placing a cap on your chimney. Chimney caps allow smoke from your fire or furnace to exit, but prevent birds and other wildlife from entering. And I am sure Santa can find another way to enter to deliver his presents.

Bird Sightings

It seems barn owls are on the prowl. Not only was one found in a house on Lambert’s Cove Road, but Saskia Vanderhoop heard one by her Aquinnah home on Nov. 23. The same day, Bert Fischer counted and photographed 14 purple sandpipers on the Menemsha jetties.

Patrick Mitchell spotted an evening grosbeak at Rez Williams and Lucy Mitchell’s West Tisbury yard on Nov. 16.

Tom Rivers found a very out-of-place female evening grosbeak at the uninhabited caretaker’s shack at Squibnocket Point on Nov. 22. On Nov. 23 he spotted a rough-legged hawk, a raptor that used to be common on the Vineyard, but one that we rarely see anymore. On Nov. 26 Tom had a flock of eight white-winged crossbills swoop down and drink from the pond in the Rivers yard off Tea Lane.

Jeff Bernier went to Norton Point on Nov. 23 and commented that it resembles the photographs of the planet Mars “landscape.” Bird highlights included a red-throated loon off the south side, eastern meadowlark and Ipswich sparrow in what is left of the dunes, and a belted kingfisher near Herring Creek.

Warren Woessner watched three Baltimore orioles feeding on bittersweet berries and two pied-billed grebes in the pond at the Sheriff’s Meadow Sanctuary in Edgartown on Nov. 22. Then on Nov. 27 Ken Magnuson photographed three Baltimore orioles at a feeder next to Sheriff’s Meadow, probably the same birds. Yet Debbie Carter had a female Baltimore oriole at her Katama feeder the same day. Debbie also noted that she had three brown creepers and a red-bellied woodpecker in her yard as well. Chances are these four orioles are probably birds that were blown back north by Sandy and now are getting hungry and heading for feeders. Hopefully, they will head south, but if they don’t perhaps they will remain for the Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 29 and continue to use feeders for their sustenance.

Tom Chase watched a very late migrating osprey flying over his Oak Bluffs home on Nov. 24. The same day Ken Magnuson counted eight American oystercatchers at Eel Pond in Edgartown. Michael Ditchfield sent a photo of an Eastern phoebe he took at Dark Woods in Edgartown. At the other end of the Island, Saskia Vanderhoop spotted a flock of snow buntings and a merlin at the Gay Head Cliffs.

I received an exciting call from Joanie Ames of Seven Gates in West Tisbury. She spotted a hummingbird feeding on her pineapple sage on Nov. 27. She put her hummingbird feeder back up and saw that the bird was feeding there as well. She took some photos of the bird, which is a feat in itself as hummingbirds do not like to keep still. At present we think the bird might be a black-chinned hummingbird, but Lanny McDowell and Joanie Ames are going to try to take more photos to help us make a positive ID.

On Nov. 27 Daniel Waters sent a photograph of a very soggy looking warbler which caused quite a discussion pertaining to its ID. The end results were that the bird was ID’ed as a wet pine warbler.

Many people including myself are still hosting red-breasted nuthatches at their feeders. No doubt these pixies will remain all winter if you keep your feeder stocked.

Martha Moore spotted a great cormorant at Middle Point Cove on Tisbury Great Pond on Nov. 28.

Libby Ellis has recently moved to the head of the Lagoon and reports that she is enjoying a belted kingfisher that visits her daily at cocktail hour. On Nov. 27 she counted 40 playful buffleheads feeding in the waters off her property. Libby admits she is not a birder and said she “saw two amazing hawk-like birds circling and serenading one another on Sunday, but I’m not able to identify them yet. Coral-colored against the sky.” From that description I would wager she was seeing immature northern harriers.

Warren Woessner, Lanny McDowell and I birded Cow Bay and Vineyard Sound on Nov. 27. We counted close to 20 horned grebes, one red-necked grebe, a greater scaup, white-winged and surf scoters, hooded and red-breasted mergansers, and our best birds were one oldsquaw and two palm warblers.

At our Quenames feeder Flip Harrington and I had a red-winged blackbird on Nov. 20. On Nov. 24 a red-winged blackbird arrived for the day, as did a female purple finch that stayed for four days. On Nov. 26 we had a fox sparrow arrive to stay two days and on Nov. 28 we had a woodpecker reunion, both downy and hairy, a red-bellied and a yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or email

Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is