Cedar Waxwings ((Bombycilla cedrorum) are commonly seen in central MA in fall, and some flocks stay here in winter, roaming about in search of fruit to eat. What many people don't notice is the juveniles in the groups. Like the bird on the left, the young of this year--hatched in mid-to late summer--will retain their mottled and less-colorful plumage through January.
The North American beaver (Castor canadensis) is very common here, but not so commonly seen in winter when ponds are ice-covered and the mammals are limited in their movements. They continue to utilize open channels in wetlands, even if the water is full of snow and ice chunks, insulated from the cold by a thick layer of fat under their skin.
Definitely uncommon and rare in Massachusetts, Red-headed Woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) are irregular or short-distance migrants that generally do not stray far from their usual territories in the southern and central states. There is some question as to whether this is another species beginning to expand its breeding range. This wanderer showed up in Belchertown in the fall and is continuing as of the date of this post.
This is a year when Red-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta canadensis)are uncommon. This species can be irruptive, moving southward in great numbers in years when cone production is poor on their breeding grounds. But this winter they are showing up as lone birds at scattered locations.
In the case of many bird species, it's uncommon to locate sleeping birds in their evening roosts. Most tend to hide away in dense foliage, cavities, high in trees, against tree trunks, etc. in order to be less vulnerable to predators. This American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) and two comrades chose to wedge themselves against the branches of a staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) for two cold nights in mid-December in Hardwick. Temperatures those nights were 1 degree F. and -4 degrees F. respectively. It could be that the sumac structure provided good support, a bit of camouflage re: similar shape silhouette, or some other unknown advantage.
Very common the rest of the year, Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) numbers shrink to scattered individuals throughout our region in winter. It can be a challenge to find them on some of our local Christmas Bird Counts.
Easily confused with Purple Finch, House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) was non-existent here until after 1940. Originally a bird of the western United States and Mexico, a small number of the finches were turned loose on Long Island, New York, after failed attempts to sell them as cage birds, They quickly started breeding and spread across almost all of the eastern United States and southern Canada within the next 50 years.
A common breeding species in central Massachusetts, although not often seen, Barred Owls are encountered more often when they are vocalizing during their late winter/early spring breeding season. In winter they sometimes hunt in daytime on overcast or snowy days. This one was perched low over a frozen marsh in Hardwick, listening for voles or mice.
This declining species is becoming uncommon, particularly in the eastern United States, so the appearance of Evening Grosbeaks (Coccothraustes vespertinus) at birdfeeders in Petersham and Hardwick in December was of interest. Normally they are found in flocks, so this lone female was a mystery.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) were rarely seen in Massachusetts 25 years ago. They have become common breeders in many types of forests and readily visit suet feeders. This female was at Westfield Farm in Hubbardston in early December.