Tag Archives: Eastern Bluebird

High school senior looking out for interests of the region’s bluebirds

Bluebird-Pool

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A handsome male Eastern bluebird perches on a chain-link fence.

Observant people have probably noticed Eastern bluebirds already checking out possible nesting locations. These cavity-nesting birds begin scouting for possible nest sites in February and March. By April, female bluebirds may be incubating a clutch of eggs.

Although bluebirds will nest in natural cavities in trees, they respond readily to the availability of nesting boxes provided by human landlords. Many people are devoted to the cause of seeing that bluebirds — a favorite of many — continue to thrive in the face of certain challenges.

Bluebird-BeakFull

Photo by Adrianna Nelson • Bluebirds are skillful at foraging for insects.

Eighteen-year-old Adrianna Nelson is one such person. A senior at John S. Battle High School, Adrianna said she recently became involved with the Tennessee Bluebird Society as a way to become active with a conservation-related activity involving birds.

“I only recently got involved with TBS,” she said.

She began looking last summer for a way to contribute locally to the welfare of birds.

“I came across the TBS website,” she said. “They didn’t have a coordinator for Sullivan County, so I decided to fill the position.”

Nelson said she is interested in all birds but enjoys focusing on bluebirds and other cavity nesters to spread knowledge about their importance.

“TBS focuses on bluebirds,” she said.

Bluebird-FencePost

Photo by Bryan Stevens A male Eastern Bluebird inspects a nesting cavity in a wooden fence post. When such cavities are scarce, bluebirds readily build in nest boxes.

Bluebirds are like the “poster child” for the organization, Nelson noted, but she also pointed out that TBS also promotes the conservation of other native cavity nesters.

As county coordinator for TBS, her job primarily involves giving presentations to raise awareness about bluebirds and other cavity-nesting bird species.

“I have already presented to the Bristol Bird Club, and I plan to still give a few more presentations,” she said.

“I can also set up bluebird trails,” Nelson said. “I have not done any trails this year, but I have plans for next year. Part of my responsibilities is also to maintain trails and answer questions from the community.”

 

There are some good reasons for people to offer extra support to help bluebirds thrive.

“Eastern bluebirds are native cavity nesters,” Nelson said. “They are not strong enough to excavate their own cavities, so starlings and house sparrows can take over natural and man-made structures very quickly. It is important to promote the longevity of native species. Not only are they important, they are very beautiful.”

There are several things that people can do to make their yards and gardens more attractive to bluebirds.

“One of the most important is to make sure that there is proper habitat,” Nelson explained. “Bluebirds prefer open areas with some trees or other perches for spotting insects.”

Bluebird-withPineNeedles

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A female Eastern Bluebird gathers pine needles to use as nesting material. Bluebirds are a cavity-nesting species that will use natural or manmade cavities.

For those interested in attracting nesters, Nelson said that picking the right nest box and proper placement is important.

She helps maintain nesting boxes along a bluebird trail at Steele Creek Park in Bristol.

IMG_4196

Photo by Adrianna Nelson • Eastern bluebirds are a beautiful bird to welcome into the backyard.

In addition, providing plenty of water helps. “Bluebirds also like meal worms, but plants such as dogwoods, sumac, pokeweed, viburnum, and others can provide food, especially in the winter,” Nelson said.

Keeping predators away is crucial. According to Nelson, this can be achieved with simple actions such as keeping cats indoors.

“There are more details about bluebirds, boxes, nesting, predators, habitat and more online on the North American Bluebird Society website,” Nelson added.

Nelson shared some fascinating facts about bluebirds.

“They can spot insects from over 50 yards away,” she said.

EasternBluebird_Score

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Eastern Bluebirds are year-round residents in Northeast Tennessee.

Bluebirds are bigger than small songbirds like chickadees, wrens and warblers, yet they weigh only about one ounce.

Bluebirds are truly “early birds,” according to Nelson. “Eggs usually hatch within the first two hours after dawn,” she said.

There are no local meetings of the Tennessee Bluebird Society, but an annual meeting for TBS is held in November. The meeting is open to the public.

TBS and North American Bluebird Society members get quarterly journals and newsletters. There is also information on the websites of the two organizations for anyone interested in bluebirds.md19917207443

NABS was founded in 1978 by Dr. Lawrence Zeleny in order to promote the preservation of bluebirds, a cavity-nesting species in decline at that time. Zeleny, with the support of his wife, Olive, dedicated much of his life to providing nestboxes and managing bluebird trails. He promoted bluebird conservation through hundreds of talks and articles in many periodicals.

The Eastern bluebird has two close relatives — the Western bluebird and the mountain bluebird. These species belong to the genus, Sialia, which is counted among the world’s thrushes.The Western bluebird ranges throughout California, the southern Rocky Mountains, Arizona and New Mexico. The mountain bluebird is widespread in the western United States, as well. Two states — Idaho and Nevada — have bestowed official status on the mountain bluebird as their official state bird. The Eastern bluebird has also been honored with that designation by the states of Missouri and New York.

The Eastern bluebird suffered serious decline from 1940 into the 1960s, but it is now a common bird in the region. Rick Knight, author of The Birds of Northeast Tennessee, notes that nest boxes were instrumental in the recovery of the Eastern bluebird.

Nelson is continuing the work pioneered by others to conserve the Eastern bluebird. She lives in Bristol, Virginia, with her parents, Sandi and Shawn Nelson. She welcomes the public to contact her about bluebirds by emailing adriannan1@hotmail.com.

To learn more about the Tennessee Bluebird Society, visit http://www.tnbluebirdsociety.org. For more information on the North American Bluebird Society, visit wwwna.bluebirdsociety.org.

Bluebird-BabeInMimosa

Photo by Bryan Stevens A young Eastern Bluebird slowly gains independence after leaving the nest.

North America’s bluebirds never fail to impress with their winning ways

A famous song declares that “somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly,” so you’ll have to excuse me if I have been looking for those elusive rainbows during the unseasonably warm weather the region’s enjoyed in recent weeks.

Also, like the song promises, “dreams really do come true,” which was fulfilled by the arrival of this year’s first pair of Eastern bluebirds at my home on Friday, Feb. 23. The presence of a pair of these beautiful and trusting birds is always sure to put people in a good mood. People have known for generations that bluebirds make good neighbors. A pair of bluebirds in your yard or garden provides hour upon hour of free entertainment as one watches these birds go about their daily routine. At this time of the year, much of that routine is focused on finding and claiming the best possible nesting location for the upcoming spring season.

Bluebird-Comic

The Eastern bluebird is one of the most beloved American songbirds.

The Eastern bluebird is one of North America’s best-known cavity-nesting birds. About 85 species of North American birds use cavities in trees for nesting purposes. Cavity-nesters include ducks, such as buffleheads and wood ducks, as well as birds of prey such as Eastern screech-owls and American kestrels.

Woodpeckers and nuthatches can excavate their own cavity in a dead or decaying tree. Others, such as the bluebirds, must find a cavity already in existence. Such cavities are scarce real estate and can be subject to some intense competition. The Eastern bluebird is at a disadvantage when forced to compete with non-native introduced birds such as aggressive European starlings and house sparrows. Even native competitors such as house wrens and tree swallows are serious rivals when it comes down to staking a claim to prime nesting real estate.

Over the years, I have found bluebirds nesting in cavities inside wooden fence posts, but there are fewer wooden fence posts every year. This reinforces the idea of how changing landscapes have affected these birds. Instead of wooden fence posts, many farmers now use metal ones, and dead or dying trees — a much sought-after resource for cavity-nesting birds — are often removed from woodlands.

Bluebird-withPineNeedles

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A female Eastern Bluebird gathers pine needles to use as nesting material.

Fortunately for bluebirds, this species will also accept lodging in a nest box, or birdhouse, provided for them by human landlords. One of the simplest ways to bring bluebirds close is to offer wooden boxes, constructed to their specific requirements, for their use as nesting locations. Because of their trusting nature when it comes to their human neighbors, the Eastern bluebird is one of our most beloved birds. In fact, bluebirds are such popular birds that interest in them and their well-being has inspired the foundation of organizations such as the North American Bluebird Society. The Eastern bluebird has also been designated the official state bird for New York and Missouri, which provides more testimony to the immense popularity of this bird.

Bluebirds-One

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A flock of Eastern bluebirds perches on fenceposts.

There are two other species of bluebirds found in North America. The Western bluebird is found throughout the year in California, the southern Rocky Mountains, Arizona and New Mexico, as well as in part of Mexico. The species ranges in the summer as far north as the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and Montana. The Mountain bluebird nests in open country in the western United States as far north as Alaska. They are short-distance migrants, retreating as far south as Mexico during the winter season.

Other than these three species, North America offers few others birds with mostly “blue” plumages. Some examples include indigo bunting, blue grosbeak, and blue jay, as well as birds like great blue heron and belted kingfisher.

In addition to housing, food and water can be used to lure Eastern bluebirds closer. This bird doesn’t eat seeds, but it can be attracted with an offering of mealworms — live or freeze-dried – or commercially prepared peanut butter nuggets. A water feature in a yard is also a magnet for bluebirds and a host of other bird species.

Bluebird-Pool

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A handsome male Eastern bluebird perches on a chain-link fence.

If your home doesn’t provide suitable open, spacious bluebird habitat, it’s still easy to enjoy these beautiful birds. An afternoon or evening drive into open country, such as agricultural farmland, is likely to yield sightings of this bird on fences and utility lines. Golf courses, some of which go the extra mile to accommodate bluebirds, also provide habitat for these lovely birds.

The Eastern bluebird is present in the region in all seasons and is one of our more common birds. If you’re already an experienced landlord and host for these birds, you probably already know they joys they can bring. If not, why not try to attract them closer to you? Most bluebirds in the region have already started looking for a nesting site. Many of these birds may nest two or even three times in a single season. March has only just arrived, so there’s still time to place a nest box or two on your property to get their attention.

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If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Bluebiord-Male-Playground

Photo by Bryan Stevens A male Eastern Bluebird perched on playground equipment at Winged Deer Park in Johnson City.

Happiness is an Eastern Bluebird

 

Bluebirds make good neighbors. A pair of Eastern Bluebirds in your yard or garden will have no trouble with minor intrusions into their lives as they go about their daily routine, and the payoff for you is hours of free entertainment.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A male Eastern Bluebird perched on playground equipment at Winged Deer Park in Johnson City.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A male Eastern Bluebird perched on playground equipment at Winged Deer Park in Johnson City.

I’m pleased to report that the first of the season’s young Eastern Bluebirds have left the security of their nest box in our yard – the only home they’ve known since hatching – for the wider world of field and woodland.

As has usually been the case, I didn’t witness their departure. In the days after the fledglings departed the wooden nest box, I’ve observed them perched and waiting, impatiently usually, for their parents to arrive with caterpillars, moths or other morsels of food.

The Eastern Bluebird is one of North America’s best-known cavity-nesting birds. About 85 species of North American birds use cavities in trees for nesting purposes. Cavity-nesters include ducks, such as Buffleheads and Wood Ducks, as well as birds of prey such as Eastern Screech-owls and American Kestrels.

Some of these species, such as woodpeckers and nuthatches, can excavate their own cavity in a dead or decaying tree. Others, such as the bluebirds, must find a cavity already in existence. Such cavities are scarce real estate and can be subject to some intense competition. The Eastern Bluebird is at a disadvantage when forced to compete with non-native introduced birds such as aggressive European Starlings and the House Sparrows.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A male Eastern Bluebird inspects a nesting cavity in a wooden fence post.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A male Eastern Bluebird inspects a nesting cavity in a wooden fence post.

Last month, I found bluebirds nesting in a cavity in a wooden fence post that was part of an enclosure for a field. The fence post nest reinforced how changing landscapes have also affected these birds. Instead of wooden fence posts, many farmers now use metal ones. Dead or dying trees – a much sought-after resource for cavity-nesting birds — are often removed from woodlands.

Fortunately for bluebirds, this species will also accept lodging in a nest box, or birdhouse, provided for them by human landlords. Because of their trusting nature when it comes to their human neighbors, the Eastern Bluebird is one of our most beloved birds. In fact, bluebirds are such popular birds that interest in them and their well-being has inspired the foundation of such organizations as the North American Bluebird Society. The Eastern Bluebird has also been designated the official state bird for New York and Missouri.

There are two other species of bluebirds found in North America.

The Western Bluebird is found throughout the year in California, the southern Rocky Mountains, Arizona and New Mexico, as wells part of Mexico. The species ranges in the summer as far north as the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and Montana.

The Mountain Bluebird nests in open country in the western United States as far north as Alaska. They are short-distance migrants, retreating as far south as Mexico during the winter season.

Except for a whitish-grayish belly, the male Mountain Bluebird is a brilliant sky blue above with paler blue on his underparts. The female looks similar if duller in her coloration.

Some people in the region mistakenly assume that Eastern Bluebirds are “mountain” bluebirds because they will reside in higher elevation open areas. The simplest way to tell the two species apart — although not necessary since the range of the Mountain Bluebirds is hundreds of miles to the west — is the reddish undersides of both sexes of the Eastern Bluebird.

The states of Nevada and Idaho have selected the Mountain Bluebird as their official state bird. I saw this species in 2006 during a trip that took me to Utah and Idaho.

Bluebirds are members of the extended family of thrushes, making them relatives of such birds as American Robin, Wood Thrush and Veery. The relationship of the Eastern Bluebird to the American Robin can be seen in the red breast sported by both species. In addition, young robins and bluebirds both have spotted breasts, providing more evidence of their affinity with many of the thrushes. The thrush family numbers more than 100 species worldwide and extends into Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as various islands.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A female Eastern Bluebird gathers pine needles to use as nesting material.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A female Eastern Bluebird gathers pine needles to use as nesting material.

Inviting the Eastern Bluebird into your yard and gardens is not usually too difficult. It helps if you live in an open, spacious habitat bordered with small trees. Providing a nesting box constructed to the specifications for this bird is another way to attract them. With natural cavities in trees and fence posts a rare commodity, this bird will readily accept boxes. It’s not a sure-fire means of bring bluebirds closer. Plenty of other native birds, including Carolina Chickadees, Tree Swallows and House Wrens, will also make use of a box designated for bluebirds.

The NABS recommends a box that is well ventilated, watertight and equipped with drainage holes. The box should also be easy to open, monitor and clean.

For more specific and very valuable information about becoming a landlord for bluebirds, please visit http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org/PDF/FAQ/NABS%20factsheet%20-%20Getting%20Started%20-%2024May12%20DRAFT.pdf to access an informative fact sheet.

Starlings and House Sparrows are not native species and are not protected by law. When present, these two introduced species will probably be your biggest challenge to successfully hosting Eastern Bluebirds. On its website, NABS encourages the control of starlings and House Sparrows. The website – http://www.sialis.org – also provides beneficial information for would-be bluebird landlords.

Tree Swallows and House Wrens, both native birds, will probably be the biggest rivals for nesting boxes intended for Eastern Bluebirds. If you should find that a pair of Tree Swallows or House Wrens has claimed a box, consider yourself fortunate and benefit from the opportunity to view the habits of these two interesting species for a few weeks.

In addition to housing, food and water can be used to lure Eastern Bluebirds closer. This bird doesn’t eat seeds, but it can be attracted with an offering of mealworms — live or freeze-dried – or commercially prepared peanut butter nuggets. A water feature in a yard is also a magnet for bluebirds and a host of other bird species.

If your home doesn’t provide suitable bluebird habitat, it’s still easy to enjoy these beautiful birds. An afternoon or evening drive into open country, such as agricultural farmland, is likely to yield sightings of this bird on fences and utility lines. Golf courses, some of which go the extra mile to accommodate bluebirds, also provide habitat for these lovely birds.

The Eastern Bluebird is present in the region in any season and is one of our more common birds. If you’re already an experienced landlord and host for these birds, you probably already know they joys they can bring. If not, why not try to attract them closer to you? Most bluebirds in the region have already completed the first nesting of the season, but these birds are known to nest two or even three times in a single season. There’s still time to place a nest box or two on your property to get their attention.

Photo by Bryan Stevens The female Eastern Bluebird is not quite as brightly colored as her mate.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The female Eastern Bluebird is not quite as brightly colored as her mate.

Landscaping with fruit-bearing trees and shrubs can also pay dividends when its comes to the Eastern Bluebird. Although this bird feeds heavily on insects, almost a third of its diet consists of fruits, including blackberry, mulberry and pokeberry.

Inviting bluebirds to become a part of your life isn’t difficult, and you’ll be delighted to have them. Trust someone who has lived with bluebirds in his yard and gardens for more than 20 years.

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To ask a question, make a comment or share a bird observation, reach me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Photo by Bryan Stevens The male Eastern Bluebird is beloved by many bird enthusiasts.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The male Eastern Bluebird is beloved by many bird enthusiasts.

 

Gnatcatchers, sparrows among new arrivals in region

The arrival of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds is imminent in the region. If a few of these tiny birds haven’t already found their way into Northeast Tennessee, they almost certainly will have made a first spring appearance within the next week. They invariably arrive in the first week or so of April and have already been spotted in other parts of Tennessee.

Photo by Bryan Stevens Ruby-throated Hummingbirds should be returning to the region within the next few days.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds should be returning to the region within the next few days.

 As always, I enjoy hearing from readers about the date and time when they see their first hummingbird of spring. Share your sighting in a comment on this blog, contact me on Facebook, send me an email at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or call me at 423-725-2666. I have my feeders filled with sugar water and am waiting eagerly for the arrival of that first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of 2014. I’ll report in upcoming posts about the arrival dates of hummingbirds that readers share with me.

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 New birds continue to arrive at home. For a second year in a row, Chipping Sparrows made their first appearance on the last day of March. Their timing could not have been better. Since I started birding in 1993, Chipping Sparrows have returned reliably from mid-March to early April. I watched recently as two Chipping Sparrows searched for dandelion seeds and other food along the edge of the gravel driveway. They also visited the feeders. They also found elevated perches to deliver their trilling song, which is similar to the songs of Pine Warblers. This can be confusing since the two species often frequent the same habitats.

Photo by Bryan Stevens Chipping Sparrows are returning to feeders across the region.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
Chipping Sparrows are returning to feeders across the region.

 The Chipping Sparrow disrupts the misguided notion that all sparrows are “little brown birds.” The Chipping Sparrow is actually a pretty bird with a crisp plumage of brown and gray that is given a splash of color from its bright rufous cap. A vivid black line along the side of the face runs through the eye. These characteristics make adult Chipping Sparrows — the sexes look alike — fairly easy to identify. Chipping Sparrows are common across North America.

 Their loud, trilling songs are one of the most common sounds of spring woodlands and suburbs. Experts believe that Chipping Sparrows evolved as birds that lived on the edge of coniferous forests. However, as human progress changed the landscape, they adapted and became associated with open habitats, including farmland and pastures.

 Many birders refer to this small sparrow by the affectionate nickname, “Chippie.”

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 I’ve also learned that a pair of Eastern Bluebirds have been busy constructing a nest in one of two boxes located at my fish pond.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A female Eastern Bluebird is shown with a beakful of pine needles gathered for nest construction.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A female Eastern Bluebird is shown with a beakful of pine needles gathered for nest construction.

The bluebirds now have some competition. A pair of Tree Swallows put in their first appearance of the year at my home on April 1. They were a few days early, having made their first 2013 appearance on April 4.

 They immediately began checking out their favorite nesting box next to the fish pond. Their interest put them into conflict with some other Eastern Bluebirds, which recently started showing an interest in that same box.

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 On April 2, I saw my first Blue-grey Gnatcatcher of the spring while visiting Winged Deer Park in Johnson City. While at the park, I also enjoyed observing a variety of spring wildflowers, including the bluebells for which this local park is famous.

 Two days later, I saw my first spring Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton. This bird is a few days later than expected, but it may have been here all along and I just failed to detect it.

 Like Chipping Sparrows, the Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers reliably return every year in the final days of March and first days of April.

Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are tiny, energetic bundles of feathers.

Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are tiny, energetic bundles of feathers.

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher put in its first appearance at home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton on April 2 in 2011. In 2009, I also saw my first Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher on April 2, although in 2008 I had to wait until April 5 for my first spring sighting of a gnatcatcher. In 2007, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was an “April Fool’s” bird, arriving on the first day of April.

Arrival dates in March are a little less frequent. For instance, in 2003, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher arrived on March 28. I saw my first spring Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on March 30 in 1998. In 2006, the arrival date was March 31.

 The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is a tiny, active bird with noisy habits that make it fairly easy to detect in early spring before foliage has grown dense in the branches of trees.

 This gnatcatcher ranks with the kinglets and hummingbirds as one of the smallest birds to range within the United States. This tiny bird tips the scales at only a fourth of an ounce. A gnatcatcher is an incredible bundle of feathered energy, seemingly always on the move as they snatch small winged insects out of the air or pluck other prey items from leaves or branches. They’re also quite curious birds that, more than once, have given me the feeling that I am the one being observed while watching their antics.

 Like the hummingbirds, the gnatcatchers are an exclusively New World family of birds. They lack the diversity of the hummingbirds. Instead of several hundred species, there are only about a dozen species of gnatcatchers. Of that number, four — Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, California Gnatcatcher, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and Black-capped Gnatcatcher — range within the United States. The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is the only member of this family to reside in the eastern United States.

 Other representatives of this family of small songbirds include the Cuban Gnatcatcher, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher, Tropical Gnatcatcher and Masked Gnatcatcher.

 The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher builds an exquisite and compact nest using such materials as spider silk and lichens. I have found many nests over the years by listening for the scolding notes of the parents which, even near their nest, have not learned the virtues of silence.

 The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is one of the birds that, in my mind, truly kicks off the arrival season of many of my favorite neotropical migrants.

 ••••••

 The most exciting observation of the week took place on April 2 when I noticed a sparrow crouched in the gravel driveway between the garage and the fish pond. When I focused my binoculars on the bird, I discovered it was a Vesper Sparrow.

Photo by Bryan Stevens Vesper Sparrows are uncommon birds in spring and fall in the region, although they do nest on the grassy balds of Roan Mountain.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
Vesper Sparrows are uncommon birds in spring and fall in the region, although they do nest on the grassy balds of Roan Mountain.

 This species has visited in the past, but it has been at least two years since I have seen one. They are considered uncommon spring visitors to Northeast Tennessee. This one was foraging at the edge of the gravel driveway. It seemed quite indifferent to my presence, which allowed me to photograph it with relative ease.

 According to the website, Audubon.org, this sparrow was once known as the “Bay-winged Bunting.”  The naturalist John Burroughs is credited with giving it the name of Vesper Sparrow because he thought the song sounded more melodious in the evening. Vesper refers to the sunset evening prayer service known as vespers in the Catholic Church. Vesper is the Latin word for evening, so this bird’s common name could literally be considered “Evening Sparrow.”

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 To share a sighting, ask a question or make a comment, it’s easy to post  on my blog at ourfinefeatheredfriends.wordpress.com. You can also reach me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler or send email to ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. Please share the link to the blog with others who might be interested in the topic of birds and birding in Northeast Tennessee. Don’t forget to put out your sugar water feeders and let me know when you see your first Ruby-throated Hummingbird for spring 2014.