Birds at NBS
Birds at NBS
Guided bird walks are offered every other Sunday (registration not necessary; walks are free with membership, otherwise a trail fee applies). Birders meet in the parking lot and depart at 8am and return 10am. Be sure to download our Birds of the Norman Bird Sanctuary Checklist and bring your binoculars! You can also stay up to date on local migrant sightings by regularly checking our “Recent Sightings“ list.
Migration at NBS
Migration is an exciting time for birdwatchers at the Norman Bird Sanctuary. Every year, many species of birds journey from Canada and the United States to spend the winter in South America. Waning food supplies and shortening days cue our feathered friends to begin their trek. Don’t forgo feeding birds in the fall for fear of discouraging migration – their instincts will ensure that they leave before winter. In the spring, migrants return from South America hungry and eager to begin nesting.
The Norman Bird Sanctuary lies along the major route of the Atlantic Flyway. Because of the geographical advantage of being near the south end of Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay, returning migrants often stop in the vicinity of the Sanctuary. In Spring, March, April and May are the best months to come and observe returning birds such as warblers, shore birds, swallows, and more. September, October and November are equally busy migration months in the fall, as birds head south. Migrants usually stop to rest and find food before continuing on to their seasonal destinations. Remember to look for birds early in the morning, when they are most active.
Common NBS Birds by Habitat
POND/STREAM HABITAT: The Norman Bird Sanctuary trail system crosses a few small bodies of fresh water. Only 15 minutes from the Visitor’s Center, guests can view Red Maple Pond from a nearby look-out platform, a small bridge, or the trail itself. Shady Glade and Gray Craig Trails cross small streams. The Quarry Trail closely passes the once-active Paradise quarry, which has been naturally filled by rain and ground water. Also visible, but not accessible, from the sanctuary trails are Nelson and Gardner Ponds.
The Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) is a common summer resident, which is likely to be seen nesting in Nelson and Red Maple Ponds. This swan species is an aggressive and invasive European fowl, which is best viewed from afar. Unfortunately, the presence of Mute Swans discourage native birds from nesting and feeding in certain areas.
The Mallard (Anas platyhynchos) can be seen year-round at the sanctuary. These easily recognizable ducks are sexually dimorphic, meaning that the males sport bright green feathers on their heads, while the female is a mottled brown color. They can be seen floating in Red Maple Pond, while dabbling for food.
The small dark green and brown Green Heron (Butorides virescens) is easily missed, as it blends in with the vegetation along the edges of the Quarry and Red Maple Pond. These herons, despite their relatively short necks, are excellent fishers. Don’t forget to look for them on logs and rocks sticking out of the water.
The Great Egret (Ardea alba) is a frequent summer visitor to sanctuary ponds. It can be found atop rocks or wading at the edge of still water as it patiently hunts for small fish and amphibians. Look for its white plumage, characteristic long neck, yellow bill, and black legs.
The Black-Crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is slightly larger than the Green Heron, and has been seen perched on the bridge near Red Maple Pond and in the Quarry. At the top of its thick neck, it sports a black patch and a few spindly feather plumes on its head. This heron can be spotted during the summer months.
WOODLAND HABITAT: Many of the sanctuary trails, such as Woodland and Woodcock Trails, provide visitors with the opportunity to stroll through wooded areas. Shady Glade and Gray Craig Trails are also good places to search for nesting woodland birds in the spring.
The Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) is a very small hawk (only 12” long) that can be found in the woods during warmer months. They have short, rounded wings, which help them to dart through tree branches in pursuit of their next meal. Look for their long, striped tails. Near the woods, “Sharpies” can be found hanging around active bird feeders.
Black-capped Chickadees (Parus atricapillus) are common year-round feeder birds. These inquisitive birds can be detected by their well-known chick-a-dee-dee-dee call. Chickadees often display an amusing behavior of hanging upside-down from feeders and branches.
The Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) is an easily spotted year-round resident at the sanctuary. In the winter, they frequent suet feeders. Spring is a good time to listen for “drumming” woodpeckers as they defend their territory and excavate tree cavity nests. These tiny woodpeckers forage for insects beneath tree bark.
The Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), also known as the “Rufous-sided Towhee,” is seen found in the lower level of brushy forested areas. If you hear scratching and rustling of dead leaves alongside wooded trails in the spring, it may be a foraging Eastern Towhee. When startled, this bird will often fly up to higher vantage point to observe you.
The Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) is an enthusiastic singer which you will probably see as you hike through the sanctuary in the summer. This small gray bird usually chooses easily seen perches in the mid-story area of the forest. Catbirds are named for their cat-like meeow call.
FIELD HABITAT: Visitors will notice multiple rows of birdhouses in the southern fields along the Quarry Trail and just beyond the start of the gravel trail at the Visitor’s Center. These boxes are intended for Tree Swallows and rarely-seen Eastern Bluebirds, but are often overtaken by invasive House Sparrows. Norman Bird Sanctuary fields are regularly surveyed and maintained to include native vegetation, which provides a rich food source for many birds.
The male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) migrates back to the sanctuary before the females in order to establish nesting territory. Once the females return, males will defend several mates. If the male Red-winged Blackbird feels threatened by another male, it can flash its red and yellow shoulders at will from beneath its black feathers.
Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are the primary residents of the birdhouses in the sanctuary fields. They can be seen soaring above the fields as they scoop up flying insects. Despite their quick and agile flight, they are easily recognized by their bright white undersides and dark blue-green backs.
The Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), a member of the blackbird family, is found among the birdhouses in sanctuary fields. The striking black, white and yellow birds can also be seen feeding on insects in tall grasses.
Northern Harriers (Circus cyaneus) are large hawks which inhabit fields. When viewed through good binoculars or a scope, an owl-like facial disk is visible. This bird of prey flies low over open areas, and has a very noticeable white patch on its rump.
The American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) is a well-known bright yellow and black bird. Goldfinches can be attracted to feeders offering thistle seeds, and are sometimes called “field canaries.” These year-round residents sport dull brown plumage with the same characteristic black wing bars in the winter. Be sure to look for their slow, undulating flight as they emerge from field grasses.