Birding at the Woodlands: Warblers, Waxwings, Breeding Season, and More!

This is the 1-year Anniversary of Toribird’s blog series, and she’s kicking off summer with a great blog post.


Male Yellow Warbler, photo by Toribird

Male Yellow Warbler, photo by Toribird

Though spring migration is all but over, there is still lots to see! Most warblers pass through Philly only on migration, but some breed right in the area, staying the whole summer! A couple of these charming residents are the colorful Yellow Warbler and the striking Black-and-White Warbler. Both are common in forested areas like The Woodlands, and their appearance is summed up by their names: Yellow Warblers are all yellow, with rusty streaks on the male's belly. Black-and-Whites have long stripes of black and white. Listen for the Black-and-White's song as you bird - it sounds a lot like a squeaky wheel.

In addition to the warblers, another exciting bird in the area is the Cedar Waxwing. These attractive birds get their name from red drops on their wings that resemble sealing wax. They are nomadic with irregular movements, and it seems like a fair bit of them are in the area right now! A good clue to their presence is their very high-pitched, squeaky, whistles or trills. They are very gregarious, meaning that they like to be in a flock with others. So, if you see a waxwing, look around - there are probably lots more nearby! 

Cedar Waxwing enjoying berries, photo by Toribird

Cedar Waxwing enjoying berries, photo by Toribird

Another bird to keep your eye out for is the Mississippi Kite. While rare this far north, there has been a relatively high amount of them around in the past month. If you see one, it will probably be flying overhead. Kites' pointed wings, darker wingtips, smooth gray underparts, and graceful flight can point you towards an ID. Keep checking the sky while you bird - you might catch a kite! 

Kite 2017 1.jpg
Mississippi Kites in New Jersey, photos by Toribird

Mississippi Kites in New Jersey, photos by Toribird

And now, let's talk about what Summer might be best known for - it's breeding season! Lots of songbirds are building nests and feeding hungry babies. Some already have fledged, are are hopping around, stubby-winged and fuzzy, exploring the world beyond their nest. You may have heard that a baby bird will be ignored by its parents if touched by a human - this is not true. While birds are very well taken care of by attentive parents, and there is usually no need for us to interfere, if a baby is in immediate danger (e.g. being stalked by a cat or in the middle of the street) it doesn't hurt to move it to safety.

Written by: Toribird

For more information about Toribird and her birding tips, check out this past blog post.

Birding at The Woodlands: Enjoying Early Spring

Our resident birding expert, Toribird, weighs in on the joys of springtime birding:

Right now is a great time to go birding! Okay, I know I say that in every blog post, but at this time of year there are many things in the birder's favor:

Currently there is a fascinating overlap between the winter birds and the arriving warm weather residents. Many birds have begun to sing to attract a mate or defend territory, and will continue to for a while, so now is a great time to learn their songs, as every species has a unique one. (Or just listen to their serenades for pleasure!) Most trees have not fully leafed out yet, so now is your last chance to see birds without the obstruction of foliage.

Dark-eyed Juncos (Snowbirds) are still around, but will fly back north soon. Picture by Toribird.

Dark-eyed Juncos (Snowbirds) are still around, but will fly back north soon. Picture by Toribird.

This shimmering Tree Swallow is one of the newer arrivals. Picture by Toribird.

This shimmering Tree Swallow is one of the newer arrivals. Picture by Toribird.

As I was birding at The Woodlands on April 11th, I saw a lot of Ruby-crowed Kinglets. The adorable, active, tiny birds are named for a red patch on their head, most obvious when the birds are agitated. Kinglets are a winter bird in Philadelphia, and will head back to their summer homes in a few weeks. Check out The Woodlands and catch them while you can!

Cute Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Picture by Toribird.

Cute Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Picture by Toribird.

Conversely, I have also seen Northern Rough-winged and Tree Swallows, which arrived not too long ago. These insect-eaters need bugs like mosquitos and gnats, which, being cold-blooded, are not around in the winter, causing the birds to migrate. Ospreys are also back, and Chimney Swifts and warblers should not be far behind, along with all the other warm-weather residents!


For more seasonal bird trivia, let's talk about the Barnacle Goose! This is not a recent arrival, nor is it a winter bird that will soon leave. In fact, it is very rare to see one in the area at all! It is a bird that, during the Middle Ages, was enjoyed during Lent, when practicing Christians forgo eating meat. Historically, it was believed that Barnacle Geese “popped out” from seed pods on plants or from barnacles on driftwood. Therefore, many people argued that it should be considered a plant instead of an animal. The practice of eating Barnacles Geese during Lent ended when Pope Innocent III officially declared the geese as birds. If you want to read more about this legend, check out the Canterbury Cathedral website.

A depiction of Barnacle Geese 'sprouting'. Copyright David Badke;  http://bestiary.ca .

A depiction of Barnacle Geese 'sprouting'. Copyright David Badke; http://bestiary.ca.


Finally, to end on an artistic note, I've included a poem that I wrote just a few days ago. I was inspired by the natural springtime beauty that I encountered while going about my daily activities in the heart of Philadelphia.

Nature’s Springtime Bliss in Philadelphia Streets

Look at the cherry tree on your street.
Do you see it’s blossoms, pale and sweet?
The bumblebees come, the bumblebees go,
Pollinating the blooms as they do so.


If the petals have fallen off your tree,
Observe its leaves, a pretty light green.
Beyond the tree, looking way up high,
Lovely clouds float in the light blue sky.


Oh, the warm breeze that flies by you,
It feels so good, so free and true.
Suddenly, you see an Osprey high in the air
Perhaps returning home right then and there.


Dandelions, violets, forsythias bloom,
Threads of color on nature’s loom.
Even invasives are welcome today;
On the starling’s back the sunbeams play.


Hear the robins and cardinals sing,
Hear their lovely melodies ring.
Looking at all this, do you not feel
The joy of a mountain spring, right now, right here?

Written by Toribird
April, 2019

Birding at The Woodlands: Finch Irruption to Wow Birders

A male Purple Finch is about to be released unharmed after being marked with a serially numbered aluminum band, aged, and measured. Photo by Toribird

A male Purple Finch is about to be released unharmed after being marked with a serially numbered aluminum band, aged, and measured. Photo by Toribird

Toribird here, bringing you some breaking birding news that I find very exiting! Quite a few birders, myself included, have noticed a remarkably large number of Purple Finches this fall. It seems like this will be a good irruption year for them - a year when birds move in substantial numbers outside their typical range. A few Purple Finches come down from the northern U.S. and Canada every year to spend the winter, but typically fewer than this year. This is a natural movement, likely caused by a good seed year, allowing the finches - seed eaters- to raise many chicks, causing a population bulge. The Woodlands is an excellent spot for House Finches, so I bet Purple Finches will hang out here as well! 

Now, if you've been a birder for a little while already, the back of your brain may be going "Oh no, aren't Purple Finches very similar to House Finches!? How will I be able to identify anything?" Have no fear, Toribird is here!! (I had to. Sorry.) Yes, House and Purple finches look alike, but the males in particular can be told apart with a few tricks. 

Purple Finch Male:

  • Here in the colder months of the year (~October - April)

  • Not really purple, but a magenta or raspberry red. 

  • Raspberry color extends from the face to the tail, fading near the tail


House Finch Male:

  • Here year-round

  • Brick red with brown and white stripes

  • Red color on the face and breast, and again at the base of tail 

Also, Purple Finches are the 'pretty' finch. Think P for purple and pretty. The males have more color than House Finches, and the females have a much clearer face pattern and more defined stripes than the houses. 

Purple Finches aren't the only bird coming down in larger-than-usual numbers this year. Several winter sparrows like the Lincoln's Sparrow and the beautiful White-crowned Sparrow are in the area. They like grassy areas, so maybe check out the small meadow near the mansion at The Woodlands or the field at Bartram's Garden, as well as any other area like this you may know of to spot this year's special treats. 

A Pine Siskin shows off the yellow in its wings and tail. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A Pine Siskin shows off the yellow in its wings and tail. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Finally, the Pine Siskin has been seen in the area, though they are a fair bit rarer than the other birds mentioned on the blog. They are finches, striped brown and white not unlike the female House and Purple Finches. However, they have thinner bills than similar species, and distinctive if subtle yellow in their wings and tail, bolder in the male but present in both sexes. Get out birding and keep your eyes peeled for this rarity as well as all the other birds that have come down to visit this year! 

Written by Toribird.

The Woodlands Gobble Wobble: An adventure in urban running and wild turkeys.

Toribird here, to remind you that along with hot cider, first frosts, and colorful trees, another fall tradition not to be missed is the Woodlands Gobble Wobble 5k this Saturday November 3rd at 10:00AM! Come run to support your favorite urban cemetery while enjoying the scenic and historic grounds! Register in advance, or on race day starting at 9:00AM.

“Gobble Wobble” is a cute name because of the tradition of eating turkey on Thanksgiving, but did you know that  Wild Turkeys have been seen right here at the Woodlands, in addition to many other places in Philly?

Wild Turkeys are native to North America, and rather widespread. They usually like to hang out in fields near forest edges or in laws with several trees. They seem to be happy to live near people, though they also inhabit very rural areas. Unlike their domestic relatives, Wild Turkeys can fly. They usually prefer to walk, however, flying up to trees only to roost at night. 

The Woodlands is not the most reliable place for turkeys, though they have been spotted here a few times in past years. If you're just not having any luck, however, try Bartrams Garden, another urban jewel.

Wild Turkey photo by Toribird

Wild Turkey photo by Toribird