Slow down and look closer – our 20 miles of trail in Lawrence and Hopewell Townships host an abundance of birdlife, and we want you to be able to keep them all straight. Welcome to Feathered Friends of the LHT, an ongoing series of “field guides” to Mercer County birds.
There might not be any flowers blooming at the moment – but if you have a good eye and a little patience you can certainly enjoy the color of birds! Keep your eyes out on the trail for more feathered winter residents.
Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) are one of our most common and colorful year-round residents. Equally comfortable in wooded environments as they are in parks and backyards, Blue Jays are large and crested, with white breasts, and graphic black and white markings on their heads and wings that are offset by their bold, blue plumage on their backs and tails. Their size and color make them hard to miss – as does their raucous jay call. Their behavior is also quite distinctive – you may encounter Blue Jays bullying other birds at feeders, loudly attacking predators, and they are known to rob the nests of other birds. Omnivorous, Blue Jays feed on seeds and nuts (they will store acorns in holes in the ground), as well as insects, small rodents, eggs, snails, and carrion. Females lay three to seven eggs but both parents incubate and feed their young. Read more at Audubon.
Seeing a Blue Jay or Blue Jay feathers can symbolize a need to reevaluate the people in your life – you may be surrounded by tricksters or jealous people! They also represent a need to communicate, as well as persistence, protection, and planning.
House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) are not native to New Jersey or even the East Coast but rather the American Southwest. The species became established after New York pet shop owners released illegal finches in 1940. Since then, the birds have successfully established themselves across the farms and woodlands of the eastern half of the country, meeting their traditional western range. While many are year-round residents, they are a bit more commonly seen at feeders and in backyards in the winter. Small in size, they have chunky beaks designed to crack the shells of nuts and seeds (they eat berries and small insects as well). Males have bright red heads, breasts, and backs, with creamy breasts speckled in brownish stripes. Females are mostly brown but can be identified by similar speckled stripes. Their call is cheerful, consisting of warbles and trills. House finches can raise three or more broods a year, laying two to six eggs. Females incubate but both parents feed their babies. Read more at Audubon.
Finches, and their joyful songs, symbolize communication and can represent better things to come in life, as well as an opportunity or need to add color and variety to one’s life. They can represent liveliness, exuberance, happiness, and hope.
A type of sparrow, Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) are widespread around the country but you’re more likely to encounter them – along the edges of conifer and mixed woods, in clearings, and in suburban yards – over the winter here in New Jersey. A compact bird that often travels in small flocks, they can be identified by their slate-colored feathers, dark eyes, and white breasts as well as their metallic ticking or trilling calls. In winter, they mostly feed on the seeds of weeds and grasses; they also eat insects and berries. By the time they nest, Dark-eyed Juncos will have moved north or west – but they have up to three broods a year. Females lay and incubate three to six eggs and both parents feed their young. Read more at Audubon.
Juncos symbolize open-mindedness, adventurousness and truth – in others and truth to oneself. In addition, they are associated with winter and Christmas and are thus considered a messenger from heaven as well as a reset for your individual moral compass and how our actions affect both the long and short term.
Northern Cardinals are a favorite – year-round residents that bring color and cheerful singing to backyards throughout the eastern and southern regions of the country. In fact: The Northern Cardinal is the state bird for seven states! Identifiable by their crests and blunt beaks, males are bright red with black facemasks and black-tipped feathers while females are tan and tawny brown with hints of red and bright orangey beaks. You’ll encounter them in pairs and small flocks along woodlands, thickets, gardens and parks – any open, brushy habitats where they can forage for insects, seeds, flowers, and berries. Calls are metallic – listen for calls of purty-purty-purty, cheer-cheer-cheer, or sweet-sweet-sweet. Raising up to three broods per year, females lay two to five eggs and incubate the chicks while both parents feed them. Read more at Audubon.
Northern Cardinals are monogamous and tend to mate for love – so they often symbolize love, romance, and commitment. Further, in many cultures, cardinals symbolize a connection to spirits and to lost loved ones, as well as respect, unity, diversity, and good fortune.