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.
The Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is a common – and welcome – sight in New Jersey’s mixed and deciduous woodlands and at backyard feeders year-round, often joined by nuthatches and titmice. The diminutive bird is active and fairly easy to spot – look for its eponymous back cap, blunt black beak, creamy breast, and graphic grey wings; and listen for its cheerful chick-a-dee song. They eat insects, seeds, and berries – you might spot one hanging upside down from a branch while it seeks out a hard-to-reach bug. Come late winter, small flocks break off into pairs. Females can lay up to eight eggs at a time, she incubates but the pair raise their young together. Read more at Audubon.
Chickadees figure prominently in Native American mythology where they represent truth and knowledge sent from ancestors as well as warnings against danger. Generally, chickadees symbolize of good luck, happiness, and positivity.
If you see berry bushes or fruit-laden trees and vines, there’s a good chance Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) are nearby. These elegant, crested birds feed in flocks, thriving on the edges of forests and streams or in and around orchards and meadows where they feast on berries. In addition to fruit, Cedar Waxwings will eat insects, flowers, and sap. Another year-round resident, they are fairly common if a bit elusive to spot – they tend to hang around and nest high up in trees. Cedar Waxwings are a soft red, with a black mask, and a dark tail tipped in bright yellow; and their call is described as a thin lisping or trilling tseee. Nesting is late, not until mid-summer, and females will lay two to six eggs. Females tend to incubate the eggs but both parents feed their young. Read more at Audubon.
Waxwings are social birds that congregate in small flocks and share food, even passing berries back and forth to one another. As such, they symbolize selflessness, generosity, politeness, and giving to others for their – rather than your own – benefit.
Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) are one of the types of birds that truly thrive in altered environments – they are as common in suburban areas, farmland, and in parks as they are in grasslands and open woods. And they thrive all over the country, year-round. Mourning Doves, which are known for their sorrowful-sounding coos, forage on the ground in small flocks and subsist almost exclusively on seeds and grains. That’s why they can be a common site on the ground under your birdfeeder. They’re fairly easy to identify – look for a sleek, tawny-colored, pigeon-like bird with grey and black markings, and white feathers on its lower breast and tail. Fun fact: Mourning Dove pairs raise up to six broods – two eggs at a time – each year. That’s more than any other bird native to North America! And both the male and female incubate and feed their young. Read more at Audubon.
The melancholic call of the Mourning Dove can represent loss and grief, but symbolically, doves represent spirituality and the holy spirit, hope, renewal, maternal love and care, and peace.
Another year-round resident – and another bird you might see wintering in small flocks with chickadees – the Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) is widespread and the smallest woodpecker in North America. Common from dense woods to backyards and parks, look for Downy Woodpeckers clinging to trees, branches, and even stalks of plants and small twigs as they seek out insects and seeds. Small in size, they are easily identified by their white breasts, their graphic black and white wings, and the small red patch on their black and white heads. Listen for quick piks, rattles, and – of course – the sound of beaks tapping or excavating at trees. Pairs form in late winter, when they move into cavities in dead trees and limbs, and they share incubation and feeding duties for their three to six eggs. Read more at Audubon.
Woodpeckers – who typically knock on wood for both foraging and nesting – can represent new opportunity knocking into our lives. Further, woodpeckers symbolize energy, change, purpose, balance, industriousness, and determination.