Many species of birds overwinter in our area, and because of the varied habitats the Rail Trail passes through -fields, woods, marshes, brushy edges, and towns - it's a great place for winter birdwatching. As long as the trail isn't icy, you can keep an eye and ear out for birds as you walk along, and the bare trees allow for easier viewing of the more bashful species. You'll see some birds hopping about on the trail themselves, feeding on the seeds and berries of the plants that thrive in the unique edge environments the trail provides. You may even see birds picking up and swallowing fine grit from the trail surface to help their gizzards grind up the tough seeds and nuts they eat throughout the winter.
This very short list will give you an idea of some of the birds you're most likely to spot on a winter stroll:
Mourning Dove - Medium (12"), soft gray to beige body, pointed tail with white feather tips, small head for the size of the body.
Blue Jay - Medium (11" to 12 "), crested, blue with white and black markings.
Bluebird - Small (7" ), the male is blue with a rusty breast; female is much duller in color.
Cardinal - Medium (7 " to 9"), crested, the male is bright red with black face; female is olive with rusty tail and wings.
Starling - Med./Small (7 " to 8 "), winter plumage black with tan spots on tips of body feathers; short tail, stout body..
Downy Woodpecker - Small (6 "), white breast and back, black and white head, wings and tail, males have a patch of red on back of head. Hairy Woodpecker has very similar markings but is larger.
American Goldfinch - Small (5"), winter plumage olive/drab with yellow chin, pale rump, black wings and tail.
Tufted Titmouse - Small (6"), crested, gray head, back, wings, and tail with pale breast and rusty flanks.
Black-capped Chickadee - Small (4" to 5"), gray back, wings, and tail, white breast and cheeks, black cap and chin.
Sparrows - Small (5" to 6") brown birds, several varieties. American Tree Sparrow has rusty cap; White-throated Sparrow has white throat and clear breast; Song Sparrow has heavily streaked breast.
Purple Finch - Small (5" to 6"), males are purplish red all over. Male house finches are similar, but have browner wings and tails. Females of both finches are tan with brown markings and require practice to distinguish from sparrows.
These are just some of the most common species, so armed with this list you will surely see a bird that we haven't included, but don't despair. Half the fun of birdwatching is finding the birds you've seen in your field guide. Peterson First Guide to Birds and the Audubon Society Pocket Guide to Eastern Birds are convenient to carry with you and easy for novice birdwatchers to use.
Lynn Bowdery and Ruth Elwell