SCORES & OUTDOORS: Was it a Sharp-shinned hawk or a Cooper’s hawk? Hard to tell

Sharp-shinned hawk, left, and Cooper’s hawk, right. Note the square tail of the Sharp-shinned hawk, compared to the rounded tail of the Cooper’s hawk.

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

I have seen some interesting acts of Mother Nature during my travels, but what happened last week probably tops most of them.

The first was somewhat insignificant because I had seen it one time before. Arriving home from work late last Wednesday, I noticed a dead crow in my backyard. Not knowing quite what to do, I called the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and was told it was OK for me to dispose of the bird. I feared that because they were vulnerable to West Nile disease, I should report it. I wasn’t sure I should touch it.

But what I saw on Saturday, topped that without a contest. After picking up my granddaughter at a basketball game to take her home (they live in a condo village in Waterville), I turned around in my daughter’s driveway. In front of her garage, I noticed a rather large bird obviously plucking the feathers of the prey it had taken down. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the unfortunate fowl was a male mallard duck.

The hunter was a rather smallish hawk that sat there almost motionless once it spotted me. It began to look uncomfortable with my presence, and flew into a nearby tree. I made a mental picture of the raptor and would try to identify it. Immediately, I ruled out broad winged hawk and redtail hawk, both of which I am familiar.

My research indicated to me that it was either a Sharp-shinned hawk, or a Cooper’s hawk. They had similarities that I couldn’t quiet determine which was which.

Sharp-shinned hawks are small, long-tailed (this one had a long tail) hawks with short rounded wings. Again, a match. Adults are slaty blue-gray above, with narrow, horizontal red-orange bars on the breast. Again, that was what it had. However, Sharp-shinned hawks breed in deep forests. This was in the center of Waterville.

The Sharp-shinned hawk is a woodland raptor, skilled at capturing birds on the wing. Its short, rounded wings permit it to snake through brushy areas. Its long, narrow tail serves as a rudder. They will surprise their prey with their speed, and prefer the ease of taking down birds weakened by disease or injury.

Now, the Cooper’s hawk resembles the Sharp-shinned hawk so much that even experts are often fooled. That didn’t leave me with a warm, fuzzy feeling about identifying the right culprit.

The Cooper’s hawk, however, has one real distinction: it is larger, more powerful, and able to kill larger prey. This particular hawk had taken down a mallard duck. Not quite the size of a chickadee which the Sharp-shinned hawk would prefer.

For decades during the 19th century, Cooper’s hawks were referred to as “chicken hawks” for their preference to taking chickens from backyards. So, for many years, they were hunted and slaughtered by the thousands. Fortunately, people came to understand the role that predators play in nature, and hawks are now protected by federal law. But, the Cooper’s hawk is its own worse enemy. They are woodland birds, so when they see a window, they see whatever the glass reflects, be it sky or trees. They think they can just fly through it. Sadly, they sometimes even succeed, but the price of success is still a broken neck.

Cooper’s hawks tend to be more common in suburban areas, where Sharp-shinned hawks nest in conifers and heavily wooded areas. The Cooper’s hawk has a rounded tail, that when folded, the outer feathers are shorter than the inner ones. The Sharp-shinned hawk’s tail is square, and both species have broad dark bands across their long tails. The hawk I saw had those bars.

So, what did I see. I’m going to have to say it was a Cooper’s hawk only because of the tail. The bird I saw had a tail that had shorter tail feathers on the outside and longer ones inside. That was probably the only thing I noticed that was significant. It was definitely the tail of the Cooper’s hawk. So, I guess I’m going to have to go with that.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the four NFL teams that have never made a Super Bowl appearance.

Answer here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: News flash – the birds are back in town

Roland D. Hallee
by Roland D. Hallee

It was prompted by a telephone call, on December 20, from a reader in Freedom who alerted me that birds had returned to her feeders. So, I went home, told my wife about the conversation I had with the caller, and proceeded to refill our feeders.

It took a couple of days, but by the the time of the nor’easter of Christmas day, it was business as usual at the stations. The birds were back with a fury and it was standing room only on the feeders with a waiting line perched in nearby trees. They were hanging out on the wind chimes, waiting their turns, and one actually set himself, sideways, on an icicle.

There were chickadees, house finches, gold finches, nuthatches, cardinals, blue jays and juncos, even an occasional downy woodpecker. There was also a bird I couldn’t identify (it didn’t hang around long enough). It was like the good old days.

It has been well over a week now, and the activity hasn’t let up. In fact, I think it has escalated.

As a whole, bird populations fluctuate seasonally and from one year to the next for a range of reasons. According to the Audubon Society, often when someone reports that birds have gone missing from their yard, they are just seeing normal variation. However, what we all witnessed this past summer and fall was unusual in that there was a complete void of birds.

Causes for these regular changes include:

Fluctuating food supplies/ requirements. Cones, berries, seeds, and insects change from year to year, causing birds to move about to take advantage of food surpluses and to escape from areas with food shortages. Also, birds have different dietary needs during different times of the year, so they may move to or away from your feeders seasonally. You may notice fewer birds at your feeders during the late summer and early fall as there is usually lots of natural food available.

Weather patterns. Birds may temporarily move out of areas to avoid droughts, floods, storms, exceptional heat and cold waves, and other unusual weather conditions. However, with the recent extreme cold snap, the feeders are busier than ever.

Predator populations. Foxes, birds of prey, cats, and other predators have fluctuating populations too. When their populations are high, bird populations may fall. This can also happen on a very local scale, such when a hawk takes up residence in your yard. When the predators move on, your birds will come back.

Disease. On rare occasions, outbreaks of diseases can sharply reduce numbers of certain birds.

Habitat change. Tree removal, housing developments, land clearing, fires, and other changes can change the number or types of birds you see.

But none of the above reasons made any sense of the fact that the absence of the birds was not a normal occurence. It seemed to be isolated to this year.

Bird numbers fluctuate for natural reasons, but many populations of bird species are declining consistently from year to year.

The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates how species’ populations have changed since the mid-1960s. In 2010, Partners In Flight compiled a list of Common Birds in Steep Decline – 42 species that have lost 50 percent or more of their population since the 1960s.

The 2016 State of North America’s Birds report examined 1,154 native bird species that are found in Canada, the continental United States, and Mexico, and determined that over 37 percent are of high conservation concern and at risk of extinction without significant efforts at conservation.

Projects such as NestWatch and FeederWatch focus on gathering data on birds during breeding and winter feeding times, respectively. Habitat Network, seeks to add another layer of data to bird watching by allowing people to follow the patterns in their yards.

And one of the biggest citizen science efforts ever undertaken, eBird, allows people anywhere in the world to enter bird observations anywhere, anytime, into a worldwide database. eBird also allows you to record and organize your bird sightings, use maps to view real-time sightings of particular species, create charts detailing which birds are seen in your area, and when, and make graphs to compare species occurrence for an area over a period of up to five years.

Programs like Birdcast use data from sources like eBird to compile bird migration forecasts, pinpointing where species are at certain times during migration.

eBird and Birdcast are great resources to find out more about where species of birds might be after they disappear from your backyard.

Through these efforts, they are learning more than ever before about many basic questions: Where does a given species live? How abundant is it? How are these patterns changing with time? With a clearer understanding of these baselines, they are in a better position to analyze the underlying factors that are acting on bird populations, and chart courses of action for their benefit.

In the end, the birds seem to be back in the central Maine area. Let’s just hope they continue, and whatever happened to cause their temporary exodus from our backyards doesn’t occur for a while. We’ll be vigilant.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

In what year was the first Super Bowl played?

Answer here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: December, Christmas, Santa Claus and flying reindeer

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

While driving down the interstate recently, I noticed signs along the way that read, “Slow down, only reindeer can fly.” Well, that made me think that Christmas is quickly sneaking up on us, and as everyone knows, it is the day that Santa Claus comes down the chimney bearing gifts. And, we also know, Santa arrives at your house in a sleigh powered by eight flying “reindeer.” So, what are reindeer?

The reindeer, Rangifer tarandus, also known as caribou when wild in North America, is an Arctic and Subarctic-dwelling deer, widespread and numerous in those areas.

The name “caribou” comes, through French, from Mi’kmaq qalipu, meaning “snow shoveler,” referring to its habit of pawing through the snow for food.

Originally, the reindeer was found in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Russia, Mong­olia and northern China north of the 50th latitude. In North America, it was found in Canada, Alaska and the northern contiguous USA from Washington state to Maine. During the late Pleistocene era, reindeer were found as far south as Nevada and Tennessee.

Today, wild reindeer have disappeared from many areas within this large historical range, especially from the southern parts, where it vanished almost everywhere. Large populations are still found in Norway, Siberia, Greenland, Alaska and Canada.

Caribou and reindeer numbers have fluctuated historically, but many herds are in decline across this range, with the decline linked to climate change and industrial disturbance of habitat for sedentary, non-migratory herds.

The reindeer travels the furthest of any terrestrial mammal, walking up to 3,100 miles a year, although in Europe, the animal does not migrate as far. Normally traveling from 12-34 miles a day, the caribou can run at speeds of 37-50 mph.

The reindeer hooves adapt to the season: in the summer, when the tundra is soft and wet, the footpads become sponge-like and provide extra traction. In the winter, the pads shrink and tighten, exposing the rim of the hoof, which cuts into the ice and crusted snow to keep it from slipping.

caribou

The reindeer coat has two layers of fur, a dense woolly undercoat and longer-haired overcoat consisting of hollow, air-filled hairs.

There are a variety of predators that prey heavily on reindeer. Golden eagles prey on calves and are the most prolific hunter on calving grounds. Woverines, brown bears, polar bears and gray wolves also prey on newborn calves or sickly animals. The gray wolf is the most effective natural predator of adult reindeer.

Reindeer hunting by humans has a very long history. Humans started hunting reindeer in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, and humans are today the main predator in many areas. Norway and Greenland have unbroken traditions of hunting wild reindeer from the ice age until the present day.

Reindeer meat is popular in the Scandinavian countries where reindeer meatballs are sold canned, and sautéed reindeer a best known dish in Lapland. In Alaska and Finland, reindeer sausage is sold in supermarkets and grocery stores. Reindeer meat is very tender and lean. Caribou have been a major source of subsistence for Canadian Inuit.

The first written description of reindeer is found in Julius Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico (chapter 6.26), from the first century BC: “There is an ox shaped like a stag. In the middle of its forehead a single horn grows between its ears, taller and straighter than the animal horns with which we are familiar. At the top of this horns spreads out like the palm of a hand or the branches of a tree. The females are of the same form as the males, and their horns are the same shape and size.”

Getting back to Christmas, Santa’s reindeer were first named in the anonymously-written 1823 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” (“Twas the Night Before Christmas,” later credited to Clement Clarke Moore), and were called Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem. Dunder was later changed to Donder, and still again to Donner (German for “thunder.”). Blixem was later changed to Bliksem, then Blitzen (German for “lightning”). Some consider Rudolph as part of the group as well, though he was not part of the original work. Rudolph was added by Robert L. May in 1939 as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

So, if you leave cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas eve, don’t forget some lichens, and leaves of willows and birches, for the reindeer.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the four NFL quarterbacks to have been the winning quarterback in at least three Super Bowls.

Answer here!

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Bird disappearance is phenomenon that exists nationwide

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Two months after writing an article about the lack of song birds in our area, the feedback continues to pour in from all over the country, not to mention from friends and acquaintances whenever the subject surfaces. Everyone has also commented on the extremely large number of crows that have emerged in our area.

Even in my backyard, where we generally have a multitude of bird varieties, it has been quiet. We have completely cleaned out the bird feeders and restocked them, to the point where we have even purchased new ones, and other forms of bird seed dispensers like nets, seed balls and containers.

The problem is universal, it seems.

Mimi replied to me, “My neighbors and I also noticed a very sudden decline in feeder birds since mid-September in the Catskills as well. It is so sad to not have the birds about though there are geese and crows, so hopefully the others will be back.”

Sj says, “Over the last two years we have noticed the decline of spiders on our property in mid-coast Maine. The mosquito decline is possibly due to the second year of a drought. Wild bees, and our bat [population] all seem stressed and in decline. I have kept daily journals for 25 years, making daily notes of weather and wildlife. The odd absence of birds is ‘different’ this year, for us as well, and another alert to change in our environment worth keeping track of.”

Msdarlene writes, “We are in central New Hampshire and have always fed birds with multiple feeders and a varied diet of sunflower seeds, hearts, nuts and suet. We have cleaned out our feeders monthly and replenished the food and still no birds in sight. We normally have to refill our feeders twice a week. Since September 2017, our woods and feeders are silent. No birds, zero, zilch, nada…scary quiet. I hope they return, I sure miss them.”

Rich speculates “that the malathion aerial spraying for zika vectors has done damage to large insect populations.”

Finally, Lyn, of Fairfield, writes, “Wow! This article came up on my Facebook feed. Some friends and I were just talking about how we have no song birds this fall. I said I thought they had been driven away by massive crow populations, just as you observed, too. They are all I see. I am sad to know this is happening all over. I hope the Audubon Society is right that it’s just a normal migration shift, but I am missing the birds very much.”

With the first measurable snowfall this fall, only 12 days before the official winter solstice, we will keep vigil as to the turnover in bird varieties. We’ll see if the cardinals arrive, along with the European starlings that come around in the winter. Also, don’t forget the pigeons and mourning doves. Not to beat a subject to death, but since noticing the large number of crows around, the pigeon population seems to have taken a hit. Since the crow onslaught, I have noticed no pigeons in my yard, which is extremely unusual. There also seem to be more seagulls than normal. Is that another sign of changes in the environment?

It’s probably time we pay attention to what Mother Nature is trying to tell us.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the original six teams of the NHL.

Answer here!

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Doves as a symbol of peace: what is the history?

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

As we enter into the Christmas season, I notice a lot of Christmas cards and greetings with the picture of a dove as a symbol of peace on earth and goodwill to all men. Where did that all start? Why is the dove a symbol of peace?

Actually, there are several cultures that depict the dove as a bearer of peace and goodwill.

But before we get into some of the reasons the bird is viewed in that light, let’s look at some general facts about the bird. Doves belong to the Columbidae family, which is the same family as the pigeons. They have a round and stout body, short neck and beak. They are excellent navigators, which also makes them capable of delivering messages. Apart from these traits, they are extremely popular, and are often associated with strong emotions.

The Egyptians were the first to record doves used in ceremonies to announce, to the people, the rise of a new pharaoh.

Central Asia also has a legend about two kings heading to battle against each other. One of the kings called for his armor and is told a dove has made a nest in his helmet. The king’s mother pleads with him to leave the mother dove, a gentle bird associated with love, innocence, tenderness and purity, undisturbed.

The king agrees, and heads off to battle without his protection. The second king sees the king without armor and calls for a parley. Both kings lay down their weapons and talk. When the second king hears the first king’s story, he figures he has misjudged his enemy, whom he thought to be a tyrant. Both kings agree to peace. And the dove becomes known throughout the lands as a bird of peace.

It also had a place in Greek mythology. Aphrodite is always depicted with a dove because she brought love and beauty and peace. The dove was also the bird of Athena because it represented a renewal of life.

European superstition holds that the devil and witches can turn themselves into any bird shape except the dove.

In Japan, the dove with a sword is a symbol to announce the end of war.

Some Native American cultures believe that the deceased spirit takes the form of a dove.

In America, the most well known portrayal of the dove comes from the Bible. In the Old Testament a dove is released by Noah, following the Big Flood, in search of land. It returns with an olive branch to show the flood waters had receded.

The birds have developed into histories of cultures all around the world. The birds have always nested in areas close to developments and show a remarkable fearlessness of humans, possibly believing the humans will not harm them, even to the point of protecting them.

Doves are birds who mate for life and are extremely loyal to their mate. They raise their young with great care and dedication. They are harmless birds and feed on fruits, plants, and seeds.

Many religions associate the dove with peace. Christianity and the Bible describe doves as the symbol of peace and love. It is the symbol of the Holy Spirit, during the baptism of Jesus Christ.

Picasso’s lithograph, La Colombe (The Dove)

For centuries, artists have depicted the dove as a symbol of peace. The lithograph by Picasso-La Colombe, showing a dove with an olive branch in its beak, was chosen as the emblem of peace in 1949, for the World Peace Congress, in Paris. After this, the dove became very popular as a symbol of peace in the modern world.

The dove is truly a bird that has touched the human mind and heart. It has inspired mankind with its innocence and purity. It reminds people of the very basic traits to live a fruitful life-love and peace.

The next time you seem stressed, and you think the world is out to get you, just think of the dove, the symbol of tranquility and peace.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Since 2003, the New England Patriots have won 14 of 15 AFC East division titles. In what year did they not win the division?

Answer here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: With a song bird shortage, there are plenty of crows

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the lack of song and migratory birds at our backyard feeders. Although there seems to be a little improvement, the numbers are still not at the levels of past years. However, there is one thing I have noticed, the abnormal number of crows that have settled in and around my property in Waterville. I have never seen so many hanging around.

Usually, in mid-November, while I’m out raking leaves and pine needles, I witness a great migration of crows when, literally, thousands of crows fly overhead and move on toward the horizon. I see that every year, except this year. Something is amiss in our environment. Not only have I not seen the crow migration, and instead, taking up residents in my yard, especially from my trees where they deposit their calling cards. Speaking of trees, I have a Norway maple near my driveway and the leaves are still clinging to the branches, and haven’t even turned color yet. They are still green! What’s with that?

Anyway, back to the crows.

Crows are common and widespread. Males tend to be larger than females. There are many species of crows but the one we most associate with is the American crow. They are large, distinctive birds with iridescent black feathers. Mature birds are usually 16 – 20 inches in length, with about 40 percent of which is tail. Their wingspan is approximately 33 – 39 inches. The life span of the American crow in the wild is 7 – 8 years, while they have been known to live up to 30 years in captivity.

Crows also resemble the much larger raven. When they are flying at a distance, they are difficult to distinguish from each other. Ravens have a larger head and a lonzenge-shaped tail.

The range of the American crow extends from the Atlantic Ocean in Canada to the Pacific Ocean, and south through the United States into Mexico.

The crow are omnivorous, which explains why they are probably hanging around in the city, especially when my neighbors put their trash out to the curb too early, and the crows gather to sample the fare in the bags by ripping them open. They not only eat all types of carrion, but also human food, seeds, eggs and nestlings, fish on the shore and various grains. They will also prey on mice, frogs, and other small animals. They will scavenge landfills, scattering garbage in the process, which makes them considered a nuisance.

Their only redeeming quality is that they eat insect pests which helps agriculture. They are also carriers of the West Nile virus. However, the direct transmission of the virus from the crows to humans is unheard of and unlikely. I have found dead crows in my backyard, which I suspect was the result of the West Nile virus. The West Nile virus was accidentally introduced in the United States in 1999, apparently by an infested air traveler who was bitten by a mosquito. Since they are susceptible to the virus, the crow population has dropped by up to 45 percent since 1999. You couldn’t prove that by me based on what I mentioned earlier. Despire this decline, the species is considered of least concern.

The American crow is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, but despite the attempt by humans to drive the birds away, BirdLife International estimates the crow population to be at 31 million birds. The large number of birds and its wide range is the reason they are not considered threatened.

Maybe that explains the large number of birds in and around my backyard. There are so many of them, they may not have any place to go.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: A whale of a project for a Unity College senior

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Every summer, my wife and I head out to Boothbay Harbor, catch the boat and head out to Cabbage Island for one of their famous, old-fashioned, New England clam and lobster bakes. While waiting to board the ship, in the center of the village, we see all kinds of advertisements for whale watching excursions.

“I wonder what that would be like,” I think, and then my attention goes towards those whales and why do people spend the time – and the money – to watch them? Do the tides affect their travels? This is what I found out.

baleen whale

According to a study made by Laurel Sullivan, a member of the class of 2018 at Unity College, in a press release from Micky Bedell, Associate Director, Media Relations, whale watching, for some, may bring to mind school field trips or coastal vacations. Fanny packs and binoculars. Long stretches of ocean and searching eyes, with the hope that maybe, just maybe, one of the largest animals on earth will appear in the waters below.

But for Sullivan whale watching is both all of these things and none of these things at once. Whale watching isn’t just a pastime for Laurel — it’s conservation. Science.

“There’s nothing like it. It’s why I do what I do,” she says emphatically, describing the inherent awe in the arch of a whale’s massive body, stretching as high as a building into the sky, before it crashes gracefully back down into the water. “I’m at my happiest when I’m watching whales and when I’m on a boat in the middle of the ocean.”

During an internship with the New England Aquarium the summer between her sophomore and junior year, Laurel witnessed breaches, flipper slapping and lob tailing day after day on whale watching boats. She used these graceful, sometimes playful activities to educate visitors on the beautiful marine mammals in front of them, while also collecting and transcribing data of their identification, location and behavior. Laurel spent hours on whale watching boats. She loved every minute of it.

So, with support from advisors Dean Pieter deHart and Associate Professor Tom Mullin, Laurel has spent the last few months comparing eight years of baleen whale sighting data in the Bay of Fundy with the underwater depth of the bay at different points in the tide cycle. Using GIS, Laurel overlaid these datasets onto bathymetric maps that will eventually allow her to make conclusions on whether whale location in the Bay of Fundy is related to the tides.

Besides the standard scientific paper on her findings, those conclusions will lead Laurel to a unique end goal: suggested guidelines and interpretive materials for local whale watching companies in the Bay of Fundy. Inspired by her time educating whale watchers, Laurel wanted to be able to communicate her findings to a variety of audiences. Maps, she says, are just more visual. They allow people to understand concepts without necessarily understanding the complex math behind them. And making solid, helpful, scientific suggestions for whale watching companies in the Bay of Fundy could have “a real effect on those businesses,” according to Dr. deHart.

Whale watching is not just a fun pastime — the tourism it brings presents an economic opportunity for many communities around the world. And there’s no better opportunity than in the midst of wonder in seeing a whale to bring the value of their existence to the forefront, according to Laurel.

“People may see whales and think it’s cool, but the guides have to make that important for them. Why are the whales here? Why are they important?” Laurel says. “The Bay of Fundy is a feeding ground, so it’s especially important in this area to help people understand and care about conservation.”

This past summer, she spent three days whale watching with companies on the Bay of Fundy in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, Lubec, Maine, and Campobello Island, New Brunswick with funding from Unity College’s Student Academic Engagement Fund and Holt Scholarship.

“Going into the field to collect data is an important part of the process. It lets you connect with nature; connect with the whales and local companies; and get out of the lab and out from behind a computer screen. It’s important that Laurel had that experience,” Dr. deHart said.

“I have more pictures of whales on my phone than I have pictures of me,” she says with a laugh. “All my friends give me a hard time because I’m definitely the whale kid on campus. I’m always like, ‘So with the whales…’ and they’re like, ‘Please stop.’

“I’m having a blast. This is not what I ever expected to be doing. This is so much better than just writing a paper.”

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Proliferation of stink bugs

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

They seem to have invaded our environment and taken up permanent residence in the state of Maine. We are seeing more and more of them in and around our homes. More so this time of year when the critters are attempting to come indoors where its warm. They are commonly known as stink bugs.

The brown marmorated stink bugs are an invasive species and are considered a serious crop pest. They are notorious at attacking especially corn and potatoes. They were accidentally introduced in the United States from Asia. It is believed to have hitched a ride as a stow-away in packing crates or on various types of machinery. The first documented specimen was collected in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1996. It is now found in the eastern half of the U.S. as well as California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Since arriving from Asia, the stink bug spread quickly from state to state, and is now listed as a top invasive species of interest by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) since 2013. They spread quickly due to their ability to lay more than 100 eggs each spring and summer. The USDA now reports the stink bug can be found in 44 states.

marmorated stink bug

It is easily identifiable by its brown color, six legs, shield-like pattern on its shell, white segments on its antennas and the cilantro-like smell it emits when scared or crushed.

The stink bug gets its name because it releases an odor when disturbed or when crushed. They will emit a foul-smelling chemical when they are injured, startled or attacked.

Generally, adult stink bugs feed on fruits, while nymphs will dine on leaves, stems and fruit. Stink bugs eat peaches, apples, peppers, soybeans, tomatoes, grapes and others. According to USDA records, the stink bug caused farmers to lose $31 million in 2010, which is the most up-to-date figures available. Their ability to possibly spread throughout the country has the agricultural community nervous.

In the fall, they search for sites to avoid the winter weather. They re-emerge in early spring and become active. During the warmer summer months, they can be found congregating en masse on the sides of buildings. Stink bugs have a life expectancy of nine to 10 months.

They enter homes through windows, cracked foundations, dryer vents and door jambs. Once inside, they seek refuge in warm places, like insulated walls. It is not uncommon to find thousands of them inside a house.

Stink bugs are not poisonous to humans and do not normally bite. Although native stink bug species exist in the U.S., none have caused damage to crops and invaded homes in numbers like the brown marmorated stink bug. However, some people are allergic to the marmorated stink bug, with reactions that include eye watering, congestion and coughing.

Stink bugs present no known danger of damaging the home, however, large amounts of dead stink bugs in the walls of the home can attract carpet beetles, which eat wool. That may explain why, all of a sudden, some of your clothes hanging in closets have developed holes.

To prevent stink bugs from entering homes and buildings, seal cracks around windows, doors, siding, utility pipes, behind chimneys and underneath the wood fascia and other openings. Use a good quality silicone or silicone-latex caulk. If you need to remove stink bugs already established in the home, a vacuum cleaner can aid in the removal. However, make sure to empty the vacuum cleaner outdoors after using to avoid the odor that will probably permeate throughout the house from disturbing the bugs.

Although studies are being conducted on how to handle the growing problem, farmers don’t currently have too many options. Pesticides that are used for other bugs can work, however, unless the pesticide hits the bug directly, it won’t make much of a difference in the stink bug population.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry asks anyone who finds a stink bug to take a picture and fill out an online survey. That could be a cumbersome project.

I have not seen any marmorated stink bugs in my home, but I have seen many around homes of family and friends, especially those residing in rural areas. Most merely dismiss it as nothing more than a nuisance and simply deal with them one at a time, as they appear.

What else can you do?

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Update on birds

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

As an update to my column of two weeks ago about the disappearance of birds from our backyard feeders, I have done some more research, and received some feedback from readers.

Through the dog days of August, it is not unusual to see and hear fewer birds. The nesting season has ended. So, young birds and their parents have dispersed and left their nesting territories (your yard). If natural food is plentiful, they are less likely to supplement their diet with your feeders. Migration has also started. Backyard birds with long migration routes will start leaving early in more northern areas of the country as insect populations start to fall off. Midday heat will make birds more inactive. Summer temperatures will often cause birds to be less active during the middle of the day. So, it’s possible that the warm fall we are experiencing has something to do with it. So, they won’t come to feeders as much.

“Things are going wrong with our environment,” writes John Terborgh, a James B. Duke Profesor of Environmental Science at Duke University. “Even the parts of it that are nominally protected. If we wait until all the answers are in, we may find ourselves in a much worse predicament than if we had taken notice of the problem earlier. By waiting, one risks being too late; on the other hand, there can be no such thing as being too early.”

For some interesting insight, read Terborgh’s book, Where Have All the Birds Gone?: Essays on the Biology and Conservation of Birds that Migrate to the American Tropics.

Is this talk about national bird declines just hot air? No. As well as all these apparent disappearances of birds, there has been a serious, countrywide, decline in the numbers of many birds, including many well known and loved species. This decline has been slow and gradual, rather than sudden. Extensive research has shown that these declines are caused primarily by changes in agriculture.

According to ArkWildlife, a respected online trading bird food and wildlife habitats company, and 24 years of history with a passion for garden wildlife, “don’t panic, nothing’s gone wrong. The birds are simply following the natural seasons, food availability and their natural behaviour. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, birds can suffer real food shortages during the summer months at a time most vital to them – the breeding season. Wet weather or a late spring can all mean a lack of insects to forage for when the trees and hedgerows have long since been stripped of berries and seeds. So birds turn to our gardens in huge numbers to supplement their diet and even bring fledglings directly from the nest to the feeder.”

Although we don’t see it very often, there is a year-round cycle within the bird world. As we transition into fall, birds go into different feeding patterns.

Don’t worry, according to many bird research sources, they will come back. So don’t take down those feeders yet. Keep them filled, the birds will love you for it.

Here are a few responses we received on our website:

Janie says: It appears the loss of birds is quite widespread…not just in Maine. I live in upstate New York… Catskill Mountains region; and we haven’t had any birds, at all, for over a month. We went for about a 45 minute drive to admire the autumn foliage, and we did not see even one bird spotted flying during the drive… and we were specifically watching to see if another area had birds. My relatives and I feed them year round… and usually have to refill the feeders on a daily basis. There have always been lots of birds year round… this has not happened before in over the 25 years I have lived here. On a positive note, we noticed this weekend a few birds have started to return from wherever they had gone! It is so nice to hear and see them again!

JHM says: I have had a feeder in Waterville, Maine, for many years. The first few days in September the hummingbird sat at the nectar feeder almost all day and evidently left that night on his southern journey. Until about that date my seed feeder had many daily bird visits from tufted titmice, several male and female cardinals, many chickadees, gold finches and house finches, and others. But right about that time in early to mid-September I realized my feeder was staying full and there were no birds, only an occasional squirrel. I cleaned the feeder and bought new seeds, but still no luck. I kept a look out for predators and did see a cat several times. But, that is not unusual. I have seen an occasional titmouse and cardinal but that is it. I have seen some birds in the trees, but not as many as I have seen in the past. I hope they will come back as the birds are a bright spot by my kitchen window during the long winter.

Caroline says: I was just googling “where are the birds” and this article was high in the search. I live in Southport, North Carolina. Usually my feeders are covered with many types of birds, especially House finches. But for the last month or two, I have a couple of chickadees, cardinals and nuthatches. This area is rich in bird life, especially water birds (egrets, herons, etc) and those birds seem to be about the same. But I am very shocked at the decrease in feeder birds. We have a lot of insects here. I have noticed no decrease in them. I am very concerned to find an article from Maine that describes a similar situation.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Where have all the birds gone?

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Where have all the birds gone? That is a question that has been asked of me many times over the last several weeks. My wife first brought it to my attention when we first moved back to town from camp in early October. So, like a good husband, I ignored it. I said that I had seen birds at the feeders. Then, someone called a couple of weeks ago, and asked the same question. Many friends have also brought the situation to my attention.

So, thinking back, I realized the birds I had seen at home did not amount to the same number that have frequented our feeders in the past. Namely, one nuthatch, one chickadee and one house finch. The feeders are usually covered with gold finches, woodpeckers along with many other species. So, where did they go?

Even at camp, we noticed a shortage of birds this season. We did not see any grosbeaks, orioles or cardinals. And the hummingbirds left two weeks earlier than usual. So, where did the bird go?

Research showed me there is no definite answer. One of the reasons could be the loss of insects. Birds are highly dependent on them. When was the last time you had to clean your windshield of insects in the summer as we once did? Even at camp this summer, we noticed a shortage of insects. I haven’t seen a June bug in two years. There were hardly any hickory tussock caterpillars this fall, and definitely a decline in the number of harvestman spiders.

The loss of bird populations in the Western Mountains of Maine includes three major causes. First, there has been a coincidental drop in insect life. No one completely understands how or why this has happened. Another reason is loss of habitat.

Has anyone seen a wooly bear caterpillar this fall? They usually begin to appear in mid-September. I have seen zero, nil, zilch this fall.

Lepidoptera – Arctiidae – Pyrrharctia isabella caterpillar (woolly bear caterpillar)

Birds are the warning lights that tell us our natural systems are stressed out. Seen as indicator species for the health of America’s natural landscape, they are declining in numbers at an alarming rate.

I think it was in July when we first noticed there weren’t as many birds around as usual. We kept the feeders filled, but the time lapse between fill-ups was getting longer.

Was the summer too cold for baby birds to survive? Also, organized spraying campaigns can kill birds as well as the massive caterpillar population. Or, did the birds just go somewhere else. I guess we shouldn’t take it personally because birds do move from place to place in search of food. Birds migrate, so did they leave to head south a little earlier than normal. Did the violent hurricane activity this year have an affect on the bird migration? Did the storms mess up the birds’ timing and navigation? I guess the questions are endless on the possibilities.

The best reason I was able to find was from the Audubon Society, along with other bird information sources, insisting that nothing is wrong. That because of the warmer than usual fall weather and the unusually abundant sources of natural food, the birds are still finding plenty to eat in the wild. Also, another explanation was that bird populations naturally fluctuate from year to year and that a feeder that is really “busy” one year may have fewer birds the next.

It is apparently a universal question in our area right now, and one that seems to have fewer answers.

Read the follow-up, Update on Birds