Last week I asked people who had barn owls to let me know if they have pairs around their property. I received this marvelous description from Rebecca Gilbert of the Native Earth Teaching Farm on North Road:

“Some years ago we built a barn owl nest box in our barn, and it was unoccupied for a long time due to a dreadful winter with thick frozen snow for weeks on end. Finally, last year a pair moved in and raised two batches of young. I’m not sure how many were in the first batch. In the second batch there were four. One got stuck in the wood stove chimney. Just by chance Randy (Ben David) went in the barn at night and heard a funny scratching noise. When we took the stove pipe apart to find out what that scratching noise was, out came this fuzzy black thing with enormous eyes! When Randy put it back in the nest box, there were three others. For a few days one was gray, but it recovered and survived so far as we know... We think they are in there again now, though I have heard somewhat less activity lately. We love the barn owls, the wide variety of noises they make and their gliding presence in the evening is always thrilling. On a more practical note, like any farm we have trouble with rodents, and the barn owls are the best farm helpers we could have! We have noticed a difference since they moved in.”

Barn owl wing, up close and personal. — Lanny McDowell

Bird Sightings

John Nelson, a biology teacher at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, announced that the school’s pair of ospreys (Olive and Otto) arrived on March 25. John’s homeroom boasts a spotting scope and his students are keeping a daily log of the osprey nesting activities. I doubt there is any other high school which has this opportunity! John also mentioned that he observed a flock of northern gannets fishing hard off Hedge Fence (a shoal area off West Chop). John surmised that the gannets were catching herring as they approached the Vineyard to find an area in which to spawn.

Joan Jenkinson let us know that on April 4 Bobette, the female mute swan, returned to the Mill Pond in West Tisbury with a new mate.

Luanne Johnson counted 12 harlequin ducks off Lucy Vincent Beach on March 30.

David Steere looked out on his pond behind the Mill Pond in West Tisbury and much to his delight saw the common/Eurasian/green-winged teal that had been at Turtle Brook Farm in Chilmark last week.

Tim Johnson took a handsome photo of a red-tailed hawk at Katama on April 3.

Bert Fischer reports that an adult bald eagle was around the Flanders field by the Menemsha Crossroads in Chilmark on April 1. Bert photographed a common woodcock from his tractor while working the fields in Aquinnah.

Matt Pelikan watched a pair of wood ducks exploring the branches of oak trees close to the Wakeman Center on April 1. Page Rogers added that when her parents lived nearby, close to the cranberry bogs, they found wood ducks nesting there annually. Chuck Wiley of Vineyard Gardens e-mailed to saw he watched two large ducks fly into his yard on Indian Hill. The ducks then flew over to two other trees and then flew off, never to return. Chuck was pretty sure they weren’t wood ducks. Instead he said they looked like large female black ducks or mallards. I checked with Gus Ben David as I had never heard of any puddle ducks perching. Gus said I was correct and the only ducks that could perch that might be found around the Island were wood ducks or Muscovy ducks. It might be that Chuck saw large female wood ducks. We’ll never know. Again a picture is worth a thousand words.

Roy Riley of West Tisbury spotted what he is convinced was a Mississippi kite hunting the fields behind his house across from the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury on April 3.


Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail to

Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is