The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted in 1918. This statute makes it unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill or sell birds listed therein (“migratory birds”). The statute does not discriminate between live or dead birds and also grants full protection to any bird parts including feathers, eggs and nests. There are a few narrow exceptions such as for the religious purposes of American Indian tribes.
This means that no one is allowed to take any wild bird (except European starlings and house sparrows) and put it in a box, cage, home, pen or anything else, unless they are taking it to a person who is registered to rehabilitate wild birds or runs a rehabilitation facility. There are only three people on Martha’s Vineyard who have such a license: Gus Ben David of The World of Reptiles and Birds, veterinarian Michelle Gerhard Jasny, and Sgt. Matt Bass, the Vineyard’s environmental police officer.
Let’s take an example. I received a call that there was a black-backed gull at Lucy Vincent’s Beach which has a broken wing. What can be done? My answer is not one that people always like. If a wild bird has broken wing it is rare that it can be fixed. It is probably best either to take the bird to a facility where it can be euthanized or let nature take its course. If you call one of the three rehabilitators they cannot spend the time coming to collect an injured bird as they have their own job and responsibilities. They can give explicit directions on how to capture the bird and transport it to the proper facility with the least amount of damage or stress. If the bird should happen to die on the way to the facility it should still be taken there. It is illegal to have a wild bird in your possession either dead or alive.
There are more than 800 species of birds that are covered in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and close to 400 of them can be found on the Vineyard at one time or another. So please do not pick up birds that are on the bushes, ground, beach or cliffs.
Many of the raucous fledglings that were around just last week have flown the coop. Our barn swallows are gone except for two. Jean August commented that in the two bluebird nest boxes on her Seven Gates property, one was occupied by a family of tree swallows and the other by bluebirds. The tree swallows have fledged and flown on but the bluebirds are still in the area. They may stay the winter; one never knows.
On July 24, Al Sgroi and a group from the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary birded around Sengekontacket Pond. He was pleased to find an adult yellow-crowned night heron. At Katama Field Al spotted two bobwhites and heard a ring-necked pheasant calling. He also watched two northern harriers hunting the Katama fields.
I spoke with Gus Ben David about the various reports of bobwhites I have received this summer and asked if he thought the quail population was rebounding. I was hoping he would say yes, but kind of doubted it. Gus said there are several changes to the Vineyard which have affected the bobwhite population. The main one is that the Vineyard is no longer covered with open fields and pastures, which is the preferred habitat of the bobwhite. Bobwhites are seed eaters, not acorn or nut eaters. Cooper’s hawks have now become quite numerous on the Island, maybe even outnumbering red-tailed hawks. The Cooper’s hawks are woodland hunters of great skill. If there is a winter with snow cover, the bobwhites will move from the snow-covered fields into the woodlands for shelter and to feed on what few seeds they can glean from the woods. The Cooper’s hawks will easily hunt them down. Skunks, raccoons and feral cats will take eggs and young bobwhites from their ground nests. Things have changed on the Vineyard, and no matter how many bobwhites might be released, they will not survive. The released birds do not have the genetic makeup to survive on the Vineyard. Gus feels there may be a few isolated coveys of Vineyard quail, but they are not on the increase.
On July 27, Bill Lee with son and granddaughter counted six great egrets in the Lobsterville marshes and watched two roseate terns in with the least and common terns flying up Menemsha Creek. They also watched a spotted sandpiper land amongst the rocks on the Aquinnah side of Menemsha Creek.
Lanny McDowell photographed a winter plumage red-necked phalarope at Black Point Pond in the early morning hours of July 28. Sarah Mayhew photographed a green heron with fish at Lobsterville.
On July 29, Dan Waters photographed an unusual warbler for the Indian Hill area in which he resides. At first he thought it was an American goldfinch, but when it hawked a spider, Dan realized it was a warbler, not a seed-eating goldfinch. Dan shared the photo, which I figured was of a yellow warbler.
Al Sgroi and the Felix Neck birders on July 30 went to the state forest, where they heard a veery, an ovenbird and a black-billed cuckoo. The following day in the same location Al heard a wood thrush. At Sengekontacket Pond Al and crew spotted a ruddy turnstone, both greater and lesser yellowlegs, short-billed dowitchers, American oystercatchers, willets, sanderlings, both semipalmated and least sandpipers and a belted kingfisher.
Jeff Bernier kayaked around Edgartown Great Pond the same day and spotted one ruddy turnstone, 120 double crested-cormorants, and a flock of short-billed dowitchers as well as semipalmated plovers and sanderlings. He watched a young osprey learning to fish and counted six common terns.
Several people have noticed that screech owls have become more vociferous. On July 31, Dan Waters heard a couple around his Indian Hill home and Sarah Mayhew heard one around her West Tisbury house. Tom Rivers said a screech owl joined the morning chorus with the whippoorwills and a northern mockingbird on the same morning. Matt Pelikan noted that this is the very beginning of the screech owl courtship period. The main activity is in early September, but yearling screech owls are checking out territories they might use to lure a mate and find a suitable hollow in which to lay their eggs during the winter.
Matt Pelikan saw two solitary sandpipers at Little Pond in the state forest and also spotted a juvenile black-billed cuckoo on July 31.
On August 1 Page Rogers was kayaking around Sengekontacket Pond and photographed most of the species Al Sgroi had seen previously. Page did mention that a flock of crows attacked a tern colony on one of the islands in Sengekontacket and she hoped the irate terns were able to drive the crows out.
Chilmark Community Center birders on August 2 went to Quansoo again and found the same species seen at Sengekontacket and Edgartown Great Ponds, except for ruddy turnstones. We did add 10 piping plovers to the list. Peter Huntington added a spotted sandpiper he saw at Quansoo on Sunday the July 31.
Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is vineyardbirds2.com. Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail to email@example.com.