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Exactly what's so hairy about a hairy woodpecker?
This common and familiar species--there may be one at your suet feeder right now--was introduced to European science by Mark Catesby, who noted that the back was covered by a "broad white stripe of hairy feathers." You can see Catesby's eighteenth-century engraving of the bird here.
Is it possible that I saw a raven?
Oh, yes, indeed! Rare in New Jersey just a short generation ago, common ravens have recolonized much of the state, and now breed all over north Jersey, even in cities, where they can often be seen scavenging in grocery store parking lots. Have a look here.
Are there still pheasants in our area?
Kind of. This colorful Old World gamebird was introduced to New Jersey in large numbers a century and a quarter ago, and pheasants thrived on agricultural land until the late twentieth century, when numbers began to decline. Now, most of the birds we see are the products of recent releases. Check this out.
Who determines the names of our birds?
You do. No one can stop you from calling that chubby gray sparrow a snowbird--but the "authorities" in such matters are likely to call it a junco. For North American birders, the most important "official" lists are those of the NACC and the IOC.
Earlier this winter I had a hundred birds at a time at my feeders. Now they're all gone. Why?
Winter birds wander widely in search of food. Your feathered freeloaders may have found some especially tasty wild chow somewhere else, and will return to your feeders once that supply is exhausted. Or those hundreds of birds might have been of an “irruptive” species, like the pine siskins that were so abundant in our area early this winter; they typically appear in massive flocks, then vanish as suddenly as they came. Take heart: your birds will return, unless your neighborhood is home to free-roaming housecats, which devastate feeder populations and can keep birds away for months or years. Learn more here.