What Does a Canada Goose Look Like?

278028759 1 William Mcdonald Bnb Bypc 2021
The Canada goose is an easy bird to identify.

One of the first water birds many people learn to identify, often without even trying, is the Canada goose. It helps that this species is visually distinctive and behaviorally bold! You’ll know them by their black head and neck, white chinstrap that extends up their cheeks and beneath their eyes and their large grayish-brownish bodies. They weigh anywhere between six and 14 pounds with wingspans of up to 66 inches.

Discover 20 types of ducks to look for in spring.

Canada Goose vs Cackling Goose

Although Canada geese have characteristic features, they can be confused with cackling geese. (They’re so similar that before 2004, the cackling goose was considered a subspecies.) But there are a few ways to spot the difference between them.

“Cackling geese are smaller and have a higher pitched call,” says Dr. Mike Ward, an ornithology research scientist and professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “They’re also much rarer than Canada geese and breed in the Arctic, coming to the U.S. in winter.”

Canada Goose Habitat and Range

307014430 1 Amber Radivojevic Bnb Pc 2022
These birds are often spotted near water

You’ll find Canada geese throughout the U.S. and Canada as well as in western Europe where they were introduced in the 17th century, but Mike says their population has shifted.

“Canada geese were once nearly extinct in the Midwest in the 1960s but their populations have increased greatly since then,” he says. Conservation efforts to address habitat loss as well as hunting regulations have played a major role in bringing Canada geese numbers up to about five million in North America alone.

Like the common mallard duck, Canada geese are nearly ubiquitous, especially close to bodies of water, such as ponds, lakes and rivers. They’re also common in parks and yards. They typically live most of the year in the Midwest and other upper states of the U.S. but migrate south in winter.

Couclc17 Celynn Siemons 003
Not all Canada geese fly south for winter.

However, their migration patterns are changing. “We’ve been tracking Canada geese and find that some will stay in the same neighborhood their entire lives while others move around widely. Some geese no longer migrate at all and just hunker down for winter instead,” Mike says.

Diet: What Does a Canada Goose Eat?

Bnbbyc17 Melissa Rowell
Canada geese nibbling on grass

Canada geese are herbivores, meaning that they solely eat vegetation, such as grasses, grains, aquatic plants, seeds and more. And, as you’ve probably observed first-hand in your local park, Canada geese eat food for humans, too.

But in case you were wondering, it’s best to leave the stale bread at home. “People really should not feed them,” Mike says. “Often, people will feed Canada geese things like bread, which really isn’t good for them. There’s plenty of natural food sources available, so humans do not need to directly feed them anyway.”

Canada Goose Nesting Habits

Bnbbyc18 Faye Fitzgibbons
Canada goose nest

Canada geese mate for life and stick with the same partner for decades. Similarly, when it comes to building their nest and raising their young, they also work as a team. The female Canada goose selects the nest site and builds the nest out of grasses and moss, lining it with her feathers and other soft material.

“Geese used to nest in wetlands, but over the last several years, we see Canada geese breeding in many odd places,” Mike says. “They’ll nest in landscape islands in parking lots, on roofs and in any green space.”

310090015 1 Jude Odonnell Bnb Pc 2022
Canada goose eggs and nestlings

While she incubates the eggs, the male stands guard. Together, they raise their young—usually a brood of two to eight goslings. “Once the eggs hatch, the young follow the adults for several weeks, feeding on grass or aquatic vegetation,” notes Mike. Canada geese only have one brood per breeding season and offspring tend to stay with their parents for about a year.

Canada Goose Calls and Sounds

276189523 1 Eric Sydenstricker Bnb Bypc 2021
Canada geese honking in flight

A classic sound in fall is a flock of Canada geese flying in V-formation overhead and making honking sounds. And if you’ve ever gotten too close to a Canada goose, you’ve probably heard a hiss or two.

Canada geese are territorial and on guard for predators, so a lot of the honking, barking and hissing is to either warn each other of danger–or scare off perceived danger. They also use vocalizations to attract, greet and otherwise communicate with their paired mate and family members.

Bird sounds courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

How to Deter a Canada Goose

Morning Canada Goose walk
Canada geese can be a nuisance when they gather in residential areas.

It’s understandable to appreciate Canada geese but not want a family of them in your backyard. There are many tools on the market available designed to deter Canada geese, but Mike is skeptical of their success rate. “Typically, most devices meant to scare away geese don’t work, though some approaches, like laser emitters, are worth trying,” he says.

Instead, Mike suggests addressing what makes your space so enticing in the fist place. “Geese are generally in a person’s yard because they’re eating the grass. They like mowed grass, so if someone doesn’t want geese in their yard, they can allow their grass to grow high — or replace the grass with native shrubs and plants,” Mike says.

Besides discouraging Canada geese, this approach has a major benefit of attracting more songbirds and pollinators to your backyard.

About the Expert

Dr. Mike Ward is currently the Stuart L. and Nancy J. Levenick Chair in Sustainability in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. He’s also an ornithologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey. Dr. Ward conducts research on avian ecology and conservation throughout the Midwest, as well as in Texas, Florida, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia and Cuba.

Sources

Salvia Plant Benefits for Gardeners

Ruby Throated Hummingbird Feeding On Nectar
Female ruby-throated hummingbird

To birders, there are endless reasons to love salvia—this spectacular plant does a lot of good. “It is easy to grow, a prolific bloomer that comes in a variety of colors and is very versatile,” says Wendy Wilber, the Florida statewide master gardener volunteer coordinator for the University of Florida, IFAS Extension Service.

Are Salvia Plants Annuals or Perennials?

Pw Salvia Pink Profusion Apj22 3
Pink Profusion

This member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) is low maintenance and resistant to deer and disease, in addition to being a great garden pick to attract pollinators. There are hundreds of annual and perennial species of salvia available worldwide.

Are Salvia Plants Edible?

Salvia also has an aromatic allure. “You take that leaf and scrunch it up in your hand, and it smells awesome,” says Luke Nygaard, owner of Nygaard Nursery in Dilworth, Minnesota. A variety of this plant produces the sage used in seasonings, while others’ flowers provide an attractive garnish for dishes including salads, butters and soft cheeses.

History of Salvia as Natural Medicine

Salvia comes from the Latin word salvere, which means “to heal.” According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, “Ancient Romans believed that salvia stimulated the brain and memory; they also used it to clean their teeth.” The National Library of Medicine recognizes salvia as a traditional medicine that was used to reduce pain and inflammation, and to protect against oxidative stress and free radical damage.

Salvia Plant Varieties

Walters Salvia Nemorosa May Night
May Night

Salvia’s bright blooms are visible through midsummer and fall—whenever it gets hot in your zone. Amid velvet leaves, the flowers come in plenty of colors, from purples and pinks to blues, reds and whites. Salvia’s incredible colors are often captured in each cultivar’s name.

“May Night is a perennial salvia that is drop-dead gorgeous. Absolutely beautiful,” Luke says of its bright purple spikes.

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Wendy’s Wish

“My favorite, which is Wendy’s Wish, is a hot pink,” says Wendy, who appreciates that a portion of each sale of a Wendy’s Wish salvia benefits Make-A-Wish Australia. Ask your local garden center about new cultivars.

Pw Salvia Rockin Fuchsia
Rockin’ Fuchsia

“Proven Winners is doing a lot of work on these. They have a series called Rockin’,” Wendy says. Rockin’ Deep Purple blooms a bold, royal purple. Rockin’ Fuchsia is a new cultivar featuring a flush of alluring pink.

Attract a crowd of hummingbirds to Playin’ the Blues salvia.

Look for Native Salvia Plants

If you are looking for nectar and seed production for pollinators, Wendy encourages searching for native options, as they will be the best at attracting the wildlife in your zone.

Ideal Salvia Plant Growing Conditions

Pw Salvia Snow Kiss
Color Spires Snow Kiss

Most salvias thrive in bright, full sun and require good drainage. Make sure to provide enough room for growth. These plants range from 1 to 6 feet tall and wide, though most average 2 to 3 feet. Salvias can be planted in the spring or fall in a variety of soils. “They’re jolly either way,” Luke says.

Organic mulch benefits these plants by protecting their roots, helping maintain a suitable soil temperature and keeping moisture consistent. For those with heavy or clay soil, plant “proud,” meaning the plant should sit slightly higher than the surrounding ground.

Do Salvias Need Deadheading?

Pw Container Lake Tahoe
Rockin Deep Purple salvia, Supertunia Priscilla, Diamond Snow euphorbia

Salvias create dramatic displays in cottage gardens—and they’re a great option if you want to soften borders and pathways. They also spill beautifully from containers.

To continue encouraging blooms, prune this plant. “As soon as those blooms are spent, instead of going just below the flower spike, I go one more node down to stimulate new growth to come out of the sides of the stems,” says Wendy, who does this to boost the chance of two new stems.

Pollinator Benefits

Salvia And The Bee
Bee on salvia

Salvias rely on bees, butterflies and birds. And hummingbirds are drawn to this nectar-packed plant’s colorful spikes of tubular flowers. To further support visiting pollinators, place a water source nearby, offer open soil for ground burrowers and provide shelter through a small brush pile. You can also install bee boxes.

Can You Grow Salvia Plants From Seeds?

If you are new to salvia and are starting plants from seed, make sure conditions are consistent and aligned with recommendations. Start them six to eight weeks before your zone’s final frost.

When bringing them outside, “Do a good job of hardening them off, which means preparing them for their life outdoors, or you may get frustrated,” says Luke, whose nursery is in Zone 4. “You’ve got to give them tough love.”

Use Salvia in Flower Arrangements

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Use salvia as cut flowers for arrangements and bouquets

Salvia’s slender blooms contribute to long-lasting, beautiful bouquets when you:

  • Identify one of salvia’s main stems
  • Cut 1 inch above the stem’s bottom
  • Slice the stem at a 45-degree angle
  • Arrange in your favorite vase
  • Remove submerged foliage

About the Experts

Wendy Wilber is the Florida statewide master gardener volunteer coordinator for the University of Florida, IFAS Extension Service. She received her master’s degree in horticultural sciences at the University of Florida.

Luke Nygaard is the owner of Nygaard Nursery in Dilworth, Minnesota, which sells a wide variety of garden plants, flowers and vegetables, as well as offering classes on gardening and plant care.

Sources

Gray Jay Perching

More than 450 bird species call Canada home for at least part of the year. And from March to September, you’ll find the widest range of birds enjoying the country’s diverse landscapes. Want to make the most of the warm spring and summer months? Ensure your backyard is bird friendly (and safe!) with the help of Peavey Mart.

How to attract birds to your backyard

If you’re hoping to make your outdoor space a friendly oasis for bird species in your region, there are several steps you can take:

  • Garden with native plants: Birds use trees, shrubs, grasses and other plants as food sources, nesting platforms and nesting materials. To ensure your backyard is a suitable environment for birds, opt for a variety of bird-friendly plants that are native to your area—especially ones that provide fruit and seeds.

Shop essential gardening supplies at Peavey Mart

  • Install a bird bath: Birds are attracted to clean water. Place a bird bath or water receptable in your backyard in an area that’s close to perches for drying off, as well as coverage from predators. Clean it weekly.

Shop charming bird baths at Peavey Mart

  • Hang multiple feeders: To attract multiple bird species, hang different types of feeders around your property. Hummingbirds require a feeder that can house a sugar solution. Sparrows like platform feeders and won’t approach a tube. Place your feeders in areas that are protected from the wind and choose designs that keep the food dry and are easy to clean.

Shop bird feeders at Peavey Mart

  • Feed responsibly: Avoid giving birds bread, meat, salted seeds and nuts, dog or cat food and old (potentially rancid) birdseed. Instead, choose high-quality feed that contains ingredients like sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, nyjer seeds and peanuts.

Shop premium birdseed at Peavey Mart

  • Sprinkle nest boxes around your property: Bird houses provide a safe place for nesting and roosting. Choose a house or nest box that opens so you can clean it out each season. The size of the entrance hole, hanging height and proper location will depend on the species you hope to attract. Ideally, these boxes should be placed outside by mid-March.

Shop bird houses and other accessories at Peavey Mart

How to make your backyard safer for birds

There are two main ways to turn your backyard into a safe habitat:

Canadian bird species to watch for

The types of birds you’ll see will vary depending on where you live, but here are a few worth keeping an eye out for:

  • Canada Jay: In 2016, The Royal Canadian Geographical Society declared the Canada jay (formerly known as the grey jay or Whisky Jack) the top choice for Canada’s national bird based on nearly 50,000 votes. A grey bird with a white forehead and black cap, it’s found in every province and territory (albeit in the northern or high-elevation boreal forests) and is incredibly friendly and curious.
  • Cedar waxwing: A beautiful songbird with a black mask, tan head and breast, and yellow belly, cedar waxwings are especially attracted to fruiting trees and shrubs. They’re found across all provinces, as well as the southern edges of the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
  • Song sparrow: There are at least 24 subspecies that have different food preferences, so do a little research to discover which song sparrows live in your region. They enjoy seed sprinkled on the ground or platform feeder and love bushes for nesting.
  • Hummingbird: Five hummingbird species can be spotted in Canada: ruby-throated (from Alberta to the east coast), Anna’s (around the west coast), black-chinned (in southern Alberta and B.C.), rufous (B.C.) and Calliope (Alberta and B.C.). They’re attracted to bright red flowers and feeders.

When it comes to backyard birding, Peavey Mart has you covered. Find all your birding essentials, premium birdseed and lawn and garden supplies at peaveymart.com.

Panicle hydrangea, proven winners
Pinky Winky panicle hydrangea

Some types of hydrangeas can be fickle. They can be prone to pests and diseases, excess sun burns their leaves, and overwatering or underwatering may cause them to die. But panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) offer an easier-to-grow option. If you want to grow hydrangeas, a hardy, low-maintenance panicle hydrangea is a good alternative to bigleaf types. Benefits include reliable blooms, an array of color choices and drought tolerance.

The plants, sometimes called peegee or hardy hydrangeas, produce pretty single-petal flowers on pyramidal heads in contrast to the hallmark mophead flowers on bigleaf hydrangeas. “They make a big splash in the garden,” says Lorraine Ballato, horticulturist and author of Success with Hydrangeas. “They contribute a tremendous amount to the vibrancy of the garden.”

Panicle Hydrangea Size and Colors

'Zinfin Doll' panicle hydrangea
Zinfin Doll panicle hydrangea

One thing gardeners love about panicle hydrangeas is the diversity. Lorraine notes that traditional bigleaf hydrangeas were primarily pink and blue, but panicles offer flowers that change colors as the blooms mature. “Now you can get these wowie-zowie colors,” Lorraine says.

Fire Light features full mophead flowers that are a creamy white color when they emerge and transform into a vivid red hue; Pinky Winky hydrangea is known for its large white panicles that transition to a pretty shade of pink in the fall; and Candy Apple boasts compact lime green flower clusters.

Color is just one of the features to consider when choosing panicle hydrangeas. Lorraine suggests considering size too. Some dwarf varieties are under 3 feet, while some full-sized plants grow up to 8 feet tall or more and just as wide.

Panicle Hydrangea Care and Maintenance

'Candy Apple' panicle hydrangea
Candy Apple panicle hydrangea

Panicle hydrangeas grow well in Zones 3 to 9. Plant them in a sunny spot (with afternoon shade in hot climates) and well-draining soil. Minimal fertilization is needed. A soil test can help you determine proper fertilization needs.

Can You Grow Panicle Hydrangeas in Containers?

Pw Little Quick Fire Hydrangea
Little Quick Fire panicle hydrangea

Thanks to their hardiness, panicle hydrangeas are ideal for container gardening. Choose weatherproof containers and provide extra winter protection if you’re in a colder climate. Repot into larger pots every three years as the plant matures.

Panicle Hydrangea Pruning

'Fire Light' panicle hydrangea
Fire Light panicle hydrangea

Minimal annual pruning during the dormant season can be done if needed to promote stem strength and help you control the size and shape of the plant. Since panicle hydrangeas flower on new growth, it’s safe to prune them in early spring before the leaves appear or in late fall after the leaves have fallen, says Lorraine.

About The Expert

Lorraine Ballato is an award-winning garden writer, speaker, and photographer. She serves as the New York Botanical Garden’s resident hydrangea expert, and has also written numerous gardening columns and even a book about growing hydrangeas: Success With Hydrangeas, A Gardener’s Guide.

Sources

Why Trust Us

For nearly 30 years, Birds & Blooms, a Trusted Media Brandhas been inspiring readers to have a lifelong love of birding, gardening and nature. We are the #1 bird and garden magazine in North America and a trusted online resource for over 15 million outdoor enthusiasts annually. Our library of thousands of informative articles and how-tos has been written by trusted journalists and fact-checked by bird and garden experts for accuracy. In addition to our staff of experienced gardeners and bird-watchers, we hire individuals who have years of education and hands-on experience with birding, bird feeding, gardening, butterflies, bugs and more. Learn more about Birds & Blooms, our field editor program, and our submission guidelines.

What Does a Hooded Warbler Look Like?

Lewis Bernard 1
Male hooded warbler
"The hooded warbler is a fairly easy one to identify"
Dr. Kevin McGowan
Senior Course dEveloper, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

To identify a hooded warbler, look for a small yellow bird with a distinctive black hood around its face. The bird’s wings are noticeably a darker olive color than its sunny yellow belly.

Females resemble males, but where males have solid black “hoods,” females’ hoods are patchier. In some cases, the hood can be absent entirely.

“The hooded warbler is a fairly easy one to identify,” says Dr. Kevin McGowan, senior course developer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “The male is beautiful. Some warblers look like they have beautiful colors painted on, but the hooded warbler looks yellow all the way through. It’s a very solid warbler.”

Be on the lookout for white tail feathers, which are most prominent when the bird is flicking its tail as it hops through underbrush.

“When they’re foraging along, they’re constantly flicking their wings and flashing the white spots in their tail,” Kevin explains. “That flushes up insects that they then catch in flight. The tail spots are used by a number of different warblers, but the hooded warbler is quite noticeable. It’s pretty cool.”

Hooded Warbler Range and Habitat

Hooded warbler
This warbler has shifted its range northward in recent years.

Kevin notes that while the hooded warbler was once a southeastern bird, throughout several decades, its range has shifted. “It’s been increasing its range northward over the past 40 years or so, as have some other warblers, too,” he says. “It’s basically a southeastern warbler, but it’s getting to be regular much farther north.”

These birds then fly south across the Gulf of Mexico to spend winter in warm, tropical areas.

Unlike many warblers, this species forages, and even nests, close to the ground. You’re more likely to find one in their ideal habitat—shady undergrowth during summer breeding season. Look for hooded warblers in the understory of rich, moist woods, and on the edges of swamps.

Hooded Warbler Hotspot

Any one of Indiana Dunes National Park’s hiking trails through prairie, savanna, beach and dune habitats will net plenty of good bird sightings, but the two best trails for birders are Trails 2 and 10. Take Trail 2 and enjoy a mile-long boardwalk where you can spot nesting woodland birds like the hooded warbler, veery and red-shouldered hawk.

Check out more of the top warbler hotspots to visit in spring.

Diet: What Do Hooded Warblers Eat?

HOODED WARBLER WITH FOOD
These birds eat insects and do not visit backyard feeders.

This species eats primarily plucks insects to eat from under leaves or on the ground, so you’re unlikely to see them at bird feeders. While some migrating warblers do visit bird baths, Kevin feels that this species would be less likely to do so. “I can’t remember seeing any pictures of them in bird baths, or in people’s yards,” he says. “They like forests that have some understory.”

Nesting Habits

Preferring to stick to the understory even in nesting, hooded warblers will typically build their nests in shrubs or saplings. Females build a cup-shaped nest; a brood usually consists of two to five eggs. Combined, the incubation and nestling period takes about three weeks.

Hooded Warbler Song

Time to sing
Hooded warbler singing

Male hooded warblers sing their ringing song loudly and confidently, sounding like “tawee-tawee-tawee-tee-o.”

Bird sounds courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

About The Expert

Lifelong birder and ornithologist Dr. Kevin McGowan is a senior course developer for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bird Academy. He earned a Ph.D in biology at the University of South Florida.

Sources

Why Trust Us

For nearly 30 years, Birds & Blooms, a Trusted Media Brandhas been inspiring readers to have a lifelong love of birding, gardening and nature. We are the #1 bird and garden magazine in North America and a trusted online resource for over 15 million outdoor enthusiasts annually. Our library of thousands of informative articles and how-tos has been written by trusted journalists and fact-checked by bird and garden experts for accuracy. In addition to our staff of experienced gardeners and bird-watchers, we hire individuals who have years of education and hands-on experience with birding, bird feeding, gardening, butterflies, bugs and more. Learn more about Birds & Blooms, our field editor program, and our submission guidelines.

What Does a Northern Parula Look Like?

northern parula warbler on birdbath
Offer a birdbath to attract a northern parula to your backyard.

“This bird visited us last April. What is it?” asks Birds & Blooms reader Ken Springer.

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman say, “In this photo you’ve captured all the ID marks of a warbler called the northern parula. It has a blue head and shoulders, two white wing bars and a bright yellow throat and chest. We can even see a little of the green triangle on the center of its back.

With its unique name, you might be surprised to find out that this bird is in the warbler family. Other birds you may not realize are warblers include the American redstart, the Northern waterthrush, and the ovenbird.”

Northern Parula Carroll County; Maryland 5.4.19
The broken white eye ring is a field mark for identifying a northern parula

Even among warblers, the northern parula is unique. Known for being on the small side in an already small-sized family of birds, the northern parula is perhaps most easily identified by its grayish-blue back and yellow breast. If you’re fortunate enough to look closer, you’d spot white wing bars, a yellow throat patch, and chestnut breast bands on males.

The bird’s white eye ring, too, is a good identifying mark. “It has big, broken eye arcs,” says Dr. Kevin McGowan, senior course developer for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Its eye is accentuated by having this white eyeliner above and below the eye, but not completely encircling it.”

Northern Parula Range and Nests

Bnbbyc19 Lucian Parshall
Male northern parula warbler in Michigan during spring migration

Northern parula birds travel through most of the eastern half of the United States during breeding and migration season. The gap in their range might look somewhat odd—they stick around in the South and parts of the Midwest, then in the Upper Northeast and in Canada, only passing through the Great Lakes region.

As Kevin says, there’s a good reason for it. He explains that northern parulas build nests in Spanish moss, which is common in the South; farther north, they build nests in Old Man’s Beard, which is similar to Spanish moss.

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Northern parula surrounded by Spanish moss in Vero Beach, Florida

The places where northern parulas don’t linger are places that have neither Spanish moss nor Old Man’s Beard, and are thus not ideal for the bird to nest.

“There’s a gap because there’s not appropriate moss in that gap range,” Kevin explains. “[The break in their range] is sort of an accident of the fact that the birds are so determined to use this dangling moss and lichen to make nests.”

Nests tend to be built high off of the ground, meaning it would be incredibly difficult to catch a glimpse of one. Females lay anywhere from two to seven eggs.

Learn how to identify a yellow warbler.

Diet: What Does a Northern Parula Eat?

309438098 1 Kathryn Herndon Bnb Pc 2022
Northern parula eating small insects in a crape myrtle tree

Northern parulas, like most other warblers, eat insects—especially caterpillars. In winter, they’ll occasionally eat berries or seeds. “They’re more of a forest bird, unless you live in the South and have a bunch of Spanish moss in your backyard,” Kevin says. “I have seen them in birdbaths.”

Song and Call

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You might hear a northern parula before you spot one.

Since northern parulas tend to stay high off the ground, it’s often easier to recognize their song than it is to spot them. Listen for a trill that rises in pitch, followed by a sharp zip!

Bird songs courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

About The Experts

Lifelong birder and ornithologist Dr. Kevin McGowan is a senior course developer for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bird Academy. He earned a Ph.D in biology at the University of South Florida.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman are the official birding experts for Birds & Blooms. They are the creators of the Kaufman Field Guide series and they speak and lead birding trips all over the world.

Sources

Why Trust Us

For nearly 30 years, Birds & Blooms, a Trusted Media Brandhas been inspiring readers to have a lifelong love of birding, gardening and nature. We are the #1 bird and garden magazine in North America and a trusted online resource for over 15 million outdoor enthusiasts annually. Our library of thousands of informative articles and how-tos has been written by trusted journalists and fact-checked by bird and garden experts for accuracy. In addition to our staff of experienced gardeners and bird-watchers, we hire individuals who have years of education and hands-on experience with birding, bird feeding, gardening, butterflies, bugs and more. Learn more about Birds & Blooms, our field editor program, and our submission guidelines.

Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly Identification

252767414 1 Travis Bonovsky Bnb Bypc2020
Great spangled fritillary on a native smooth oxeye (or false sunflower) at a restored prairie site.
  • Distinctive Markings: Rust-colored with black checker-like pattern and silvery spots on the underside of the hindwing. The female is slightly darker than the male.
  • Wingspan: 2 1/2 to 4 inches
  • Habitat: Open, moist areas such as meadows, prairies and edges of woodlands
  • Host Plant: Females lay their eggs near violets, the only plants caterpillars eat.
  • Backyard Favorites: Adults sip nectar from common milkweed, Joe Pye weed, verbena and red clover.
  • Life Cycle: Great spangled caterpillars hatch in the fall, overwinter in that stage, and then finally take their first bites of food in spring.
  • Name Meaning: Fritillary comes from the Latin word fritillus, which means dice box or checkerboard.
354660232 1 Karen Langtry Bnb Pc 2023
Group of great spangled fritillary butterflies

When most people see a flash of orange from a passing butterfly, they automatically assume it’s a monarch. There are plenty of other orange butterflies, though, many the same size and flying in the same range. Once you take a closer look, most of them don’t really resemble a monarch. One good example is the great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele), a gorgeous orange and brown butterfly that can be seen coast to coast across the northern half of the U.S. and into southern Canada.

Attract Gulf fritillary butterflies with their favorite plants.

Similar Butterfly Species

Aphrodite fritillary butterfly
Aphrodite fritillary butterfly

Great spangled fritillaries resemble several other butterfly species in their range, including the Aphrodite fritillary (Speyeria aphrodite) and the Atlantis fritillary (Speyeria atlantis).

If you’re interested in the specific details of telling them apart, try visiting the Massachusetts Butterfly Club for side-by-side comparison pages.

Great Spangled Fritillary Caterpillar

Great,spangled,fritillary,butterfly,caterpillar,(speyeria,cybele),eating,violet
The great spangled fritillary caterpillar is black with spikes

The caterpillar has a black body with black spikes protruding from rows of reddish orange bases. Its head is also black with some areas of orange or red. Great spangled fritillary eggs are a flattened cone shape in a creamy white that turns to a golden tan.

Watch Your flowers for a Diana fritillary butterfly.

Great Spangled Fritillary Life Cycle

18 Cassandrakaanana Bbxmar19
These butterflies live longer than most.

These butterflies have only one generation each year, with adults emerging in early summer. They have a fairly long lifespan, too. Most butterflies are in flight for about a month at most, and many for much less.

Great spangled fritillaries, on the other hand, will fly from mid-June to mid-September. They mate in midsummer, and females lay their eggs on or near native violet species.

The eggs hatch not long after they’re laid, but the minuscule caterpillars don’t start eating. Instead, they burrow down into the earth to find a safe hiding place and enter diapause (insect hibernation, basically) until spring.

When the weather warms up, they emerge and begin feeding on the new foliage of the native violets. They eat for a few weeks, spend a few weeks in chrysalis, and then emerge around the time summer kicks in to start the process all over again.

How to Attract Great Spangled Fritillaries

great spangled fritillary
Plant nectar flowers in a pollinator garden to attract these colorful butterflies.

Great spangled fritillaries will visit many nectar flowers during their flight time, so any butterfly gardener in their range stands a good chance of seeing them in their own garden. To up your odds, try planting some native violet species for them to lay their eggs on.

“One of my flower gardens is designed to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Last year, great spangled fritillaries were exceptionally numerous and visited purple coneflowers the most,” says Birds & Blooms reader Elisa Shaw of Red Hook, New York.

Sources

Why Trust Us

For nearly 30 years, Birds & Blooms, a Trusted Media Brandhas been inspiring readers to have a lifelong love of birding, gardening and nature. We are the #1 bird and garden magazine in North America and a trusted online resource for over 15 million outdoor enthusiasts annually. Our library of thousands of informative articles and how-tos has been written by trusted journalists and fact-checked by bird and garden experts for accuracy. In addition to our staff of experienced gardeners and bird-watchers, we hire individuals who have years of education and hands-on experience with birding, bird feeding, gardening, butterflies, bugs and more. Learn more about Birds & Blooms, our field editor program, and our submission guidelines.

Sphinx moth caterpillars
A variety of sphinx moth caterpillars

No matter how gorgeous the adults, sphinx moth larvae evoke a “Yuck!” from many folks, although not from birds, which eagerly devour them. When full-grown, sphinx moth caterpillars are about the size of your little finger and are smooth with a pointy horn at the tail end.

It’s normal to overlook the unseemly larvae entirely unless one crosses your path as it goes off to pupate in late summer or early fall. Or you may only notice its presence when you see your tomato leaves devoured by a hungry sphinx moth caterpillar.

Meet the silk moths that might be in your backyard.

Five-spotted Hawk Moth Caterpillar

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This sphinx moth caterpillar is also known as a tomato hornworm.

Sphinx moth caterpillars often startle gardeners from their sheer size, often 4 to 5 inches in length and vividly-colored. Depending on the species, you’ll find them eating just about any kind of vegetation—including tomatoes. Yup, the dreaded tomato hornworm caterpillar is actually the larva of a sphinx moth.

Five-spotted hawk moth caterpillars, also known as tomato hornworms, are driven by voracious appetites to feast on tomato, tobacco and potato plants. Due to their size, these caterpillars can do a lot of damage, and gardeners sometimes view them as serious pests. To control tomato hornworms, pluck them off of your plants by hand.

Hermit Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

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Hermit sphinx moth caterpillar

“What’s this caterpillar going to turn into?” asks Birds & Blooms reader Carla Sherack of Altura, Minnesota.

Birding and wildlife experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman say, “The large size and the little “horn” at the tail end are hints that this is one of the sphinx moths, also called hummingbird moths. This one is a hermit sphinx (Lintneria eremitus), known by the large black spot on the top of its head.

The species is widespread in southern Canada and the eastern United States, and its larvae feed on leaves of basil, sage and other members of the mint family. The adult hermit sphinx moths have gray-brown wings with wavy lines, and you might see them hovering around flowers in the evening.”

Tersa Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

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Tersa sphinx moth caterpillar

“What kind of caterpillar is this? When I first saw it, it had an ‘elephant trunk’ appendage sticking out, which retracted when it saw me,” asks reader Dawn Bavuso of Ocklawaha, Florida.

Kenn and Kimberly say, “This is the larva of a hummingbird moth called tersa sphinx. In your photo, what looks like a head with two big eyes is really the larva’s fourth body segment. The first three body segments and the head are much narrower, and when they stretch out in front, they do appear like trunks.

When the larva is disturbed, it quickly retracts those front sections. In this posture, its front end resembles a snake’s head, which might repel some predators. The tersa sphinx is widespread in the southeastern states, and its larvae feed on pentas, firebush and other plants.”

Sphinx Moth Pupa

sphinx moth pupa
You might find a pupa for a sphinx moth underground

If you’re a gardener, chances are you may have come across a sphinx moth pupa at some point while digging in the dirt.

A sphinx moth pupa is quite big, several inches long and thicker than your thumb. The segmented end tends to wiggle when you touch it. The “handle” on the right side is actually a sheath protecting the developing proboscis—that certainly gives you an idea of the size of the moth that will emerge.

tersa sphinx moth pupa
Tersa sphinx moth and pupa

This tersa sphinx moth (above) is newly-emerged from its pupa casing, which you can see on the table behind it. Tersas are night-flyers, feeding on nectar.

Next, learn how to identify a hummingbird clearwing moth.

About the Experts

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman are the official birding experts for Birds & Blooms. They are the creators of the Kaufman Field Guide series and they speak and lead birding trips all over the world.

Why Trust Us

For nearly 30 years, Birds & Blooms, a Trusted Media Brandhas been inspiring readers to have a lifelong love of birding, gardening and nature. We are the #1 bird and garden magazine in North America and a trusted online resource for over 15 million outdoor enthusiasts annually. Our library of thousands of informative articles and how-tos has been written by trusted journalists and fact-checked by bird and garden experts for accuracy. In addition to our staff of experienced gardeners and bird-watchers, we hire individuals who have years of education and hands-on experience with birding, bird feeding, gardening, butterflies, bugs and more. Learn more about Birds & Blooms, our field editor program, and our submission guidelines.

Look and Listen for Marsh Birds in Wetlands

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Female common yellowthroat with nestlings

Though some are secretive and others boisterous, there’s one thing that all marsh birds have in common: a need for a specialized wetland for breeding, nesting and rearing young.

Marshes are low lying, mostly open ground covered for long periods by shallow fresh-, salt- or brackish water, and filled with vegetation ranging from low-growing grasses to 10-foot-tall cattails. Here, birds can hide in the dense vertical vegetation, hunt in shallow waters, build nests over water and project their unique calls.

“A lot of marsh birds have a deep voice that does a better job of carrying through dense vegetation,” says Auriel Fournier, director of the Stephen A. Forbes Biological Station, a part of the Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Auriel’s top tips for spotting these birds during breeding season in spring and summer: Visit at dawn or dusk when marsh birds are at their loudest, hit spots with boardwalks that provide easy access into the marsh and blend in. “Be quiet and still, and let the wetland do whatever it was doing before you walked down the boardwalk,” she says. Here are seven birds to look for the next time you head out to a marshy area.

Solitary American Bittern

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Adult American bittern with young and disguising itself in reeds

You may hear this solitary bird’s pumper-lunk echoes before spotting one hunting in dim light near freshwater marsh edges. Otherwise, this stocky, medium-sized heron uses its “camouflage-driven stripy exterior” to blend in with dense vegetation, according to Auriel.

It may build hammock-style nests suspended over water. “When there’s water underneath the nest, there are a lot fewer mammals that will try to eat the eggs,” Auriel says. The American bittern is found in the northern half of the United States during the summer and areas along the West and East Coasts and the Gulf of Mexico during winter.

Learn fascinating facts about great blue herons.

Curious Common Yellowthroat

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Male common yellowthroat

If you hear the witchety-witchety-witchety of a male common yellowthroat, respond with a pishing sound and you might draw out this inquisitive bird.

Inhabiting the edges of marshes, the small, energetic yellow-and-olive bird sports a black mask across its face. Easy to spot clutching reeds and cattails from coast to coast, they live in thick vegetation in a wide range of wet habitats, including marshes, across much of the U.S.

The female is mostly brown and maskless, but she does share a similar yet often slightly duller yellow coloring around the throat as the male. She builds an open-cup nest on or near the ground amid sedges, grasses, reeds and cattails.

Graceful Black-Necked Stilt

Black Necked Stilt
Black-necked stilt with young

Easy to identify by its long red legs and black-and-white coloring, the black-necked stilt shriek a high-pitched yap or keek, dive at predators or feign a broken wing to attract predators away from the nest. Wading in shallow waters to stalk their prey, they can be found across fresh or salty marshes in the western and southern U.S.

The foot-tall stilts scrape a depression in dirt and line it with grasses, pebbles and shells before building a nest on top.

Made to wade: learn all about wading birds.

Abundant Sora Rail

Sora rail Foraging In Marsh, Texas Coast
Sora foraging in marsh, Texas coast

Bountiful, vocal and territorial, sora are among the more visible members of the famously elusive rail family. Common across much of North America, sora emit a descending whinny call, which slows down at the end, as they protect their well-concealed nests built atop mounds of vegetation or attached to plant stems.

On the wetland edges, look for the quail-sized sora searching with their stubby yellow bill for aquatic invertebrates or seeds from wetland plants. And look for them swimming either above or below the water.

“It’s a predator-avoidance thing,” says Auriel, whose recent doctoral studies focused on the fall migration ecology of rails. “If they get startled, they’ll go under water, then pop up and be like, ‘Is the predator gone?’ ”

Learn about swamp birds: the American woodcock and Wilson’s snipe.

Bright Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Yellow Headed Blackbird
Male yellow-headed blackbird

Equally easy to spot and hear, yellow-headed blackbirds nest in colonies in freshwater marshes across western North America. The males’ harsh, incessant chorus of oka-wee-wee and kruck calls have been described as a rusty gate opening.

Males sport bold yellow heads and chests, along with white wing patches in flight. This species’ males may have as many as five mates at a time. Smaller, sooty brown females with yellow on their faces and chests build cup-shaped nests lashed to reeds, cattails and other bulrushes over water.

The Elegant Egrets

Great Egret At Sunrise On Wetlands, marsh birds
Great egret

Look for these long-legged birds wading through high grasses or hunting for aquatic creatures in shallow water. Egrets nest in colonies, with males scoping out a nest site in a tree, vines or thick undergrowth. They’re quiet except on breeding sites, where their calls ranged from harsh squawks to dry croaks.

The taller great egret and the smaller snowy egret are both white, found across the U.S. and grow wispy feathers during mating season. The rusty-colored, less common reddish egret is limited in range to spots around the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

“Reddish egrets are a species with a lot of conservation concern,” Auriel says.

Learn how to identify a little blue heron.

Raucous Red-Winged Blackbird

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Male red-winged blackbird

Abundant and active in marshes during breeding season, male red-winged blackbirds claim territory by flashing their scarlet field marks and issuing a full-throated conk-la-ree from atop tall vegetation. Walk with caution though, as they may swoop down on you if you venture too close.

Redwinged Blackbird Nest With Eggs marsh birds D10269
Red-winged blackbird nest with eggs

Females are brownish and can be difficult to see when on their cup-shaped nests. Though red-winged blackbirds’ nests are typically found low, these birds sometimes construct them in a shrub or tree. When threatened, females issue their own scolding calls.

About the Expert

Auriel Fournier is director of the Stephen A. Forbes Biological Station, a part of the Illinois Natural History Survey, at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. As an associate research scientist and wetland bird ecologist, she focuses her research on managing wetlands for birds, including marsh birds. Auriel completed her doctorate in 2017, studying the fall migration ecology of rails with the Arkansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Arkansas.

Sources