Text and Photography by Marcy Ford
Many tourists flock to the Cape in summer, but few of our visitors have traveled as far as the feathered ones.
Although there are some peregrine falcons on the Cape year round, this juvenile, seen in late August,
was likely resting on the jetty at Forest Beach as he passed through during migration.
Weight: 18.7–56.4 oz Length: 14.2–19.3 in Wingspan: 39.4–43.3 in Nest Placement: Typically nest on cliffs or tall buildings.
Some birds visit in peak season to nest on beaches, in marshes, forests and even front yards. Others pass through on their way to their northern homes, and again on their way south for the winter. Several feathered visitors prefer to visit in winter when they can have the beaches all to themselves.
The barrier beaches, tidal flats and coastal salt marshes of Monomoy Island, Morris Island, North and South beaches and Tern Island in Chatham Harbor are prime nesting and feeding habitat for various shorebirds, such as the endangered piping plover and roseate tern, as well as other tern species: herons, long-legged waders, various species of sandpipers, gulls and waterfowl. They are also staging and stopover spots for migratory birds in the spring and fall. The forests, conservation lands, open spaces and private properties that make up the rest of the town are also host to other non-water dependent birds, such as raptors, woodpeckers and a variety of passerines, including songbirds.
Whether visiting in the summer for mating season or refueling on the way back to their winter homes in South America, the Caribbean or the southeastern United States, birds are attracted to Chatham for the same reasons that people find it such a charming place to visit and live. There is beauty, abundance of flora and fauna, changing seasons and it’s a safe place to take a break, raise a family or stop in for a brief visit.
A large, long-legged shorebird, the willet is a regular visitor to the barrier beach and coastal salt marshes. If you are at Forest Beach in June, you may see one flying by with its distinctive black-and-white-striped wing tips or spot one standing on the stone fence posts watching the osprey passing overhead.
Weight: 7.1–11.6 oz Length: 13–16.1 in Wingspan: 27.6 in Nest Placement: On the ground.
A leisurely summer drive down Route 28 by Ryder’s Cove and Pleasant Bay may yield a pleasant surprise: graceful snowy egrets and great egrets
can often be seen fishing, along with families of mute swans and Canada geese. This snowy egret was found fishing in Mill Pond in July.
Weight: 13.1 oz Length: 22–26 in Wingspan: 39.4 in Nest Placement: Top or outer branches of a woody vine, shrub, or tree.
All puffed up and ready to fly south. This semipalmated plover stopped over in August with a number of his friends, including a ruddy turnstone, on Ridgevale Beach to take a rest in impressions in the sand and feed on insects.
Weight: 1.7 oz Length: 6.7–7.5 in Wingspan: 14-15.25 in Nest Placement: On the ground.
Cotchpinicut Landing is a great location to see birds throughout the year. This semipalmated sandpiper was feeding
in the shallows in September, storing up for its long migration to South America.
Weight: 0.7–1.1 oz Length: 5.1–5.9 in Wingspan: 11.4–11.8 in Nest Placement: On the ground.
A familiar visitor in the winter months. Hundreds of birds can be seen floating in Pleasant Bay, feeding on mussels. A good place
to see them is from Cotchpinicut or Scatteree Landings or by the fish pier, where this male was photographed in January.
Weight: 41.6–107.2 oz Length: 19.7–28 in Wingspan: 31–43 in Nest Placement: On the ground.
Red -Winged Blackbird
The red-winged blackbird’s distinctive “kon-ka-reeee” call can be heard throughout the fresh water and saltwater marshes where they nest. This red-winged blackbird was discovered in the Chatham Conservation Foundation property off Bridge Street in April.
Weight: 1.1–2.7 oz Length: 6.7–9.1 in Wingspan: 12.2–15.7 in Nest Placement: Low shrubs or trees.
A common resident of the low shrubs of the wetland areas in late spring and summer. This male was photographed in May along the road to Morris Island. Like little spots of sunshine, they can often be seen bouncing around in the tops of shrubs or small trees looking for insects or singing their sweet song.
Weight: 0.3–0.4 oz Length: 4.7–5.1 in Wingspan: 6.3–7.9 in Nest Placement: In a bush or small tree or shrub.
Ruby - Throated Hummingbird
As flowers begin to bloom, so arrives the ruby-throated hummingbird to grace our gardens with her energy and antics. This female was photographed in July at a private home in downtown Chatham, but they are not uncommon throughout the town—dashing from trumpet vine to honeysuckle, mimosa to salvia.
Weight: 0.1–0.2 oz Length: 2.8–3.5 in Wingspan: 3.1–4.3 in Nest Placement: In a tree, 10-40 feet above the ground.
This little masked warbler was found in the conservation land off of Bridge Street. Its distinctive call, “witchety, witchety, witchety,” is helpful in locating this shy bird amid the brambles where it lives.
Weight: 0.3–0.4 oz Length: 4.3–5.1 in Wingspan: 5.9–7.5 in Nest Placement: In a low shrub.
Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge is an amazing place to go birding. These two American oystercatchers
were photographed in August from the beach on the Morris Island portion of the refuge.
Weight: 14.1–24.7 oz Length: 15.7–17.3 in Wingspan: 35 in Nest Placement: On high, sandy dunes.
While they nest on the beaches of Monomoy and Tern islands, the least tern can often be seen, together with common terns, diving for fish along the beaches of Nantucket Sound. This one was photographed off Cockle Cove in June.
Weight: 1.1–1.6 oz Length: 8.3–9.1 in Wingspan: 18.9–20.9 in Nest Placement: On the ground.
If you are fortunate enough, you may spot the elusive snowy owl sitting on the beach in the coldest winter months, having made its way south from the Arctic for plentiful food sources in our warmer climate. During the irruption of Snowy Owls in the winter of 2013/2014, Hardings Beach hosted this arctic beauty.
Weight: 56.4–104.1 oz Length: 20.5–28 in Wingspan: 49.6–57.1 in Nest Placement: On the ground.
Special thanks to Bob Prescott and Mark Faherty of Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary for their assistance with this article.