Bird Observer: The Birding Journal for New England

Bird Observer

The Birding Journal for New England

December 2017

Vol. 45, No. 6

Northward Expansion of Blue Grosbeaks into Massachusetts

Christopher Neill


Male Blue Grosbeak at the Crane Wildlife Management Area, June 3, 2017. Photograph by Craig Gibson.

On July 18, 2017 Nate Marchessault and I found and photographed the nest of a Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea) with four large young at the Frances Crane Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Five days later, Nate and Alan Kneidel photographed a fledged bird in the shrub-filled kettle hole near the nest. These observations for the first time documented successful breeding of Blue Grosbeaks in Massachusetts (Marchessault 2017).

Successful breeding by Blue Grosbeaks in Massachusetts is not by itself surprising. A nesting attempt was documented in 2016 at the Cumberland Farms Important Bird Area in the towns of Middleborough and Halifax. Also, Blue Grosbeak is one of a growing list of bird species with southerly distributions that are expanding northward in the eastern U.S., including into Massachusetts. The accompanying photo shows a Blue Grosbeak at the Crane WMA in the summer of 2017.

What is important, however, was that the 2017 successful nesting occurred at a site that the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) actively manages for sandplain grassland and shrubland habitat. The successful Blue Grosbeak nest was in the middle of a 48-acre area that DFW cleared in 2014 to expand grassland habitat. DFW cleared an additional 148 acres in 2015, and the Crane WMA now contains about 400 acres of unfragmented grassland habitat (Buelow 2017).

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