Harford Bird Club explains bird irruptions

Birdwatching, twitching, chasing or birding… no matter what you call it, the birdwatching industry has hit an all time high. According to US Fish and Wildlife, $41 million dollars are spent annually by birdwatchers in the United States on trips and equipment. An additional $14.9 million is poured back into the local economy on food lodging and transportation in various birdy locations. The birding hobby has created 666,000 jobs in the industry.

Snowy Owl


When big things happen in the birding world, the local economy benefits. The most recent birding boom in Harford County has been in Havre de Grace.  The Snowy Owl, an artic migrant, that only appears in Harford County approximately every four years is the most recent draw of birders to our beautiful county.

An irruption is defined as a dramatic, irregular migration of large numbers of birds to areas where they aren’t typically found, possibly at a great distance from their normal ranges. A population shift of this magnitude could be attributed to a variety of factors.  Most of the time it is due to a shortage of food in the natural wintering grounds. For example, if the crop of seed producing vegetation was poor, there are no

t enough seeds available for all of the seed-eating birds. In this case, they move south until they find copious amounts of seeds. Raptors such as owls and hawks do not eat seeds, but their food source is dependent upon seeds.  If there are no seeds, the population of rodents and small mammals decreases causing the raptors to fly to a location where seeds are plentiful and rodents are fat and happy.

When food is scarce, the population decreases; when food is plentiful, the population increases.  In the case of raptors, who always irrupt individually and not as a flock, it is often the immature birds and females that are found outside of their area. This makes sense.  The adult males have an established territory and are better at protecting that territory. Females and juveniles are forced to move in order to survive.

Irruption years are exciting, the obvious show stealer is the Snowy Owl, but many other birds can irrupt in Maryland. You may find Red-breasted Nuthatches, White-winged Crossbills, Rough-legged Hawks, Pine and Evening Grosbeaks and more.

Irruption years have heartbreaking undertones for the birds themselves. We turn them into temporary rock stars and talk excitedly about them on email and social media, but these birds are undergoing a change in their normal routine.  Are they stressed? Possibly. Or maybe they have overcome that time period and are just hanging out where they know food is readily available.

The Harford Bird Club is a great resource for those of you wishing to get more information and learn your local birds. The club offers field trips with local birding gurus almost every weekend. Every other month a newsletter is produced sharing the highlights of the previous trips and other birdy news. Months that don’t see a newsletter include a club meeting.  The meetings offer social interaction with other self proclaimed ‘bird nerds’, snacks or dinners and a guest speaker to educate and inspire your birdy habits. You do not need to be a member to attend a meeting. Come check us out and see what you think. We’d love to have you!

Here’s to your luck and the prospect of seeing the bird of your dreams in your backyard!  We look forward to working with the Harford Land Trust on future projects that benefit birds and birdwatching in Harford County!

Amanda Koss

Vice President

Harford Bird Club

Photo by Joe Subelofsky

What?! Coyotes in Harford County? Yes, indeed.

Most people do not think of coyotes living in Harford County, but they now can be found statewide. Populations are highest in the western part of the state and are lower on the Eastern Shore. While hard to spot, they are starting to appear throughout Harford County on a regular basis and, in some rare circumstances, in packs. Camera traps on the HLT “Gulch” property in Pylesville have proved that coyotes have been on the property for at least two years.

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Fossil records indicate their presence in Maryland in prehistoric eras. Because they vanished at least 1,000 years ago, the arrival of the coyote in Maryland does not represent a return of a species once present during historic times. Rather, it is considered a new species in the east.


Coyotes generally resemble a small German shepherd dog. They have large erect ears, an elongated sharp muzzle, and a long bushy tail. Overall pelt coloration tends to be brown or buff interspersed with mottled gray or black. The chin, throat, chest, and stomach are usually a lighter shade of brown or cream. The tail has a black tip. Average adult weights ranges from approximately 30 to 40 lbs., with some individuals nearing 60lbs.


Coyotes reach sexual maturity by one year of age, and normally remain fertile throughout their life. Breeding season is late January through March, with peak activities occurring during February. Gestation periods extend approximately 60-63 days and litters average 5-6 pups.

The coyotes' rapid range expansion thr

oughout North America substantiates their adaptability and ability to thrive in a variety of habitat types. In Maryland, coyotes occupy most of the state's habitat types. Highest densities currently occur in intermixed woodland/farmland areas.

Coyotes also have extremely diverse food habits. Dietary items range from plant material and insects to deer and small mammals (mice, rabbits, etc.) and birds.

Ecological Implications

Maryland and Delaware have the distinction of being the last two states in the contiguous United States to be colonized by coyotes. Maryland is quite fortunate to have the unique perspective of witnessing the ecological and social impacts of established coyote populations in other states. It is a biological certainty that Maryland will share many of the same experiences. Regardless of geographic location, eastern coyotes all possess the same basic genetic material and exhibit essentially the same behavioral traits and population characteristics.

Impacts on natural communities are also fairly predictable and can negatively impact various sympatric native species. Establishment in unoccupied regions of the eastern U.S., coyotes have assumed the role of top-order predator. Consequently, they tend to fundamentally alter existing ecosystem structure and function. Various species experience population declines as a result of their status as coyote prey, or from direct competition for existing resources.


Shedding Light on Harford County’s Venomous Snake

The onset of the warm weather in the spring and earlier summer seems to trigger the movement of all types of wildlife, including one of the most misunderstood groups of reptiles, the snakes.  Snakes are incredible animals that play vital roles in the balance of our ecosystems by controlling pests and disease, but they are simultaneously one of the most feared groups of animals in the world.  Much of this fear is undeserved, even for those comparatively few species that are venomous.


Wild Action in the Dead of Winter

The expression “dead of winter” doesn’t describe what is happening in the fields, forests and waters of Harford County. The first wild flowers of the year, skunk cabbage blossoms, emerge from wet soils in February. The blossoms even generate enough heat to melt any snow around them.

Gray squirrels begin their courtship even before the dead of winter. Starting in late December, female gray squirrels lead one or more male squirrels in a courtship chase from tree to tree. She chooses the most persistent pursuer as her mate.