17 Birds You Might See in Middlebury, Vermont

cardinal in snow

One of the best things about visiting Swift House Inn in the spring is the amazing variety of birds you will encounter all around the hotel property and in town. Birdwatching in Middlebury is possible. Some of our guests make special trips from around the U.S. to see the special birds we have here. Also, the Green Mountain Audubon Center is a great resource for birdwatching and learning birdcalls. It’s less than an hour’s drive away. But you don’t need to go that far to see a bounty of spectacular birds. Just pull out your binoculars and look up!

We’ve compiled a list of the birds we see frequently at the Inn. The illustrations will come with little descriptions of the way we encounter these beautiful creatures. But if you’re looking for hard facts about mating habits, bird calls, and migratory patterns, this is not the post for you. Rather, it’s a personal collection of anecdotes about birds and how they behave at Swift House Inn.

1. Northern Cardinal

cardinal in snow

These vibrant red birds can be frequently seen darting in and out of the spruces and pines with their mates. Their call is loud, metallic, and cheerful, especially in the mornings when you’re trying to sleep in. It’s a good thing you love birds and don’t mind. In March, you could easily spot up to a dozen cardinals hanging around the Inn’s gardens, calling and searching for food. It’s especially wonderful to see their intense crimson hue in contrast with the stark snow-covered landscape.

2. Eastern Bluebird

eastern bluebird sitting in a pine tree

While it’s more common to see these adorable Eastern Bluebirds up in the mountains than down here in Champlain Valley, they can be seen on very cold mornings hanging around the woods by the mulch heap behind Swift House Inn. They travel in pairs, and sometimes in larger groups. They remind us so much of the magical birds that accompany Disney princesses as they frolic and prance. It’s always a treat to spot their beautiful intense blue and peach-colors.

3. Common Crow

In the fall, as the days get longer and colder, it’s not unusual to see massive gatherings of crows flapping their big black wings ominously in the sky. Murders can number in the high hundreds and even the thousands in Vermont. One of Matthew and Serena’s earliest memories as innkeepers at Swift House Inn occurred on Halloween 2020. They dressed as the Munsters and gave out candy to drive-by trick-or-treaters (it was Covid). While they sipped on hot toddies and froze their patooties off, they witnessed a truly sinister New England sight when thousands of crows roosted on the skeletal branches of the black locusts. There was nothing common about that Halloween moment!

3. American Robin

These dark gray and red-breasted birds remind us of that children’s book Are You My Mother? They are as common in New England as rock pigeons are in New York City. They travel in groups, hopping around on the lawn, scanning the ground for food. If you’re lucky, you’ll see them pull earthworms out of the dirt and let them dangle from their sharp beaks. They have a beautiful melodic bird call. And it’s common to find a nest of their eggs, which are the same exact color as a Tiffany’s box. So precious!

4. House Finch

These little red and gray birds are near and dear to the innkeepers’ hearts, because they live in nests under the eaves of the Carriage House where the innkeepers live. They come out to nibble on the crabapples and various trees around the property, but if you get too close, they’ll dart back up into the eaves, disappearing from sight. But you will continue to hear their melodious twittering that will remind you of a real-life tweety bird.

5. Pileated Woodpecker

These enormous woodpeckers are not easy to see at the Inn. But one was spotted making its way slowly up the soaring larch tree on the upper lawn, systematically tapping the bark for insects. They are so large and have such pointy heads that you cannot help but think that they are somehow related to pterodactyls.

6. Tufted Titmouse

This is a very common bird to spot at the Inn. They are usually roving in big menacing crews along with their chickadee and sparrow homies, cruising the lawns and the tree branches for food. You can read more hilarious Titmouse facts and anecdotes in this blog post about “The Under Appreciated Titmouse” along with the astute observation that David Ortiz, the legendary Red Sox designated hitter bares a remarkable resemblance to this cute little bird.

7. Cedar Waxwing

The cedar waxwing was the first bird that we fell in love with at Swift House Inn. Every spring when the service berries would bear fruit, the cedar waxwing couples would come to feed. Dozens of them! It’s an amazing sight to see them delicately feeding each other the bright pink berries in their slightly curved beaks, seemingly passing them back and forth in a mating ritual. The flash of yellow, the pale brown chest, and the rakish raccoon mask make for an easily recognizable and striking bird.

8. Red-breasted Nuthatch

In the brick walkway leading up to the old entrance of Swift House Inn, before we moved it down to the Gate House, there is a tall gray cigarette butt receptacle. One warm spring day, we heard tiny chirping sounds emanating from it. Lo and behold, when we took the cap off, we saw five little nuthatches tightly snuggled into the hollow tube. We were horrified at the thought that some careless smoker would ash on their adorable heads and promptly taped a warning sign on top. Ever since then, we’ve spotted lots of nut hatches hopping around the barks and branches of trees.

9. House Sparrow

Ah, the humble house sparrow. If you are from the city or the suburbs, you are likely not very impressed about a bird you can easily see in the parking lot of Walmart. But every bird is special at Swift House Inn, so we treasure seeing it hop around our own parking lots and in the trees of our gardens. They’re tough, they’re survivors, and they’re going to survive the zombie apocalypse.

10. Coopers Hawk

It’s always thrilling to see a hawk soaring in the skies above Route 7 or perching on a telephone wire scanning the fields for prey. We can see it fly circles around crows as they seem to be jockeying for dominance in the sky. Although red-tailed hawks are more common, Matthew saw a Coopers hawk swoop down from the sky and capture an unsuspecting squirrel right here on the upper lawn.

11. Turkey Vultures

Once the snow thaws and ebbs away, an animal carcass becomes visible to the turkey vultures circling overhead. These massive scavenging birds are easy to spot because of their impressive wingspans and knobby red heads, like a character from a Looney Tunes cartoon. It’s also easy to see them in the fields and on the side of the road doing the important work of sanitation and regeneration. Long live the turkey vulture! Hiss! Grunt!

12. Blue Jay

Ostentatious and aggressive, the blue jay is a very common sight in Vermont indeed, particularly when it’s zooming like a B-52 bomber across the front lawn. They have an incredibly loud piercing call that’s easily recognizable, they are easy to ID, and their vibrant azure hues are a pleasure to behold. They dominate the bird feeder and terrorize the gentler songbirds with their intelligence and harsh cries.

13. American Goldfinch

Last spring, our bird-loving guests the Cronins bought a 25-pound bag of black oil sunflowers and sprinkled them everywhere as bird food. Once we got over the shock, we embraced the onslaught of sunflowers that besieged us once summer was in full gear. Nobody appreciated this joyful blooming more than the goldfinches, who balanced precariously on the enormous sunflower heads and pecked out the delicious and nutritious nutmeat neatly arrayed inside. They always brought cheer and birdsong to the gardens. Thanks a lot, Cronins!

14. Black-capped Chickadee

These diminutive birds are plentiful in Vermont and about as common as sparrows. Our former gardener Walter kept sunflowers in his pocket and trained them to eat out of the palm of his hand. They followed him around everywhere just like he was a Disney princess! We see them most often hanging around the crabapple tree and hopping around the pine trees. To tell you the truth, we see them everywhere and we don’t mind. Their birdsong is delightful.

15. Hairy Woodpecker

Unlike the pileated woodpecker, it’s easy to spot these little ones and can be seen on a daily basis in March. If you take a quiet walk in the woods, you can hear them knocking plaintively on dead trees to find out where all the insects are hiding. Because we are not expert birdwatchers, the birds that we see may be Downy Woodpeckers, too! We can’t be completely sure. But it’s safe to say that they are indeed woodpeckers. The ones we see seem very small, which is why we decided to call them Hairy since the Downy ones are larger.

16. Mourning Dove

The funny thing about Mourning Doves is that they may be underfoot but because of their exquisite camouflage, you will not realize that they are there until their flapping wings indicate that they are fleeing your presence. Their gentle cooing sound is often confused with the hoot of an owl, but we know better now. Either way, they are a subdued, understated presence in our garden, like the introvert of Swift House birds.

17. Chipping Sparrow

Last but certainly not least is the chipping sparrow, which can often be seen hopping around our guest parking lots. They love to eat food crumbs and insects, which make them a very helpful bird to have indeed! We noticed that the sparrows here in Vermont look more striped and pretty than the ones we were accustomed to in L.A., so we had to include these very common but welcome birds.

In conclusion, there are many varied bird species to see and enjoy at Swift House Inn, making it a wonderful destination for birdwatchers and lovers of nature. Birdwatching in Middlebury is easy, convenient, and gratifying. Hope to see you soon!

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Vivian L. Bebee says

Beautiful! I have many of these birds in my back yard as well. I put up several bird feeders and have been taking them down at night since there have been bear reports in some nearby neighborhoods in Rutland.

Looking forward to staying with you again and/or coming by for dinner sometime.

Dawn Foy says

Hi I enjoyed your bird list but there is one mistake the picture you have labeled as white throated sparrow is actually a house sparrow- imported from England and yes abundant. Here’s a link to white throated sparrow https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White-throated_Sparrow/overview which you might see in the summer at your place.


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