A visitor to the lake in migration seasons, the common Loon has a larger, longer body and sits noticeably lower in the water than other waterfowl. They are diving birds with stout dagger-like bills and can stay submerged below the surface for long periods catching fish and other aquatic prey. For this reason, they will most likely be seen in the deeper water of the lake. Common Loons are black and white with a checkered back, striped black and white collar, and red eyes. Their call is a falsetto yodel or, at night, a tremulous Ha-oo-oo
The Pied-billed Grebe is a cute little duck-like diving water bird that can submerge for very long periods of time and pop up in a different spot than it was previously seen in. It is a frequent visitor to the lake during migration periods and can be found in both deep and shallow water. It is gray-brown in color with a white behind and a black vertical ring around it’s pale beak.
Ross’s Goose was sighted in 2017. Sightings of this bird are considered rare. It breeds in Canada and winters in the southern US and Mexico. It is similar in appearance to Snow Goose. It is white with black wing tips but is smaller than Snow Goose. The pink bill is stubbier and lacks the black “lip.”
(attached picture was taken at SAL)
Seen at the lake during migration seasons. A white goose with black wing tips, pink feet and pink bill with black lip. Immature birds are grey with a black bill. Adults can also be in grey phase but can be distinguished from young birds by the pink bill.
America’s Native Swan is a very large White bird in the waterfowl family with a long neck and black bill often with a very small yellow spot near the nostril. Occasional migratory visitor to the lake. Can often be heard before it is seen making a beautiful cooing sound.
A large black diving waterbird with slender yellow hooked beak, long neck, and webbed feet. Visits the lake often in migratory seasons but can stray in at other times during the warm weather months. Breeds farther north and is commonly found sitting on rocks along the New England coast. Eats fish and small crustaceans and has a distinct habit, when out of the water, of sitting with its wings spread to dry. Can be seen swimming ducklike on the surface, diving, or perched on rocks or in trees
An occasional migratory visitor to the lake in spring and fall, the Eared Grebe is similar in appearance and habits to the Horned Grebe but its predominant coloring is black with a crested black head, golden ear tufts, red eyes, and black neck. Its winter coloring is also similar to Horned Grebe black and white but with a thinner grey neck and more irregular shaped black head cap and grey cheeks.
The Horned Grebe is am occasional migratory visitor to Sweet Arrow Lake. It is a ducklike diving bird with a tail-less appearance, distictive golden ear tufts, red eyes, and chestnut neck. It can be found in both deep and shallow water.
Winter coloring – Black and White with a clearly defined black head cap and thin, straight, black bill.
The ever present Mallard Duck can be found year round at Sweet Arrow. It does breed and raise young at the lake. Familiar to most folks it has a green head, chestnut breast. Grayish body, violet wing patch bordered in white, and a white tail protruding from a black rump. The beak is yellow and the feet are bright orange. It can be found in all areas of the lake and wetlands.
A species that has only been seen a few time during migration seasons at the lake. It is a grey duck with black rump, lighter brown head, and dark beak
American Black Duck
An migratory visitor to Sweet Arrow. The American Black Duck is a marsh duck similar in appearance to female Mallard but can be distinguished by its much yellower beak. The body of the male is overall dark brown with a lighter head and violet wing patch similar to Mallard but lacking a noticeable white edge. Like the Mallard it is a dabbler feeding from the surface of the water in the shallows or on land.
A slender attractive duck, Male with grey flanks, black & white markings on the back, and a long needle-pointed tail. A white point continues from its white breast up the side of its brown head. Female is mottled brown. Pintails visit various parts of the lake during migration seasons.
A duck that can be found visiting various parts of the lake during migration seasons. Light brown, dark green head with very noticeable white forehead, rear end black with pointed tail.
Eurasian Wigeon (Rare)
Last seen at SAL in the mid 1980’s. Seen in the picture above next to the American Wigeon it is similar in appearance but with a reddish-brown head, buff colored forehead, and rosier breast.
This duck’s most prominent feature is the large black bill that suggests its name. Male has mostly black and white back, green head, white breast, black rump, light blue patch on forewing, and diagnostic reddish-brown sides. Female also sports the large black bill that sets it apart from other ducks and is mostly mottled brown with light blue patch on forewing. This species is a visitor to SAL during migration seasons and is found mostly in deeper open water.
The most colorful of our native ducks it displays a dark green, swept back crest with thin white streaks, a red eye, orange beak, white chin patch extending up the neck in two points, white speckled reddish-brown breast, buff flanks, dark greenish back and tail, and reddish-brown rump. This duck is a SAL resident and nests in our wetlands at the east end of the lake where it remains the majority of the time only occasionally venturing into the shallows of the lake. It is shy of people and when startled takes flight with a “bweep, bweep, bweep” sound. This duck does not “quack.”
A small marsh or dabbling duck the Green-winged teal is most often found in the wetlands at the east end of SAL during spring and fall migration seasons. Its most recognizable feature is its Reddish-brown head with dark green eye patch that extends to the back of the head. Its breast is mottled brown and is separated from the rest of its gray body by a vertical white streak and sports an iridescent green wing patch (speculum) from which it gets its name. The rump is buff and black.
A small marsh duck found primarily in the wetlands at the east end of SAL during migration seasons. It prefers the shallows where it finds food. The male’s most prominent feature is a white crescent just behind the bill. The body is mottled brown with a light blue streak along the edge of the wing that covers most of the inner wing when the bird is in flight. There is a white patch in front of the black rump. Female is overall mottled brown but also sports the light blue streak along the edge of the wing.
Formerly known as Old Squaw, this now politically correct waterfowl is a sea duck. It dives under the water to catch small fish, mollusks, and crustaceans that make up its diet. Only very occasionally, is this species seen at SAL. Seen during migration seasons, it is usually seen in winter plumage. Male primarily white with black breast, gray and black face patch, light orange patch on bill, and long pointed black tail,. Female gray and white (head darker in summer) and lacking the pointed tail.
*** In summer plumage, male is primarily black with white flanks and light face patch. (no summer sightings of this bird have been recorded at SAL)
A diving duck commonly seen during spring and fall migration periods. It can be found on the deeper waters of the lake. Male has black breast and back, gray sides with a vertical white point between the wing and breast, deep purple head, and yellow eye. Can be distinguished from Scaup by the white ring on the bill. Female brown with faded white facial patch just behind ringed bill, a white eye ring surrounds a dark eye.
A diving duck seen occasionally at SAL during migration seasons. It is found mainly in the deeper parts of the lake. Male is black at both ends, white on the sides with finely barred gray and white back, deep purple head, yellow eye, and bluish bill. Female is brown and can be distinguished from female Ring-necked Duck by its bolder white facial disk and yellow eye.
This diving duck is seen often in migration periods at the lake. A small duck, the male it is mostly white with black back and puffy black head with large white patch resembling a bonnet. Female is dark brown with white cheek spot and white wing patch.
Buffleheads can be found mostly in deep water but do occasionally travel to the shallows.
Seen only very occasionally at SAL during migration seasons, this is a diving duck that keeps to the deeper water. Male is mostly white with black back, green head, white spot at front of face, and yellow eye. Female is gray with white collar, brown head, and yellow eye.
Small diving duck seen during migration periods in the deep waters of SAL. Male has reddish-brown body (turns brown in winter), white cheek, black head cap, and blue bill. It often holds its tail at an upright angle. Female has brown back, gray sides, brown head cap, and white cheek grazed by a dull brown line.
Only very occasionally seen during migration seasons, this diving duck visits the deeper water of the lake and is a bit more colorful than the common merganser. Male has gray and white sides, black back, rusty streaks on breast, white collar, dark greenish –black crested head, a red eye, long pointed red bill and feet. Female is similar in appearance to female common merganser but has slightly longer and more slender neck and slightly smaller head.
This long, slender diving bird is a frequent visitor to SAL during migration seasons. It feeds on small fish and can be found in most areas of the lake. Male is mostly white with black back, dark green-black head, long pointed red bill, and red feet. Female has gray body, white breast and chin, and reddish-brown crested head.
This species can easily be differentiated from other mergansers by its smaller size. This compact diving duck often visits SAL during migration periods and although it mostly stays in deeper water can also be found in other parts of the lake. Male is very attractive with chestnut sides, black back, white breast with two black bars, and a black head with fan-like white crest that can be raised or lowered, and pointed black bill. Female is mostly dusky brown with dark back and close cropped, rusty, head crest.
Although there have been migratory sightings of this sea duck at SAL, they are unusual. Male is overall dark with white wing patch that is not always visible, there is usually a white spot near the pale eye, and the bill is orange with a black knob at the base. Female is dark.
Surf Scoter ( rare sighting 2006)
This diving sea duck was seen once at SAL during the migratory season of 2006. The Surf Scoter is the duck that Picasso built. Male black with one or two white patches on the forehead and back of head. It has a pale eye and large orange, black, and white bill. Female is overall dark including bill and may have two light spots on head.
(picture taken at SAL 2006 shows male and two females)
Trumpeter Swan (Rare sighting 2017)
The Trumpeter is the largest species of North American waterfowl with a wing span in excess of 10ft. It is native to northwestern North America. Overall white with completely black beak. Two Trumpeters were seen at Sweet Arrow Lake and other area waterways including a section of the old Union Canal in Swatara State Park for several months in 2017. The birds were banded with numbered collar bands suggesting that they may have escaped or been released from captivity, perhaps, from a breeding and reintroduction program.
Barnacle Goose (Rare sighting 12/3/18)
A small goose with primarily white face, small black beak, black hood, neck, and breast, white sides, and grey back. This may be the only known sighting of this species in Schuylkill Co. The bird seemed to be traveling with a large flock of migrating Canada Geese. It breeds in ne Greenland, Spitzbergen (N. Norway), and nw. Siberia. A Barnacle Goose, (possibly the same bird), was sighted 3 days earlier at Peace Valley, Bucks Co.
Almost identical in appearance and habit to Lesser Scaup but slightly larger, whiter on the sides, and head is rounder and dark, dull green.
This long legged, ducklike bird visits the lake during migration periods. Instead of webbed feet, the Coot has separated lobed toes. When taking flight it seems to run across the water before lifting off. It is both a dabbler and diver and can be found in various parts of the lake. It is overall black with a white patch under the tail, white bill and red eye.
(photo by Joe Kosack)
Long winged swimming birds that many birders think of as “Sea Rats” because they will eat just about anything. Gulls are often seen at Sweet Arrow Lake very early in migration seasons and can sometimes be seen at other times of the year when the days are warm. They can be seen at most parts of the lake. Flocks of white birds on or in the air above the lake can often be identified as gulls.
A very common gull with gray back, black wing tips with white spots, pale pink legs, very pale eyes, and yellow bill with a conspicuous red spot near the tip.
The gull most often seen at SAL this gull is similar in appearance to the Herring Gull but the main distinguishing feature is the vertical black stripe on its yellow bill. The legs are pale yellow or greenish and the eye yellow. Young birds are a sooty color with gray bill.
Sightings of this gull are more unusual in our area but they have been seen at SAL during migration seasons. Bonaparte’s is a small tern-like gull. A wedge of white can be seen on the wing tips when the bird is in flight. Its head is black in summer (white in winter). It has a small black bill and red legs.
Smaller than other herons the Green Heron is a common species that nests at Sweet Arrow and migrates south in winter. Its back is dark greenish-blue, neck chestnut, legs yellow. Its call is a loud, piercing, single-noted, whistle. Although it can be found in various locations at the lake, sometimes perching on branches or logs in the water, it is a wader and prefers the shallows where it feeds on aquatic species.
Little Blue Heron
Is a rare sighting in this area. Last seen at SAL in the late 1990’s. Little Blue is a medium sized heron bluish gray in color with a maroon-brown head and neck, dark legs, and a gray beak with black tip. Immature birds are all white and birds in transition between immature and adult age have a mottled white and gray-blue appearance. Like all herons, they are waders and, in the 1990’s, was sighted in the shallows near the wetlands.
A rare sighting at Sweet Arrow Lake. Last known sightings were in the 1990’s. White with black beak and smaller and more “squat” in stance than the Great Egret, its most striking feature is bright yellow feet at the end of black legs. It feeds in the shallows shuffling about to stir up food.
Is a tall all white heron with a yellow beak and black legs. Although not a common visitor to Sweet Arrow it is usually seen several times each year during the warm weather months. The Great Egret is considered an endangered bird in PA due to habitat loss. Around the turn of the 1900’s it was hunted, nearly to extinction, for its white feathers. Its feeding habits and sound are similar to Great Blue Heron. Some nesting colonies can be found on islands in the Susquehanna and in coastal areas.
Great Blue Heron
A tall slender blue-gray bird about 3 or 4 ft. tall. It has long legs and a long neck which is held in a crooked position when in flight. With its daggerlike yellow beak it spears and swallows fish, frogs, crayfish and other aquatic species. Head is white with a black cap or plume. Herons are wading birds and can be commonly found in the shallow areas of the lake. It can be sighted at most times of the year except in the dead of winter when water is frozen. It has a loud, raspy, croaking call.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
A rare sighting in this area this bird is listed as endangered in PA due to loss of habitat. The largest colony in the state exists on an island in the Susquehanna River. It is occasionally seen on the Swatara Creek from Lebanon Co. south. Only one sighting of an immature bird has been reported in the wetlands at SAL. Similar in size and build to Black-crowned Night Heron, the Yellow-crowned has an overall gray body, black head with yellow cap, white cheek patch, and red eye. Immature is similar in appearance to that of Black-crowned but more finely speckled on the back.
Black-crowned Night Heron
An unusual visitor to Sweet Arrow this short, stocky heron has only been sighted a few times at SAL. Seen mostly hunched and inactive during the day, it takes flight at dusk to feed. Adult has black back and head cap, gray wings, white breast extending up to cheek, and red eye. Immature brown and white streaked on head and breast and spotted on back. Its call in flight sound similar to a small dog; BARK-bark- bark-BARK.
Sightings of this bird in our area are considered extremely rare and accidental. Sandhill is a mostly western species with a small population in Florida. Although migratory fly-overs have been recorded at Hawk Mountain, the only known “touch down” or ground landing of this bird in Schuylkill County occurred here at Sweet Arrow Lake on 3/24/2002 where it remained in the wetlands for several days. It is a very large bird 40 – 48” in height with a wing span of 6 -7 ft. It is overall gray, often stained with rust, and has long neck and legs, a red cap on the forehead, and a white cheek patch. Its call is raspy and stuttering.
An elusive bird only occasionally seen in the upper wetlands or along the creek leading into the lake at the east end. The Snipe is a bog wading bird with an extremely long bill, mottled brown back with buff colored streaks, streaked neck and upper breast, and white belly. It flies in a zig-zag revealing an orange stripe on its short tail and calls in a raspy voice.
An extremely rare sighting in this area, the American Avocet was one of several rare birds seen at SAL during the time that the lake was drained for repair in the summer of 2001. These birds were apparently drawn by the rich food source found in the emerging mud. The Avocet is a long-legged shore bird that feeds in shallow water. It is a striking bird in appearance with an upturned bill, black and white wings and, in breeding season, a pinkish tan head and neck.
Another extremely rare sighting that occurred when the lake was drained for repair in 2001. A stocky, wading, medium-sized, shore bird with a short bill, black extending from the belly up the front of the neck to the cheek and eye. A white patch extends from the forehead down the side of the neck, Top of the head and back are speckled brown.
Was among the very rare bird sightings during the summer of 2001 when the lake was drained. A robust shore bird slightly smaller that Black-bellied Plover. Its head, neck, and upper breast sport a scrambled black and white pattern. Lower breast white extending to under tail. Back and wings a striking ruddy color. As the name implies, this bird traveled all over the dry lake bed turning over lily pad leaves to find food underneath.
A very common plover in the area around Sweet Arrow Lake. Often heard before seen its call a loud repeated kill- deahh. Easily distinguished by prominent double black bands on a white breast. Its head and back are grayish brown with a white area across the eye and yellow legs. In flight it shows a tawny rump.
This species is a large gray sandpiper (14”) with black and white checked back, streaked neck, long yellow legs, and a slightly upturned, long, black bill which helps to distinguish it from Lesser Yellowlegs along with thicker leg joints. It occasionally visits the lake during migration seasons and feeds in the shallows near the wetlands at the east end of SAL. Call a 3-note whistle “whew-whew-whew”
Similar in appearance and habit to Greater Yellowlegs but smaller (10-11”) It’s shorter, black, bill is straight (not upturned) Its call is 1 or 2 notes “yew or Yew-yew” and less forceful than the 3-note call of Greater Yellowlegs.
Very rarely seen at the lake during migration seasons. Last seen some years ago in the wetlands at the east end of the lake. Ibises are long-legged, wading birds. Its most prominent feature is a long downward curved bills. Although the Glossy Ibis is actually deep purplish chestnut in color it most often appears, at a distance, to be very black.
Documented only once at the lake in the early 1980’s, possibly escaped from captive breeding. Bobwhite is a small rotund quail splashed with ruddy color. It has a white face and throat with a black eye mask a rusty, ruffed, head cap and short dark tail.
Seen occasionally, when they make their way to the lake from the adjacent fields and forests especially on the south side. The wild Turkey is more slender than the domestic version found on farms. It has a bluish, bumpy head with red wattle, wings barred, body bronzy and iridescent. The male fans its rust tipped tail when displaying. Female is smaller. They remain in the area year round.
A rare sighting of 30 Wilson’s occurred in the late 1980’s in December at the shallow east end of the lake when it was lowered for vegetation control. In summer plumage the female is atypically more colorful than the male with a black mask blending into cinnamon on the neck and back but these birds were in winter plumage which is not very dramatic or diagnostic. Gray back, white underneath with a slight dark streak across the eye and a thin, medium length, black bill. It was not clear, at first, what they were until they started to “spin” like tops which is a trait unique to Phalaropes allowing them to stir food up from the bottom.
***The next four sandpipers were all rare sightings that occurred in the summer of 2001 when the lake was drained for repair.
This sandpiper is more evenly buff colored than any other from its cheek, down the neck and breast, to the undertail. It stands erect with a short bill, light eye ring, and yellow legs.
This bird’s most diagnostic feature it the heavily streaked breast bib. Its back is dark and “shingled,” neck long when extended, crown slightly rusty, bill and legs yellowish green.
Semipalmated Sandpiper 5 ½ - 6 ½”
A small “peep” sandpiper normally found in coastal areas. Gray above, light below, it sports a short, stout, black bill and black legs.
Baird’s Sandpiper 7 – 7 ½ “
Similar in appearance to Semipalmated but browner across the chest and slightly larger. Legs and slightly larger bill black.
Can be occasionally found at Sweet Arrow throughout the warm season this sandpiper is smaller than is similar in appearance to Yellowlegs but smaller. Back and rump are darker. Tail white with black bars. Head is dark with light eye ring. White underside with mottled breast and greenish legs (not yellow)
Most common sandpiper found at the lake throughout the warm months. Can often be seen flitting amongst the rocks along the shoreline and in the spillway. Brown back with white shoulder wedge, round breast spots, and a white line over the eye. This bird almost constantly bobs its tail and wings seem to “stutter” in flight.
A robust hawk with wide wings and a rounded tail. Its head and back are dark, breast white with a dark speckled band at the waist, upperside of the tail is rufous in color which gives the bird its name. Often soars in circles at high altitudes. Its loud screeching call is often mistakenly used on TV as the call of the Bald Eagle. Very common, it can be found anywhere around the lake and is often seen along highways sitting on telephone wires, poles, and in trees.
A slender hawk with white rump patch and more pointed wings. Unlike most bird species the female is more colorful than the male. The male is pale gray with black wing tips on the underside. Due to its appearance, it is known as the “Gray Ghost.” Females are a rich brown with streaked breast. Immature birds are brown with a russet colored breast. Although not usually found immediately at the lake, they can occasionally be found gliding low and slow over adjoining farm fields.
A small, slim hawk in the accipiter family. It favors the woodlands around the lake. Sexes are similar in appearance with short, rounded, barred wings in flight, dark back, with rusty barred breast. When sitting the end of the long, barred tail is squared.
Is very similar in appearance to Sharp-shinned but larger. About the size of a crow. The long tail is well rounded whether sitting or in flight.
Terns are not often seen at Sweet Arrow but 8 Caspian’s visited the lake in migration on 4/21/20. The Caspian is a large, pale Tern similar in size to Herring Gull. Its bill is stout and bright red lacking the dark tip of some other terns.
The Osprey is often mistaken for Bald Eagle because of its dark back and white head but the breast and underside of the Osprey is white, not dark like the Eagle’s, and its tail is not white but dark and banded. It also sports a black mask over its eyes which is often not easily seen at a distance without binoculars and a black patch on the underside angle of its wings. The Osprey has keen eyesight and can hover over the water to watch for fish. It is our only raptor that hits the surface feet first to catch its prey. Osprey are seen for extended periods of time at Sweet Arrow in the Spring and Fall but do not nest here. In fact, there are no known Osprey nests in Schuylkill County at this time (2020) Osprey are the junk collectors of the bird world and will incorporate anything from soda cans to hula hoops into their nest design. These raptors do nest further north in PA and on the Susquehanna River. Their call is a series of loud sharp whistles.
Eagles are the largest of the Raptors. The Bald Eagle is famous as a symbol of the US. The body of the adult is completely dark (breast and back) with a white head and tail, large extremely sharp talons, and a massive yellow beak. Immature birds are dark with a with a dark gray beak. Wingspan 7-8ft. Eagles are very territorial after migration in the fall the adult male will often journey back into its territory to guard the nest. After fledging the nest will not be used again until the following year. Young birds will migrate in the fall and, except for very brief initial visits to their place of birth, are then expected to find their own territory. Young birds will change into adult colors gradually over the next 3 years and will not breed until they are 4-5 years old. Bald Eagles do not welcome other Eagles or Osprey into their territory except in larger aquatic areas like the ocean or large rivers where food is more abundant.
Bald Eagles have been breeding and nesting at Sweet Arrow Lake since 2013. The first nest fell in a wind storm and injured one of the 2 nestlings inside. It was rehabilitated at Red Cree Wildlife Center and later released at the lake and welcomed back by its family. The adults rebuilt their nest in the same tree. As of 2020, this pair has raised 15 Eaglets here at the lake. This year, they built a new nest in the wetlands at the east end of the lake a short distance from the original one. The old nest had been abandoned.
Not as common as the Turkey Vulture, with a slightly smaller wing-span, the Black Vulture’s head is bald and gray as opposed to the Turkey Vultures red head. Its tail is short and, in flight, is rounded and almost blends in with the wings. Another identifying feature is the white patch near the tip of the underside of the wings that can be seen in flight.
Not pretty. They don’t give you that warm cuddly feeling but Vultures are an important part of our ecosystem. They are natures clean-up crew.
Scavengers by nature, Vultures eat road-kill or just about anything that’s dead for any reason. Often mentioned in old western movies, as a way to make your dead enemies disappear. Turkey Vultures are large, dark birds with a bright red bald head and a wing-span of about 6ft. Seen at any time of the year soaring in circles, their wings held in a shallow “V” shape. Easily identified by their unsteady, tilting, rocking flight and upturned wing tips. In flight, the underside of the wing shows a wide, lighter, gray trailing edge.
Northern Saw-Whet Owl
Our smallest PA owl, the docile Saw-Whet easily fits in the palm of your hand. It is possible that this bird may have recently begun to nest in the woods at Sweet Arrow. Little was known about this owls movements until Project Owlnet began tracking it at research stations across the US and Canada. Every fall in Schuylkill County, a banding station operates on property connected to Hidden Valley Golf Course. The owls are captured, weighed, measured, and data is recorded before the owl is banded and released. Arrangements can be made to visit the site but only by permission of the bander in charge. Saw-Whets have a rounded, streaked head, a brown speckled back, a streaked breast, and v-shaped white eye brows over yellow eyes. Their presence is often detected by a mewing sound heard in the woods. Their call is a constant, repeated toot.
Eastern Screech Owl
A small owl that nests and can be found throughout the heavily wooded area on the south side of Sweet Arrow Lake year round. This owl can be either gray or rufous. The difference in color is not particular to the sex of the bird. Adults sport ear-like feather tufts on their heads. The screech owl’s call is an unmistakable mournful whinny that descends in pitch. Their diet consists of mostly small rodents and insects.