Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bird Migration

Early Spring Migrants 

So far this spring some of our migrating birds have come back early.  One wonders if it is because of our early spring.  It would seem this is a logical reason but if most birds migrate according to an internal mechanism which is controlled by day length, then weather should not make a huge difference.  Spring storms would stop migrating flocks and cause them to hold up until clear weather, so I would expect weather to have some effect.  Whatever the reasoning, so far this year some of our birds are back early.  

Belted Kingfisher
Birds that come back early face increased survival risks.  Bad weather can be severe.  Today is March 17 and we are having a snowstorm.  Early migrants will have to endure this weather and probably go without being able to feed today.  I remember one spring when an Eastern Phoebe came back very early to our place and probably died in the winter storms we had after its arrival.  There certainly would not have been many insects for it to feed on.  When migrants arrive they are especially hungry from their long flights.  They need rest and nourishment.  

Red-winged Blackbird
Migrating birds are anxious to get here early because they want to claim nesting territories.  That is why we often see males arrive first.  They begin singing and thus claiming their territories even before the females arrive.

Turkey Vulture
The first early migrant I saw was the Belted Kingfisher.  We spotted it sitting on a branch over-looking the river on March 12.  That is over a month early!  In the last 5 years the first one I saw was on the following dates: April 25, 19, 27, 26, and 15.  One wonders if it will survive, but with the river being open, I expect it will.

Song Sparrow
The first Song Sparrow seen this year was March 16.  That, too, is early by about 2 weeks.  Other first dates in the last 5 years are:  April 3, March 16, April 1, 5, 8.  These are hardy sparrows and probably will have no trouble surviving until the warm weather.   I look forward to the first Song Sparrow song in the spring.  To me, it means that spring is really here.  I am not so sure about yesterday's bird. 

The Red-winged Blackbird is another early arrival.  My first this year was seen on March 13, which is a week or more early.  Other first dates in the last five years include:  March 23, 12, 30, April 1, 3.

The Turkey Vulture has also started coming back early.  These are traditionally warm weather birds but have surprised us by moving into our area during summers and in late years, extending their stay into cold weather.  A few have showed up here already this spring.  I saw my first on March 16.  That is 3 to 4 weeks early!  Other first dates seen in the last 5 years include:  April 18, 17,  4, 10, and 8.  They feed on roadkill so should be able to survive.
The Killdeer is also a harbinger of spring.  Its killdeer, killdeer call heard across the dormant landscape of early spring is welcome indeed.  It brings promise of better things to come.  I heard one yesterday, March 16.  How nice that was!  But, it, too, is 3 weeks early!  Other first dates for this species in the last 5 years are:  April 25, 3, 8, 6, 14.  This is generally a hardy species and will probably be able to make it through the snowstorms of today and tomorrow.  

Spring migrants are a blessing and bringers of hope and promise.  After a long winter they are a welcome sight and sound.  We should be diligent about keeping our feeders stocked with good food in order the help them regain their strength after their long flights.  It is important to put mixed grains on the ground near 'cover' (trees or bushes) so the sparrows can feed.  Some sparrows prefer to feed on the ground.  Needless to say, cats should be kept inside and away from such areas.

Enjoy our spring arrivals.  Step outside and listen to the bird song.  It is one of our true blessings!

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