Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Early Spring Birds Create Optimism
February 18, 2022
By Steve Grinley
The birds don’t listen to the groundhog or the weather experts. Punxsutawny Phil predicted six more weeks of winter but he didn’t tell us that there would be southerly winds and sixty-degree weather between periods of freezing temperatures and snowstorms. The winter birds are still here, but some spring birds have decided to venture north sooner than expected.
Those warmer southerly winds brought some early migrants to our area. Red-winged blackbirds and our first grackle appeared during the first week of February. Numerous reports of blackbirds came in from all over, including north into New Hampshire. A few cowbirds entered the mix of red-winged blackbirds at our feeders as well.
Usually it is after mid-February that flocks of blackbirds start arriving. It is then that we start getting calls asking “isn’t it early?” Well late February is actually the time they usually start arriving in our area. So this year, they seem a week or two early.
With the blackbirds came more starlings to our feeders. We were entertaining one or two starlings on any given day prior, but seven to ten were taking over our suet and peanut feeders the past weeks. They were also devouring the bluebird nuggets that we were putting out and dominated tray and hopper feeders with the seed mixes that were in them.
We rearranged some of our feeders, moving the tail prop suet to another location in the yard and left just the perch-less log suet feeders. We also lightened the tension on the Squirrel Buster Nut Feeders. But we continue to monitor those so as not to discourage the red-bellied woodpecker. We put heavier-shelled striped sunflower in the tray which starling’s long, pointed bills aren’t equipped to handle. We are now back down to one or two starlings, which is fine.
We were happy to see three bluebirds showing up in the yard. We had some berries remaining on some bittersweet vines that were the initial attraction. They have visited our heated bath in the past. These brightly colored birds ended up not staying long, but it is always delightful to see them in mid-winter.
Another surprise was the early report of an Eastern phoebe seen in Ipswich. It was seen following a few bluebirds along a stream in the woods. Another phoebe was seen on the grounds of the Greater Lawrence Technical School in Andover. Jake Miller reported that it was “perched low on the edge of field making hawking forays over wet lawn at edge of brushy woods at bottom of new ball fields.” These flycatchers usually first appear in March when flying insects are more available. Most other flycatchers arrive in May when insects are much more plentiful.
Killdeer also made an early appearance this month. These plovers are often seen in fields in March where the snow has melted. Four killdeer were seen in a muddy field at Appleton Farm in Ipswich before the last snowstorm. Two others were seen from the boat ramp on Plum Island as well. And speaking of plovers, the first piping plovers of the season have already been seen on Cape Cod!
Another February surprise was reports of woodcock on Plum Island, weeks earlier than expected. Another was photographed on the north shore of Nahant last week. In March, these birds can be heard at dusk at edges of fields, and their aerial displays witnessed. But these early February sightings are unusual.
Early spring birds do give us hope that winter is waning and that warmer days are ahead. Despite the pessimism of a groundhog.