Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Hints of Spring Dashed by Snow
February 24, 2023
By Steve Grinley
As we enjoyed the milder temperatures earlier this month, the early signs of spring were teasing us. Flocks of red-winged blackbirds have been arriving already and, although some may think they are early this year, they are right on time. Flocks of blackbirds always arrive in mid to late February, and it seems that we almost always have snow after their first arrival. It is strange to hear the “konker-ree” of redwings singing on territory in the marshes where grasses that aren’t even green yet.
A few brown-headed cowbirds and common grackles have been mixed in with the flocks of redwings. A number of people have reported the grackles at feeders. As more grackles arrive in late February and March, you’ll want to dust off your grackle deterrent feeders. The complaints of grackles overtaking the seed and suet feeders will soon surpass the complaints we receive about squirrels.
Other early spring birds have been trickling into the area. Three killdeer were seen on the Topsfield Fairgrounds and others have been spotted in agricultural fields in several towns. Wood ducks have been seen on Plum Island as well in Groveland, West Newbury and Topsfield.
Another early spring bird, the American Woodcock, has already been heard making their distinctive “peeent” call at dusk in the fields of West Newbury and Rowley. Their calls could be heard in years past as one drove off Plum Island at sunset, but not this year. This year the Refuge is now closing an hour before sunset and ushering everyone off before the sunset hour can be enjoyed. Birders have heard the woodcock’s twittering display ritual in the evening at the Rough Meadows property in Rowley.
We were thrilled a week ago when we had bluebirds checking out the bluebird house in our yard. There were two males and a female, and one of the males kept going in and out of the house. Soon it sat on the roof as the female also peeked inside. Don’t know if they approved, but they are likely the birds that nest in a neighbor’s yard not far way. Two pairs have continued to visit as we put out more mealworms, live and dried, and a few suet nuggets for them. They also seem to enjoy the sunflower hearts that we serve to many of our birds.
Another special sign of early spring were the crocus flowers that were covering the ground in one area of the Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary one day this past week. They had just blossomed, as a friend told us that they were not visible there the day before. Despite these hints of spring, we still have New England weather reminding us that winter is not over.
As we walked the sanctuary, and as we travel down Plum Island or visit other conservation areas we can’t help but notice how little food is left on trees and shrubs. Winter’s bounty of seed and fruit is being depleted, perhaps because of the numbers of birds that have remained in the area all season. They say that March and April are THE critical months to keep birds feeders filled to help birds supplement their natural food.
This week’s snowstorm has brought even more birds to the feeders. Along with the usual crowd of cardinals, goldfinch, siskins and juncos, we now have a flock of 28 red-winged blackbirds. It is not so bad, especially with our usual jays, nuthatches, and various woodpeckers always visiting. The Carolina wrens, chickadees and titmice are now singing their spring songs and four bluebirds help to remind us that spring is still coming!