Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Spring Migration Has Begun
April 07, 2023
By Steve Grinley
Days of warm sunshine interspersed with cold, windy days keep reminding us of our transition into spring. The early spring bird migration is in full swing now. Warm fronts are bringing the birds up from the south until they meet a cold front from the north. They put down and use the time to refuel until the winds shift southerly again.
There have been days when the refuge roadside on Plum Island has been littered with song sparrows. More than a hundred song sparrows have been counted on several days. In just the past few days, Savannah and chipping sparrows have joined the ranks, along with juncos and white-throated sparrows that are also moving further north for the summer.
This past week, the island has seen an influx of flickers on their way through and many small flocks of golden-crowned kinglets throughout the refuge. Hermit thrushes have been present along the road and along the Hellcat boardwalks. Phoebes are checking out nest sites at the maintenance area.
Our phoebe has returned to our backyard as well. Its loud, raspy “fee-bee” announces his presence. He is checking out our deck as a possible nest site, but we are hoping he will take to the privacy of the nesting shelf we put up on the back of our shed.
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are on the move as well. A handsome male, sporting bright red forehead and bib, arrived in our yard the last two days. He has been drilling holes in our hickories and drinking the sap that flows out.
The early warblers are also arriving. The short trill of the pine warbler can be heard in conifer stands throughout the area. Palm warblers are also being seen in many locales. This yellow warbler is recognized by its rusty cap and bobbing of its tail. Soon, the black & white warblers will be crawling along tree trucks and branches like the nuthatches. A good warm front later in the months should help more warblers make their way to us.
Out in the marshes, the smaller snowy egrets have been joining the early great egrets. Margo and I found a small flock of fifteen glossy ibis along Larch Row in Wenham this week.
Greater yellowlegs are arriving in the marsh pans and a few lesser yellowlegs have been reported.
Ospreys are arriving and some are already reclaiming their platform nesting sites. Some have been seen carrying sticks to the platforms. Watch for them hovering above the water and then plunging for their fish!
Kestrels are also returning to our area. These small, colorful falcons migrate north along the coast in spring and the Plum Island Hawk watch often counts more than a hundred on a good day in April. We saw a pair of kestrels perch in Common Pastures this week, an area where they are know to breed.
Tree swallows are arriving and many are reclaiming their nesting boxes at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield. A few barn swallows have been spotted in our area and the first rough-winged swallows have been seen. The gourds are up on Plum Island, sitting ready for the arrival of the purple martins later in the month.
In the backyard, the feeders are speckled with bright yellow as the male goldfinches continue to turn to their breeding “gold” and black color. Even the females show more brighter color now. We also had a very handsome male purple finch stop by, sporting his bright raspberry spring color. Our Carolina wrens are feeding mealworms to each other, courting I assume. It is a bit early to be feeding young – but that will be soon enough.
It also won’t be long before the arrival of hummingbirds. They are as far north as Delaware and the first birds could arrive in a couple of weeks if the forecast for southerly winds continue. We usually hear about hummers in the third or fourth week of April in our area and the majority arrives in mid-May. You should start thinking about readying your feeders in the weeks ahead.
Orioles also start to arrive before the end of April. They and the catbirds enjoy our jelly offerings when they arrive. House wrens will come back in early May, so having their houses clean and ready will keep them happy. They, and other birds will be singing in courtship and to mark their territories. So enjoy the sound of birdsong in your yard!