Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring Birds Give Us a Glimmer of Hope
March 14, 2015
By Steve Grinley

     On my way to work this past Monday, I was traveling north on Route 95, just before Route 97 in Georgetown, when I saw a large bird swoop down over the road about a half mile ahead of me. At first I thought that it must be a vulture so close to the road, but I hadn’t seen one yet this year. The bird circled and went into the trees on the east side of the highway. As I went by, I peered into the trees and could see that it was an adult bald eagle. It must be a hard winter for them to be hunting near the highway. 

     An Amesbury Point Shore resident came in this week and purchased a lot of cracked corn. When I asked what she was feeding, she said she lives on the Merrimack River and feeds about twenty-five ducks or so. The “or so” is because she said that everyday an eagle comes down and grabs one of them! I guess it is an easier meal for the eagle than fishing the cold, half-frozen river!

     Despite the lingering cold and snow, there have been signs of spring this past week. As it turned out, I did see my first turkey vulture on another morning as it flew over Route 95 in Boxford. 

     A phoebe was spotted in Ayer earlier this week, another sign of spring. Woodcock are also starting to arrive in Massachusetts, only to find limited open ground for their courtship rituals. Speaking of courtship, the cardinals and song sparrows are singing their spring territorial songs, and perhaps, they welcoming the longer days.

     A few red-winged blackbirds or grackles sometimes stay the winter, but small flocks often arrive in February, well before the last snow. I would always get calls from customers telling me of their red-wing sighting and announcing that it must be spring! No such calls yet this year. Numbers of blackbirds have yet to arrive, though a few red-winged blacks were seen in Salisbury, a couple of grackles in Ipswich and four rusty blackbirds in North Andover. So, like the blackbirds, spring may be trickling in this year.

     Great horned owls are on their eggs, with an owl again on a heron nest in the North Andover rookery. Screech owls are pairing up, as are red-tailed hawks. It won’t be long before bluebirds start checking out those nest boxes for something more than a nighttime roost!

     A few killdeer have arrived and have been seen on rare, bare patches of ground in Newbury, and near the boat ramp at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation. Author Doug Chickering of Groveland wrote about the killdeer as the first true sign of spring in his book “Reflections on a Golden-winged Warbler”:

     “So what bird can be considered to be the first bird of spring? It should be a bird that arrives early, but doesn’t winter over in Massachusetts. A bird we wait and listen for. A bird that brings a smile with its arrival. At last spring is coming.

     “At least for me this role has now been assumed by the Killdeer. I know that some sweet day soon the temperature will be mild, the air suddenly fresh, and the ground showing bare patches through the snow cover. And then my spirits will quicken to the clear sharp call-“Killdeer! Killdeer! Killdeer!””

     Though the milder temperatures are slow to come and the deep snow is slower to leave this year, I have to agree with Doug that if killdeer are here, then spring can’t be far behind.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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