Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring is Here, Even in the Bird World
March 20, 2010
By Steve Grinley

     Once the rains stopped and the sun came out this past week, the birds and the birders came out as well. Doug Chickering of Groveland shares his appreciation of these warmer days:

     “Today was a beautiful, almost perfect day to go birding and Lois Cooper and I spent the morning checking places, old and new, looking for spring birds. Technically, and historically it is still winter. There are Junco’s at the feeder, and a Snowy Owl out at Plum Island. Recently I have viewed Razorbills at Plum Island and we found Snow Buntings at Salisbury. It may still be winter but today was a reasonable facsimile of spring and a warm day in mid March is right for pushing the season.

     “We listened for Killdeer and searched Scotland Road for Snipe. We looked for Wood Duck at Ash Street and even kept our ears open to the possibility of hearing a Phoebe. I have seen Phoebe in Essex county as early as March 10. We found none of these. Still the day was anything but a disappointment. It was sunny and mild.

     “When we walked along the new Rail Trail at Salisbury we were surprised and delighted when a Pileated Woodpecker flew right over us. At Cherry Hill Reservoir we were able to watch a male Bluebird perched at the top of a small cedar calling softly and luxuriating in the sun. We will still have to wait for true spring, but any day you can stand and watch a male Bluebird in the sun is a good day. And any day that features a Bluebird and a Pileated Woodpecker has got to be characterized as a great birding day. At least in my book.”

     As it turns out, the snipe and killdeer have, indeed, returned to Scotland Road this week. I can even hear killdeer calling from the store at the Route 1 Traffic Circle. Red-winged blackbirds and song sparrows are singing from behind the store and I can hear the spring whistle “fee-bee” of the chickadees. A northern flicker was calling near the Nature Shop at the Joppa Flats Audubon Center. It feels so good to drive to work with the windows down again. Along the way I hear house finches and Carolina wrens singing in several locales.

     A huge flock of blackbirds were congregated behind my condo when I arrived home last evening. They were very loud. They consisted of mostly red-winged blackbirds with some grackles and cowbirds mixed in. They were like “staging”, gathering together to head for their evening roost.

     Blackbirds are starting to become a nuisance again at feeders as they migrate through. Several customers have complained, particularly about grackles that tend to take over the feeders in large numbers when they arrive. While redwings and cowbirds can be discouraged, somewhat, by not offering corn (or a mix with corn), unfortunately grackles seem to eat everything. They are best discouraged by feeders designed to keep them off. Some feeder have short perches, or no perches at all to allow only the small, clinging birds to feed. Another feeder has a cage around it that keeps the grackles from reaching the feeder, but allows the small birds through the mesh to reach the seed. Other feeders have weighted perches that can be set light enough to keep grackle off, but will still support a bird as large as a cardinal, which is half the weight of a grackle.

     Starlings tend to take over the suet at this time. They are best deterred with a suet feeder that has a cage around it allowing smaller bird in, or by a bottom feed suet feeder that allows the lighter woodpecker to feed underneath. Hanging upside down discourages the heavier starlings.

     On the brighter side of this start to spring, other early spring migrants have started to arrive. The large, rusty, fox sparrows have been reported from Byfield and Salisbury. As Doug mentioned, bluebird numbers are increasing and a few tree swallows have been spotted. Woodcock have arrived and they are performing their aerial dances at dusk. Great blue herons are returning to their rookeries, reclaiming those huge nests in bare trees above the swollen swamps. We will have to wait until late April or May for the orioles and hummingbirds, but if the weather stays like this, we won’t mind the wait.

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