Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring Birds Arriving Ahead of Schedule
April 10, 2010
By Steve Grinley

     The warm weather this past week continued to bring in some early migrants. While numbers of pine and palm warblers are arriving on schedule in our area, a very early parula warbler was seen just north of Boston this week. Blue-headed vireos and a blue-gray gnatcatcher were ahead of their usual schedules. Margo and I had two Eastern towhees along the Lot 5 trail on the Parker River Wildlife Refuge last week and a brown thrasher was also found on Plum Island. Tom Wetmore flushed a Virginia rail in the marsh at Hellcat-actually Tom suggested that the rail flushed him since he was equally surprised!

     Other birds seem to be right on time. Hermit thrushes are showing up as are field and chipping sparrows. Ruby-crowned kinglets are arriving and, in some cases, outnumbered the wintering golden-crowned kinglets. Phoebes are singing their raspy “fee-bee, fee-bee” call everywhere. Barn swallows are arriving and soon will be searching out a barn near you. Wood duck have arrived at the Ash Street swamp in West Newburyport as well as other area wet spots.

     A few of the resident birds have already begun looking for nests or actually nest building. One customer reported five eggs in their bluebird box already. Margo and I saw a downy woodpecker excavating a nesting cavity at Crooked Pond in Boxford last week. A Byfield customer reported that her red-bellied woodpeckers were getting ready to nest.

     A Newburyport resident told me about a Carolina wren that entered their enclosed sun room through a cat door. It was obviously looking for a place to nest. It was too small and flighty, so the home owner opened a window and removed the screen and eventually the wren exited. Of course these wrens will nest in the craziest of places – mail boxes, clothes pin bags, house plants, ceramic pots and even overturned canoes.

     Two ruby-throated hummingbirds have already arrived in Connecticut and one was seen in southeastern Massachusetts. Though these may be “scouts”, it won’t be long before the masses follow. It is time to dust off those hummingbird feeders and get them ready to put out. Many trees and plants have flowered early, so the hummingbirds will surely follow. As the unpredictable April weather continues to present changes, the hummers will welcome a supplemental feeder to help sustain them during the more chilly days and nights.

     One Baltimore oriole report from Cape Cod doesn’t make a migration, but they can’t be far behind. The first orioles should arrive in our area in the next couple of weeks with the majority, like the hummingbirds, coming in early to mid May. Again, it is not too soon to get your oriole feeders ready with offerings of nectar, oranges and grape jelly.

     Meanwhile, the goldfinches continue to be emptying the feeders here at the store. We have a couple of males that have turned into their bright yellow and black breeding plumage. We have five thistle feeders and a couple of thistle socks hanging, and we are still filling them several times a week.

     We also have a few redwings and cowbirds visiting the sunflower and mixed seed feeders, but it is the grackles that are dominating. The best defense against the grackles are feeders with small, or no perches that will accommodate just the smaller, clinging birds. There are also the “cage” feeders with openings that small birds can enter, but they exclude grackles and other large birds. Other feeders have collapsing perches or feeding ports that will allow a cardinal to feed, but not the twice-as-heavy grackles.

     The coming weeks are some of the most exciting for bird watching. The juncos, tree sparrows, and other wintering birds are departing and more spring migrants and summer residents are arriving. The scenery is changing and so are the birds. Inviting these birds to your yard with houses and feeders helps them, and it enhances your enjoyment of the season ahead.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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4 years of service to the birding community! 
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