Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Ready your yard for spring migrants
April 21, 2007
Steve Grinley

     The storm that wreaked havoc is our area this past week also took its toll on birds. Many ocean birds, such as murres, razorbills and guillemots were blown inland. A dovekie, normally a bird of the ocean, was picked up at Cashman Park on Tuesday, but later died. Hundreds of Bonaparte’s gulls were driven in by the wind and rain all along the coast, and many laughing gulls were swept northward.

     The storm has delayed some of the normal migrants from arriving while pushing others to arrive too soon. Early migrants such as pine and palm warblers, waterthrushes and gnatcatchers have all been delayed because of the storm. Usually, we see pectoral and upland sandpipers by now, and they have yet to make an appearance. In contrast, a very early scarlet tanager showed up in a yard in Ipswich. On Cape Cod this past week, there were indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, a blue grosbeak and a painted bunting at feeders. The first two are way ahead of schedule and the other two are quite rare in New England. There was also a report of a Baltimore oriole on the South Shore, and hummingbirds were reported in south-central Massachusetts, one on Nantucket, and two were already in Maine!

     With the storm moving off and milder temperatures returning, more migrants should be arriving this week. Winds are supposed to turn southwesterly in the next few days, and we should start to see some of the April migrants that have been held up by the storm. If you want to look at an interesting radar picture of migrating birds, go to www.woodcreeper.com. With southwest winds, more hummingbirds should arrive, so now is a good time to ready your hummingbird feeder. Though the bulk of the hummers arrive in May, there are many April arrivals, and you don’t want to be embarrassed when your hummer shows up and darts around where the feeder is supposed to be! One part sugar to three or four parts water is the recommended solution. Be sure to change the nectar every few days to keep it fresh.

     Not far behind the hummingbirds will be the orioles, so you should begin preparing their feeders as well. These birds are also attracted to backyard feeders with nectar (one part sugar to five or six parts water) and also with grape jelly and oranges. Some folks also feed meal worms to orioles, especially as the orioles begin to nest, but orioles will also continue to enjoy jelly all summer long. There are feeders that will hold a combination of nectar, jelly (or meal worms) and oranges, with some new clever ones designed to keep starlings and other larger birds from getting to the goodies.

     If you are feeding bluebirds, you may already know that there are meal worm feeders designed for bluebirds that also keep out the larger birds. Nectar, jelly, oranges and meal worms are all ways to attract some different birds to your yard this spring and summer. Catbirds, mockingbirds, tanagers, Carolina wrens, thrushes, and even some warblers might make an appearance to partake from this different menu. Speaking of bluebirds, some have already begun to nest, but more are still looking for houses.

     Now that the weather has broken, it is a good time to put up a house for them or for any of the other birds that may nest in your yard. Chickadees, tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, woodpeckers and tree swallows will all nest in nesting boxes, though cardinals and goldfinch will not. A nesting shelf can be erected for robins, phoebes, and barn swallows – the latter will be arriving over the next few weeks. Arriving in May will be the house wrens, and they also will take to a house hung in a nearby tree and delight you with their gurgling song.

     Don’t forget to add water. Birds need and enjoy fresh water all through the warmer months. Add some motion to the water with a dripper, a waterfall or a battery-operated “wiggler” to help attract more birds and to help keep the water aerated and fresh. You might be surprised to see the different birds that might show up – birds that might not otherwise visit your feeders.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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