Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Hummingbirds Join the Parade of Spring Arrivals
April 23, 2011
By Steve Grinley

     I awakened to the loud “yip, yip, yip, yip, yip…” call of a northern flicker this morning. This large woodpecker is returning from further south to nest in our area. We usually see them on the ground eating grubs and other lawn insects. The flicker is a striking bird, sporting a spotted chest with a large “V” and when it flies shows bright yellow under the wings and a white rump. It is one of many early migrants that have been arriving this April.

 Chipping sparrows are returning and their dry trill of a song can be heard in backyards and along roadsides. A few have been visiting area feeders replacing the tree sparrows, which also have a rusty cap, and are heading back north to breed. Chipping sparrows will stay the summer and nest here. 

The phoebes are arriving, giving their quick, raspy “fee-bee” call. They will start building their nests right away in the eaves of a house, garage or barn, as well as under small bridges. Phoebes often accept a man-made nesting shelf as well. Phoebes will also build their muddy nest on top of their nest from a previous year. Sometimes their nests become multilayered until they no longer fit under the space provided.

     The swallows are returning. Many tree swallows have already returned and are checking out nesting boxes. A few barn swallows are back, looking for their favorite barn in which to nest again this year.

     Some of the early warblers have also been spotted in the area. Pine and palm warblers are some of the first to arrive. Palm warblers will continue further north to nest, but the pine warblers nest in conifers all around the Newburyport area. Soon, the black& white warblers, which crawl along the branches and trunks of a tree like a nuthatch, will also return to nest here as well. By first week of May, more colorful warblers will be streaming through.

     Kestrels, our smallest falcon, can be seen migrating north along the dunes at Plum Island. Tens and, sometimes, hundreds are counted in a single day. Best viewing is from the Lot 1 Visitor’s Center Platform where a formal hawk watch takes place most days during the early spring. Stop by and see what it is all about! A pair of kestrels are already setting up house keeping in the Industrial Park near where they nested last year.

     The herons and egrets are returning. Many can be seen in the marshes of Plum Island and Salisbury. Small numbers of egrets have returned to the Route 1 roost in Salisbury.

A few hummingbirds are already showing up in Massachusetts. In fact, a couple have made it into New Hampshire and Southern Maine. If you would like to track the ruby-throated hummingbird arrivals in the eastern United States, including New England, you can go to www.hummingbirds.net and click on the maps. Now is a good time to think about putting out your hummingbird feeders. The peak migration will be in mid May, but all too often I hear stories about hummers that arrive at the spot where “their” feeder use to be, only to find that it is not up yet. The homeowner is usually embarrassed, scrambling at that point to dig out the feeder, clean it out, make the nectar, fill the feeder, and, then, put it back up! That’s a long time for little bird to wait!

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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