Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Returning Birds Looking for Food and Shelter
May 1, 2010
By Steve Grinley
The first spring oriole in the area was reported last week. It was coming to a feeder in Merrimac. Hummingbirds have appeared in Newburyport, Newbury and Byfield. Not many warblers have arrived yet, nor have many catbirds or house wrens.
The weather systems the past couple of weeks has slowed the migration, with strong northerly winds, blocking many migrants from progressing further north into New England. But I expect that all to change this weekend. The winds are supposed to move around by Friday and come from the southwest – our warm wind direction. The southwest winds help push the songbirds northward toward us. So I expect to see more hummingbirds and orioles, and other May migrants arriving this weekend.
The problem this year is that many of the trees and shrubs have leafed out already and many buds have gone to flower early. Some flowering varieties have past their peak already. All this presents a couple of problems.
First, the problem for the birds is that many of the blooms may have gone by and their nectar is one source of nutrient for hummingbirds and orioles. However there should be other flowers and shrubs that will bloom in the coming weeks, while the birds are moving through. These birds will also supplement their need for nectar with feeders that people put out for them. So if you have hummingbird or oriole feeders, now is the time to put them out if you haven’t done so already.
The early foliage is actually good for the birds, because it draws out more insects which warblers and many other birds need to fuel their journey north. But for birders, the foliage makes it more difficult to see the birds. If you can’t see them, you don’t see their coloring and field marks, and therefore, you can’t identify them. That is, unless you are able to identify birds by sound.
There are many ways to learn bird sounds. There are CDs that play the bird sounds that help you learn from repetition. Some CDs have tutorials that help you to learn and to retain the sounds that you hear. DVDs for the television and CD ROMs for computers enable you to see the bird while you listen to the sound, further helping you to remember their sound. There are hand held devices that you can carry into the field and play to help you to identify a bird that is singing. There are also programs for iPods and iPhones that include sounds that help you to identify birds more easily when you can’t see them.
Many of the resident birds have begun nesting. Customers are reporting bluebirds sitting on eggs already. A woman from Rowley told me that her Carolina wrens have fledged their first brood already! We have seen both downy and hairy woodpeckers excavating tree holes in preparation for nesting, and we watched a pileated woodpecker in their nest cavity already. We encountered a Canada goose on her nest, on top of a beaver hut, in Newbury last weekend, and a pair of kingfishers were copulating in Salisbury.
Returning house wrens will be looking for houses, as will flickers, swallows and bluebirds. Many birds have two, or sometimes three broods in the season and some will nest as late as June or July. So if a bird hasn’t occupied your nesting box yet, or you are trying to decide whether or not to put up another bird house, you still have plenty of time for occupancy.
May is great month for watching birds, and despite the early foliage, there are more birds to be seen and heard as they make their way into our area. Summer residents are arriving, migrants are moving through, more birds are stopping to feed, and many birds begin their nesting cycle. I hope that you take advantage of this warmer weather this weekend and the better weather that May should bring, and get out to see, or hear, some birds.
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