Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

May Migration is in Full Swing
May 12, 2018
By Steve Grinley

     It was nice to come home at the beginning of May to see that the spring songbird migration was already in full swing. The first day back, we saw a male hummingbird feeding at the hummingbird feeder and the next day a male rose-breasted grosbeak was visiting our large Squirrel Buster feeder that held a mix with sunflower. In the days that followed, a female joined the male hummer visiting our nectar and two female grosbeaks showed up!

     A male Baltimore oriole displaced one of our woodpeckers at the peanut butter suet feeder, so we started putting out the grape jelly. Now we have three handsomely colored male orioles competing for food and the attention of two female orioles that also found our offerings. The males spend so much time and effort chasing one other off of the feeders. One oriole is often perched atop one of the feeder poles, whistling loudly into our open slider, as if he wanted us to notice that he is “king of the feeders” at that moment. I think it is, rather, the females that he wants to impress, not us. But we can’t help to also admire the radiant red-orange of their high breeding plumage.

     The “jockeying for position” continues for our flock of goldfinches, despite that the size of the flock is now only about a dozen or so birds sharing at least 30 perches on our various finch feeders. The males are now sporting their bright yellow and black attire, and they now seem more determined than ever to want to outshine each other. I would think that it would be easier for them to share the now ample space and maybe need to eat less, rather than burning all that energy fighting each other off perches.

     Adding to the new array of backyard colors, a male purple finch made an appearance at the feeders. That was a pleasant surprise in itself as our backyard is mainly deciduous woods. The next day he was joined by a female purple finch, opening the possibility for a nesting pair this spring.

     Speaking of nesting pairs, it was evident that our Carolina wrens now had young mouths to feed. They are no longer satisfied with the amount of mealworms we put out, always chattering or singing loudly to let us know when supply is gone. As we watch the pair come for worms, they will now eat a few, but then stuff their bills to carry a mouthful elsewhere. Margo tracked them down to a spot in the neighbors yard. At first they would fly over our house to get there, but it seemed as days passed that they will now fly around our house, as if they are too “fat” and, loaded with a bill full of worms, can’t get the liftoff needed to go over the house. It is comical for sure!

     The past few days, new song has filled the backyard woods. The songs of yellow-rumped, black and white, black-throat blue and black-throated green warblers could be heard. Also northern parula and “our” red-eyed vireo (from last year?) have also been heard. The presence of all these warblers in our yard were indications that the songbird migration was in full swing.

     We have had little chance to get out birding since our return, but we did get out one day in early May when we found orchard orioles, purple martins, several species of warblers including a reported rare prothonotary warbler on Plum Island. We also saw a reported tri-colored heron on the island with a little help from our friends. Our friend Sam spotted a Caspian tern migrating north and we had our first common terns, barn swallows, brown thrashers, and willets of the year. Interestingly, a late snowy owl was still present, perched atop a stick out in the marsh beyond the salt panes.

     Later that same day, we located a reported cattle egret in Rowley and a warbling vireo. We went on to Daniel Boone Park in Ipswich where we found such migrants as blue-gray gnatcatcher, great-crested flycatchers, blue-headed vireo and a few more species of warblers.

     In the past few days, small flocks of bobolinks have been found on Plum Island and in other area fields. Tanagers and indigo buntings are being reported and more species of warblers and shorebirds are coming through. This should continue through most of May.

     Hopefully the weather will cooperate for the teams of birders who are tallying the numbers of species they find during the first half of this weekend. Mass Audubon’s major fund-raiser, Bird-a-thon, runs from 6pm Friday, May 11 to 6pm Saturday May 12. Teams of birders from each sanctuary count species on behalf of their sanctuary. You can contribute any amount for the cause to our local Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center, which does so much good for our communities, by sending (or dropping by) a check to them at 1 Plum Island Turnpike, Newburyport, MA 01950. Or you may call them at 978-462-9998. Your support is always greatly appreciated.

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