Beaufort Today -

Birder’s Eye View: Sorting birds in the spring

  • Diana Churchill
  • Diana Churchill/For Savannah Morning News Resident Cooper’s hawk is in nesting mode in the neighborhood.
  • Photos by Diana Churchill/For Savannah Morning News Two males and a female blue-winged teal will soon be departing for points north.
  • Diana Churchill/For Savannah Morning News American goldfinch male in the process of getting dressed up for spring. How long will he stay?
  • Diana Churchill/For Savannah Morning News My first purple martin of the season!

At this time of year, I don’t just watch birds — I sort them. I know that sounds like a lot of work, but it helps me figure out what they are up to, and where they are headed.

For starters, we have our year-round residents. The faithful cardinals, chickadees, titmice, doves, bluebirds, nuthatches and Carolina wrens are really busy right now. They are singing up a storm, setting up territories, choosing mates, building nests, laying eggs and even feeding babies.

At Wild Birds Unlimited, one pair of eager eastern bluebirds started their nest in early March, laid five eggs, made it through the cold spell and now are feeding five hungry young ones. Of course, we do our part by offering live mealworms morning and evening and standing guard to chase off the pesky mockingbirds.

I am not so thrilled to have Mr. & Mrs. Cooper’s Hawk once again courting, vocalizing and preparing to nest across the street. Actually, I do find the hawks rather fascinating, but wish they wouldn’t treat my yard and feeders like a fly-by buffet. Given the small piles of feathers I find, mourning doves seem to be a dietary staple for the hawks.

Category Two is “winter resident leaving soon.” Although it is officially spring, many of the birds I saw on a recent bird ramble were in this group. There were three blue-winged teal (two males and a female) actively feeding on the pond on the north end of Tybee. I heard several house wrens (smaller and less colorful than our resident Carolina wrens) launching into their bubbly, energetic springtime song.

“What are you doing here?” I queried. “Shouldn’t you be saving all that singing for your nesting territory in New England?”

Then there are the goldfinches. I’ve had a small flock chowing down on sunflower seed and nyjer for several months. Each day, the males are putting on more of their bright yellow breeding plumage, sure to catch the eye and win the heart of any available female finch.

With the winter resident birds, we get into that tricky territory of departure dates. Everyone wants to know “when will the finches leave? How much finch food should I buy?” Unfortunately, they don’t file flight plans in a language I can understand.

My human winter-resident friends are well-mannered and communicate clearly. They say “our winter rental ends on March 25. Can we bring over our extra food before we leave?” With the birds, it’s pure guesswork.

Unless you keep a bird journal, you may not know exactly which day was the last one you saw a hermit thrush, yellow-bellied sapsucker or Baltimore oriole. Yellow-rumped warblers are everywhere for most of the winter, until one day in mid-April you look around and say, “What, no yellow-rumps?”

Category Three is for the newly arriving spring migrants, settling in to nest for the summer. Usually my first spring arrival is the purple martin, arriving the third week of February. This year he was late. I saw my first tiny northern parulas and blue-gray gnatcatchers on March 5. I didn’t see my first purple martin until March 20.

I’ve already seen a pair of northern rough-winged swallows swooping around the field behind the shop, and I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of barn swallows, orchard orioles, great crested flycatchers, summer tanagers, eastern kingbirds, ruby-throated hummingbirds, painted buntings, indigo buntings, blue grosbeaks, Mississippi kites, swallow-tailed kites, chuck-will’s-widows and more.

The transients I assign to Category Four. These are the birds that spent the winter in the tropics and are now headed for breeding territories in the northern United States and Canada.

They just stop by for a day or two to rest and refuel.

“Thanks for the grub. Gotta go,” is their grateful refrain. Some of the stars of this group are scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, whip-poor-wills, ovenbirds, American redstarts, black-throated blue warblers, Cape May warblers, red knots, whimbrels, spotted sandpipers and oh, so many more.

Ogeechee Audubon will be starting its Friday morning Forsyth Park bird walks on April 14. Join us at the fountain at the north end of the park at 7:45 a.m. for an hour and a half of bird watching and sorting. Happy spring and good birding!

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Bird enthusiast Diana Churchill can be reached via email at dichurchbirds@gmail.com.


Bird enthusiast Diana Churchill can be reached via email at dichurchbirds@gmail.com.


More Info

Breakout Box: 

IF YOU GO

What: Bird watching/sorting walks

Who: Ogeechee Audubon

Where: Forsyth Park, at the fountain at the north end

When: 7:45-9:15 a.m. Fridays

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