Thursday, April 22, 2010

The short, but eventful, avian calendar

(Daffodils at DrTom's.  It goes so fast; winter will be here before we know it.)

I tend to think of the year in bird seasons. April and May are the best months of the year for me because most of the species in this part of the world breed and nest during those months. June and July is fledgling time, when adults are busy feeding their still somewhat-dependent offspring, and the rest of the year is boring. It is just that by comparison, after May, it all goes downhill for me, and I begin looking forward to the following April. This is a terrible way to live, really.

As year-round residents, we have chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, titmice, brown creepers, crows, blue jays, and woodpeckers, and some other species. Several of these are common at bird feeders stocked with sunflower seeds tended by homeowners. But now those species have become more conspicuous—they are singing and calling, prospecting for nest sites, and even building nests. The extremely high-pitched song of the brown creeper is common in my woods now. (This song is so high-pitched that some humans can not hear it). Chickadees are calling throughout the day, and I saw a pair checking out a small cavity in a dead red maple yesterday. Woodpeckers are tapping, barred owls are calling (although they do that all year), and crows certainly have an active nest by now.

Red maple and aspen are flowering now, but leaves are forming on some species. This will increase rapidly over the next couple of weeks. And, of course, this is the season for daffodils, tulips, and forsythia to bloom. Juneberry just finished flowering.  Dogwood and lilac will follow shortly.

So the locals have come alive, but we now have new members in the community, who left us last fall to go to warmer, more productive climes. For the most part, the birds that have now returned by mid-April are the so-called “short-distance migrants” that wintered in southern U.S. Song sparrows, American robins, brown-headed cowbirds, dark-eyed juncos, and accipiter hawks, are back and acting sexy. Eastern phoebes and broad-winged hawks, who have returned, came from a bit further. Phoebes can winter as far south as Mexico and broad-winged hawks can winter even further away. From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website: “A recent study attached satellite transmitters to the backs of four Broad-winged Hawks and followed them as they migrated south in the fall. The hawks migrated an average of 7,000 km (4,350 mi) to northern South America, and traveled an average of 111 km (69 mi) each day. Once at the wintering grounds, the hawks did not move around much, staying on average within 2.6 square km (1 square mi).” And there are ruby-crowned kinglets, which just arrived at my place, but they are passing through to breed in coniferous forests farther to the north.

April is the beginning of the bird year for me. Everyone is now vocalizing, looking for their mates from last year, and locating nest sites. May will be even better, when the long-distance migrants return. The action is picking up, but I want every day to slow down. Based on my bird-oriented annual calendar, “winter” is only three months away.