Around this time in spring we prepare a welcome mat for the migrating birds, both the ones that come to stay for a season or just passing through. We clean the birdhouses that were left out during winter for cold night roosting and set them back up. Plenty of food is put out as well and we make some effort to insure the feeders won’t get emptied by larger birds like the Mourning doves, Grackles, European Starlings and Blue Jays by using weight sensitive feeders. Grackles and Blue Jays manage to work these feeders anyway by bouncing up and down. But we don’t mind since they can’t really land on the feeder blocking small birds from getting on.
We take our cues from the plants and trees in the garden. We put oranges out when the cherry trees blossom; that is when the Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula) start to show up. We put sugar syrup out when the Columbine starts to bloom. That’s when Ruby-throated Hummingbirds reach us from the south.
Arriving on the same schedule are the tree Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). They’re looking for nesting boxes now. This year is much harder for them since the Eastern Bluebird beat them to nesting, having eggs now, get very territorial. They don’t want any neighbors, even when the closest box is 20 feet away the male Bluebird still chases any bird who has the temerity to stray too close. Also House Sparrows that try to nest in every box in the yard. It seems like an uphill battle for the Swallows but they still try and we do our best chasing the Sparrows to give them an edge.
The Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) has also arrived. Generally we only see the male at this time of year. Some years they will stay through the season but some years they just pass through.
I know that the Baltimore Orioles are here, aside from the cherry tree cue, we can hear them. They haven’t come down for the oranges yet. Above is an image captured last year.
Most migrating birds are back and that provides a dawn to dusk symphony in the garden. Spring seems to be the season the birds sing the loudest; need to declare territory and for the males to show the ladies that he can sing. After observing them for years, I can tell now when they will be back. The Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) will be back when the cherry trees start to bud. The Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) will be passing through at the same time. They summer further north. Hummingbirds will come when the columbine starts to bloom. Tree Swallows are here as soon as the insects are flying about.
Nature’s impeccable timing.
I was sick last week so gardening in the sun was off limits. Setting up a blind to take bird photos was too much work when my head felt like it would explode any minute. But sitting around doing nothing would have made me even sicker, that’s when the light bulb came on.
iPhone, little tripod for phone, remote control…..should work…..and it did. I just sat there 30 feet away clicking the remote control, capturing the birds activity up close without interrupting them.
Most of the birds that migrate south during winter have come back. The Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) came back before everyone else. They swooped around looking for their old houses that I had removed for the winter. They checked out the Bluebirds nest box and were chased off by the occupants. As soon as I put the box back up where it was used by them last year, they took ownership with in minutes. Another pair took one nest box in the front but was harassed relentlessly by the House sparrows. I hope that it doesn’t deter the Swallows from staying with us.
The Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) also came back to the feeder. I have seen just the males, no females in sight yet. Chipping Sparrows (Spizella passerine), Gray Catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis), House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon) and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) are back as well. The Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) settled for the suet as many of the fruit trees around here haven’t blossom yet.
I haven’t seen the White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys), Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca) Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) yet this year. But the spring is still young and very cold. Hopefully they’ll filter in with the warmth.
Spring is the busiest time in our own garden aviary. We have both resident aerialists that stay with us year round and the ones that travel back and forth from North to South America annually. Every spring we roll out the red carpet for them, helping them stay strong and nurturing a new generation. By the end of spring some of them already have a new extended family and are ready to start a second brood. Most of them are camera shy but some of them have become used to seeing me in the garden all the time…just another big funny looking deer to them.
This Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) couple had three chicks. Yes, I checked. I patrol the bird houses in the garden to make sure that the House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) haven’t taken them over and to insure the Cowbirds haven’t laid their eggs in one of the nests. This pair ended up with one surviving chick. I witnessed one chick becoming a Bluejay (Cyanocitta cristata) lunch. I have no idea what happened to the other chick so I’m hoping it survived. They just had another brood, four newly hatched chicks, hopefully more than one will survive.
The Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) is one of the smartest and friendliest birds in our garden. They come back every spring and stay until late fall. We put oranges out as soon as we see the first one show up. They help keep the Japanese beetles under control. Their first brood, two chicks, have grown up and as far as I know one pair has started a nest in the front Forsythia bush.
All the books I have read indicated that Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) produce one brood a year in the Northern US but this pair by the vegetable garden are having a second one. Maybe because their first brood, three chicks in all, and their nest was destroyed by our neighbor’s cat. They didn’t give up and rebuilt the nest in the same box. We put a squirrel guard flange under the nest box this time to prevent the cat from getting to the nest. I haven’t peeked to see how many eggs they have. The good news is the Tree Swallow family that nested in the front yard produced five chicks and they have all fledged.
When we see the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) in the neighborhood that means spring is coming. A couple of pairs have nested in our garden each year. They help a lot by picking grubs off the lawn and gardens. Their first brood have all grown up now and they’ve already started a second one.
This House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) was building a nest she ended up nesting in. They have a habit of building a few dummy houses before they actually pick one. Five chicks from this nest had flown off. Two more pairs are singing and building nest in the garden now.
I don’t know where the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) nest but they are repeat annual visitors and we seem to have more of them every year. It’s fun to watch them doing their courting ritual; flying back and forth sideways like a pendulum- and when they take their dinner at dusk. Delicate and beautiful little birds that they are.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus) also stopped by to refuel this spring as usual before flying further north. They have a very distinctive and lovely song. I wish they would nest with us instead of just commuting through.
Yes, woodpeckers eats oranges along with a variety of things. They even eat small lizards upon occasion, though there are no lizards here. We were surprised to see one eating oranges we had put out a few years ago. The oranges were intended for the Baltimore Orioles and Gray Catbird but the orioles have never come down for it. We thought that only one particular Red-bellied was eating them, but more than one stops in regularly when they have active nests in the area.
They would eat for a while and at the end they would gather pulp, keep it between their beaks, and fly off, we presume for nesting youngsters.
There are some more avians around the garden this spring. The common ones like American Goldfinch, House Finch, American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Blue Jay, Red-winged Blackbird, Downey Woodpecker, Chickadee, Titmouse, Northern Cardinal….and with them around we don’t need pesticide. The down side is we see less butterflies due to caterpillars being invited to lunch, so to speak, but our garden is never without someone serenading somewhere in the premises.