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During the winter months, most of the bird action in my yard is at the feeders. There are also birds looking under leaves and in bark crevices for bugs or searching for natural sources of seed or fruit. But none of these things is as abundant in the cold months, so for many birds that stay around here through the winter, the feeders become the center of activity.
But come spring, there are more and more things around for birds to eat so, while they’ll still happily come to feeders, many can also be seen in other places in the yard. Sparrows who up until now were mostly found under the feeders are now searching for seed and bugs in the grass (or what passes for grass in my yard) or up in the trees that are now leafing out. Some birds are getting nectar from flowering plants or finding insects attracted to the flowers. And there are all kinds of really interesting spring migrants coming through that don’t come to feeders at all, but who might be found in your yard if you watch for them.
Just in the past week, I have seen four interesting spring birds come through the yard. Most stay for a few hours or a day, but they are always exciting to see.
One day our spring visitor was a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, flitting about in a tall skinny tree covered in grape vine that grows near our garage. This tree always seems to be popular with both visiting birds and our local Tufted Titmouses and Carolina Chickadees in particular. (Native trees and native vines attract the insects that our native birds like to eat!)
Kinglets have a distinctive way of moving around in a tree, searching for tasty insects. They seem to be almost constantly on the move and will work a tree branch, zip unexpectedly over to another and then another, come back to the first, moving around in unpredictable ways. I was on my way to an appointment the day I saw this one, so didn’t get a picture of him. (The picture above was taken in the same tree last fall.)
On another day, we were pleased to see a pair of Blue-Grey Gnatcatchers flitting around up in the tops of the trees in the yard. They moved from the top of the ever popular pine in the back yard to the grape vine covered tree and back. They are also quick little birds that move around in the trees very busily, although not quite as frantically as kinglets. (I did get a few pictures of the gnatcatchers but they weren’t great, so the picture above is one I took last spring at Patuxent Research Refuge North Tract.)
Another pleasant surprise was the visit of one or maybe two Palm Warblers. The first day I saw it, I was looking out my back window and saw two American Robins running around in the grass of our neighbor’s back yard. Looking more closely though, I saw that there was a third bird moving around in a similar way, but this one was smaller and yellowish. When I got out my binoculars, I could see it was a Palm Warbler, the first I think I’ve seen in our yard (well, almost in our yard.) A couple days later, we saw the same bird or another one just like it running along the grass next to our driveway. Unlike many warblers, they are often found on the ground searching for insects, which makes them easier to photograph!
On the same day, we saw several Yellow-Rumped Warblers zipping around in the tops of the trees, mostly in the tall pine tree in the backyard. The temperature had turned quickly from more normal spring temperatures to the upper 80’s and the tree pollen was very thick that day. Birds would land on a pine branch and a cloud of pollen would puff up. I’ve read that there are insects that will eat pollen, so I’m thinking that there were lots of insects up there to attract the birds. As well as the warblers zipping around the branches, there were also several Chipping Sparrows, a female Red-Winged Blackbird and a couple of Carolina Chickadees moving around in the tree, making it even trickier to keep track of the warblers. (The above photo is from last fall in the vine-covered tree.)
Yesterday’s unexpected visitor was a Red-Tailed Hawk. While they are year-round in our area, the more typical hawks in the yard are Cooper’s Hawks (although a few winters ago, we had a Red-Shouldered Hawk hunting birds in the yard regularly.) The Red-Tailed Hawk apparently killed a Common Grackle at a feeder in the front yard. That is actually part of an interesting story that I’ll save for another day though.
When you are outside your home, don’t just stare at the feeder area when looking for birds. Pay attention to what is going on in other areas nearby. This time of year in particular, you may see warblers of various kinds moving around, often up high, in the trees. If you watch the birds in your yard often, you probably have developed a good idea of how the regulars move. When a new bird arrives, you will likely notice them because they’ll move a little differently. Or something about their color or their size or where they are sitting may catch your eye. Keep watching and you are likely to see some very cool birds!
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