spring migration

Spring Feeder Birds

Rose-breasted Gosbeaks

Every spring we are fortunate to see Rose-breasted grosbeaks visit our feeders for an all too brief time as they make their way north to breeding areas. The male is very handsome, sporting black and white plumage, with a v-shaped splash of vibrant red on the chest. The female’s plumage is primarily brown and white, with its underparts heavily streaked. On females you may also see the yellow wing linings. Both males and females have a large, triangular shaped bill. Some years they are scarce at the feeders but others we see small flocks of these birds settle in to feeding areas and seemingly remain for as much as three or four weeks. It’s very likely that you are seeing a daily exchange of at least some of those grosbeaks, though. Birds you saw yesterday may already have moved on to be replaced by new arrivals. They readily accept a variety of seeds, mostly sunflower and safflower, and most tube, hopper, and platform feeders accommodate them nicely. Let us know when and how many you see.

Indigo Bunting

Another very nice bird, although not as common in numbers at feeders as the RB Grosbeak, is the Indigo Bunting. A breeding male Indigo Bunting is blue all over, with slightly richer blue on his head and a shiny, silver-gray bill. Females are basically brown, with faint streaking on the breast, a whitish throat, and sometimes a touch of blue on the wings, tail, or rump. Immature males are patchy blue and brown. One may see them feeding on sunflower, safflower, millet, and finch feed. They are apt to visit hanging feeders as well as forage on the ground.

This small bright blue bird spends its winters in central and southern parts of South America, and can been seen across eastern North America in the spring and summer months. Indigo Buntings eat small seeds, berries, buds, and insects. They are common on the edges of woods and fields; along roads, streams, rivers, and power line cuts; in logged forest plots, brushy, and abandoned fields where shrubby growth is returning. A great local spot to see Indigo Buntings is along the Harpeth greenway that runs behind Ensworth high school and Warner parks where the field hits the tree line along the Harpeth River. They can be seen darting in and out of the tree line foraging for insects and small seeds in the fields and trees.

Like all other blue birds, Indigo Buntings lack blue pigment. Their jewel-like color comes instead from microscopic structures in the feathers that refract and reflect blue light, much like the airborne particles that cause the sky to look blue.

Baltimore and Orchard Oriole

The Baltimore and Orchard Oriole are not really common spring feeder birds but worth mentioning. They migrate through TN on the way to their breeding destinations, which tend to be north of TN. Some of my bird store associates in Iowa and Ohio do a very strong “Oriole” business because they are in the heart of Oriole breeding territory. Both species of Oriole are insect, fruit and nectar feeders.

We often encounter a customer that reports a Baltimore at their seed feeder which would be extremely unusual, but not impossible. After a few questions and shared pictures it is usually determined to be a male Eastern Towhee. There are similarities but when seen side by side very distinct differences.

The Baltimore is the more familiar of the two and is known for its bold orange and black plumage. Females are olive to brown above and burnt orange-yellow below. White wing bars are very noticeable. Baltimore’s are about 8” in length, long tailed, and have sharply pointed beaks.

The Orchard Oriole is slightly smaller. The male is a rich chestnut color on its underparts and black above. Females are an olive-green above and yellowish below, much like female Tanagers, but have distinguishable white wing bars.

Over the course of 25 years I have tried various proven methods of attracting Orioles to my yard with little success. Available information about Orioles suggests orange halves and jelly are the two most common food choices to grab an Orioles attention. None of my attempts with these offerings ever produced results.

The years I did attract them I did nothing specific to make it happen. A few times I had multiple male Orioles visiting hummingbird feeders, and other years it has been the moving water source (fountain) that is very popular with all birds. The times they decided to come to hummingbird feeders were likely a result of a lack of natural food sources they would normally be drawn to during their spring travel. Over the course of the few days Orioles were visiting my hummingbird feeders I also presented orange halves in plain view, because that’s what you always see pictures of them feeding on, but they showed no interest and seemed to be content with the sugar water nectar.

Spring Migration

Spring Migration is in full swing which means there will be a lot of interesting birds to see if you spend a little time looking around your yard, or at any of our wonderful parks and greenways. If you are going out for your morning, or afternoon walk don’t forget your binoculars because the neo-tropical migrants are passing through, or arriving in middle Tennessee every day on the way to their summer breeding areas. Warblers, Vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Tanagers, Swallows, Hummingbirds, and many other species are there for the viewing if you try. Early in the morning, between 6 am and 10 am are best to see some of these birds because many of them migrate at night then settle down in the mornings to feed and rest.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Male Indigo Bunting

Male Indigo Bunting

The first Ruby-throated hummingbirds to arrive or pass through TN have already been sighted. Usually one, maybe two hummingbird feeders at this time of year is enough. Don’t bother filling your feeder to full capacity at this time as the feeders are of little interest to them this early.

In the coming weeks at your feeders expect to see the always popular Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings. Of course American Goldfinches are here in abundance year round but are now putting on their bright yellow spring plumage.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak

RB Grosbeak males are quite handsome with their black and white plumage and v-shaped splash of red on the chest, while females are brown and white with heavy streaking. Both have the distinguishable heavy beak. These birds may be seen in good numbers at your feeders. In years past I’ve seen as many as a dozen at a time, or some years just a few. They are fond of several types of seeds and feeders. Sunflower and Safflower are the more preferred seeds, while platform, hopper, and tube type feeders all work well. Let us know when you see one.

Purple Finch

Purple Finch

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Interestingly there are still good numbers of our winter visitors like Purple finch, Pine Siskin, and even Red-breasted Nuthatches in the area.

Reports of Bluebirds with completed nests and with eggs are sprinkling in. It’s still relatively early and plenty of time to attract Bluebirds to a nest box. In years past I would not see a first Bluebird nest until late April.

For daily bird sightings reports of migrating birds you may want to subscribe to TN bird e-mail list, or visit Tennessee Birding on Facebook.

Spring birding class

There is still time to register for Richard Connors bird identification class at Radnor Lake this spring. The 5-week class runs Tuesday mornings from April 9th to May 7th, and includes classroom sessions and morning bird walks. Radnor is a premier location for spring migrants and those migrants are often heard more easily than seen, so this spring class will emphasize "birding by ear". We will work on bird identification by sound as well as by sight. The class is open to beginners, but some prior knowledge of our local birds will be helpful. There is a fee for the 5 week class with part of the proceeds going to Friends of Radnor Lake.

For more information see this web page:

http://www.pbase.com/rconnorsnaturephoto/spring_bird_class_2019

To register for the class contact Richard at rconnorsphoto@aol.com or 615 832-0521.

Spring migration

Cerulean Warbler

Cerulean Warbler

Spring migration is in full swing which means there will be a lot of interesting birds to see if you spend a little time looking around your yard, or at any of our wonderful parks and green ways. Get your binoculars out and your ears ready because the neo-tropical migrants are passing through or arriving in middle Tennessee everyday on the way to their summer breeding areas.  Warblers, Vireos, Tanagers, Swallows, Hummingbirds, and many other species are there for the viewing if you try.  Early in the morning, between 6 am and 10 am are best to see some of the mentioned birds because many of them migrate at night then settle down in the mornings to feed and rest.

The first Ruby-throated hummingbirds to arrive or pass through TN are just about a week away. Usually one, maybe two hummingbird feeders at this time of year is enough.  Don’t bother filling your feeder to full capacity at this time as the feeders are of little interest to them this early.  

At your feeders expect to see the always popular Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings.  Of course American Goldfinches are here in abundance year round but are now beginning to put on their bright yellow spring plumage.

For daily sightings reports of migrating birds you may want to subscribe to TN bird list, or visit Tennessee Birding on Facebook.

Richard Connors spring birdsong workshop is open for enrollment.

This class is designed for those who have had a beginning class, or already have some basic knowledge of our birds, although beginners will be welcome. Emphasis will be on bird identification by song, "birding by ear", as well as by sight. Participants will be trained for finding and identifying birds by song, especially those colorful songsters the wood warblers, some of whom are seasonal migrants and only stay for a brief visit. Radnor Lake is the perfect place to find and study songbirds, and we will take advantage of this with instructor-led bird walks specifically for this class.

Class dates: TUESDAYS April 10, 17, 24, & May 1, 8, & 15  

First meeting:  TUESDAY April 10, from 10AM – 12:00 noon, in the visitor center meeting room Radnor Lake State Natural Area, 1160 Otter Creek Rd., Nashville. Subsequent Tuesdays will begin with early bird walk.

Bird walks before class starting Tuesday April 17, begins at 7:30 AM. With classroom study from 10 AM to 12 Noon. The morning walks will continue thru May 15, with the last class room session May 8th.

There is a $75 fee for this 6-week class, with a portion of the fee going to Friends of Radnor Lake S.N.A.  Class size limited to 20 participants.

CONTACT RICHARD TO REGISTER for the class, not the park.  email Rconnorsphoto@aol.com, Home/office 615 832-0521, or mobile 615 330-7142 (call or text)

See this page for more information: http://www.pbase.com/rconnorsnaturephoto/bird_class_2018

Spring Notes

With spring almost here there is so much to anticipate happening with regard to birds.  Many of our year round resident songbirds have begun courtship.  Currently there’s a lot of singing and territorial squabbles going on.  We’ve had some reports of the always eager Carolina Wrens building nests.  If you haven’t seen any Bluebird activity at your nest boxes yet don’t despair, there’s still plenty of time.  Although some Bluebirds will start nesting in March the majority of Bluebirds tend to begin actual nesting closer to mid-April.  Other cavity nesters like Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, Nuthatches, and Tufted titmice tend to start a little earlier.  Make sure you’ve done some maintenance on your nestboxes and cleaned out old debris from last year’s nests.  The old nest debris can attract insects, like ants, that can be a major problem for baby birds. 

Much More on Bluebirds Coming in the Weeks to Follow…

Male Bluebird. Photo by Eli.

Photo by Eli.

Migration is not in full swing yet, however, any day now Purple Martins and other members of the Swallow family will be moving into and through TN.  Tree Swallows, Rough-winged Swallows, Barn and Cliff Swallows are among the earlier migrants to return.  Every day birds from Central and South America are moving closer to middle TN.  By the last week of March and first week of April the first hummingbirds of the year will begin arriving or passing though on the way to their summer breeding destination. That’s right! The first Ruby-throated hummingbirds to arrive are just about 5 weeks away. For birdwatchers this is a most exciting time. Warblers, Vireos, Tanagers, Indigo buntings, Orioles, and Flycatchers will soon be pouring into and through middle TN.

Tree Swallow.

White-eyed Vireo. Photo by Eli.

Look for Rose-breasted grosbeaks and Indigo buntings to start arriving at seed feeders around mid-April through mid-May.  Rose-breasted grosbeaks especially like platform feeders but will manage very well on tube type feeders, too.  They really like sunflower and safflower.  Indigo Buntings also like a variety of seeds but seem to prefer feeding on the ground.  Keep the suet feeders going and you will be amazed by the increase in suet consumption well into the spring.  Woodpeckers take great advantage of the suet while they are nesting.  Raising young is high energy work and the suet is an easy high energy food source.  I typically see suet consumption double at my house during the spring and early summer months.

Adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Indigo Bunting. Photo by Eli.

Get your feeders cleaned up and your binoculars ready. Clean feeders are very important in reducing the chances of avian disease like avian conjunctivitis which is very common among the finch population.  A good cleaning with warm soap and water or a mild bleach solution is recommended.  Speaking of finches, have your Goldfinches suddenly disappeared? Or suddenly appeared?  Are you seeing them beginning to change to their spring-summer plumage?  Goldfinch numbers at your feeders can change daily during the early spring as there is a lot of movement among flocks. Don’t be surprised or think you’ve done something wrong if you don’t see finches for a few weeks.  This is normal spring activity for Goldfinches. 

Bird Bio: Red-Headed Woodpecker

I had a very pleasant surprise at my feeder full of Woodland Blend yesterday.  It’s a common bird to TN, but uncommon to birdfeeders; the Red-headed Woodpecker.  Sometimes people will mistakenly identify the Red-bellied Woodpecker as a Red-headed, but they really are extremely different.  The video I took and posted shows both species visiting the same feeder.  In over 25 years at my home in Pegram I’ve only seen Red-headed woodpeckers one other time.  The habitat around my home is heavily wooded, hard-wood forest.  Obviously not the habitat Red-headed woodpeckers prefer.  However, one can easily see Red-headeds at Montgomery Bell State Park and Bowie Nature Park where there are a lot of pine trees.  They seem to prefer more open habitat with evergreens.

The Red-headed woodpecker is easily identified by its entirely red head, neck and throat.  The back and wings are black with a patch of white visible on the wings.  The chest and belly are snowy white.  This insect, seed, and nut eater can be seen at feeders but not likely with regularity.  Numbers of this stunning bird seem to be on the decline in large part due to habitat loss and competition from Starlings for nest-sites.

AND…

The first Rose-breasted Grosbeaks of the season were reported this week being seen at feeders.  I saw one briefly yesterday but was unable to get my video camera in time.  Have your feeders ready because the Grosbeaks feed heavily as they migrate through the area.  They like sunflower, safflower, and shelled peanuts, and will use a variety of feeders including tube and platform.  Occasionally, they may be seen at suet feeders.