If you quit stocking your feeders for the spring and summer don’t stop just yet. There are still some exciting species that will be passing through in the next couple of weeks that will utilize sunflower seed feeders when they can find them.
The most striking bird will be the rose-breasted grosbeak. Each year I get dozens of photos of the brilliant males on feeders as they munch on some seed. I received the first report of a male on April 18 so a big push into our area is on the way.
Like the many thousands of neotropical migrants surging into our area now, the grosbeaks are following the food, and the food is connected to the leafy tree canopy that Charlotte and Mecklenburg County is known for. Trees have been in the news a lot recently; from the fall cankerworm and emerald ash borer threats to net tree loss from development and an aging, over-mature urban forest.
It is the canopy that sustains the migrants as they head north. Caterpillars and other invertebrates fill the newly leafed out tops of massive oaks. Flowers and berries supplement the menu with quick-energy snacks. Thousands of warblers, vireos, tanagers, and grosbeaks chow down, helping themselves to the buffet. But as tree numbers decline additional stresses are levied on the tiny avian travelers.
In April and May, birders know that Baltimore orioles and cedar waxwings flock to the towering tulip poplars to sip nectar from the flowers. Want to see all four species of spotted thrushes (wood, Swainson’s, hermit, and gray-cheeked) with a generous smattering of scarlet tanagers in one tree? Find a productive red mulberry tree and watch the show. Birders in Dilworth’s Latta Park know exactly where the red mulberry trees are.
As early as late February our local trees are restoring vigor to our resident birds. Species that are normally ground feeders like white-throated and fox sparrows, Northern cardinals, Eastern towhees, and Carolina wrens ascend into the tops of maples and elms to feast on flowers and tender newly formed seeds. Just in time too; by late winter natural food has been depleted.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds time their arrival with the blooming of crossvine flowers that can reach high into the canopies of lowland trees. So as you enjoy the colorful migrants of spring take time to appreciate what brings them here; the unique urban tree canopy that graces Charlotte.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.