The birds inhabiting my yard changed literally overnight last weekend. As record warm air swept in, so did a whole new set of species appear on their way north.
Large flocks of American robins filled the large sweet gum trees, some singing while others uttered their laughing-like call. Mixed in were groups of cedar waxwings, a common winter flocking bird that has been in shorter supply this winter than in recent years.
Their high-pitched wheezy calls rose above the robins’ lower pitched sounds. Mixed in were even a few red-winged blackbirds singing their kong-garee song. Later that same day, a large flock of common grackles stopped by and foraged in the backyard by flipping leaves and gum balls. I have a small creek next to my house that is fed by a drain pipe from an adjacent pond. I suspect all of these flocks were attracted by the sound of the moving water, so much so that they are still around as of this writing.
None of these are rare species by far. The robin flocks were likely making their way north and stopped to forage and bathe in the pond. Cedar waxwings and robins often occur together, especially at a water source. I enjoyed watching both species take turns visiting the shallow pools the creek provided.
Red-winged blackbirds begin to show at feeders in larger numbers in February as flocks also move northward. You may see some yet, and some individuals may puzzle you. First-year males may show a combination of immature and adult plumage. It is the female-plumaged individuals that cause the most confusion however. They are mid-sized birds that heavily marked with straw-colored streaking. The brightest individuals will have bright buff on the face and upper breast as the ground color. They really don’t resemble a blackbird at all. Be on the lookout for these individuals and be ready to check a field guide.
The red-wingeds and grackles have spent the winter foraging in huge flocks in open fields preferably in agricultural land. The red-wingeds will disperse north and into large and small wetlands to breed. The grackles are returning to residential pine groves to do the same thing. Brown-headed cowbirds haven’t arrived in my neighborhood yet but they won’t be far behind either.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.