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Spring is in the air and so are returning species

The photo this week is of a fish crow by Jeff Lewis.
The photo this week is of a fish crow by Jeff Lewis. Jeff Lewis

It has been so warm the last several weeks that I expect to hear indigo buntings, scarlet tanagers, and a variety of neotropical warbler migrants singing every time I leave the house.

Butterflies are flying earlier than usual, surely a result of the warming temperatures that accelerate their development. Some native flowering trees, redbud for one, are about 10 days to two weeks ahead of their normal blooming time.

So should I expect to hear arriving neotropical migrants weeks earlier than in other years? Has the extended and unprecedented warmth caused local breeders to start nesting early? Probably not.

I have heard reports of Eastern bluebirds checking out nest boxes during the third week of February. Actually, that is right on schedule for that species to start scouting for appropriate lodging. This year fish crows arrived in my neighborhood loud and clear on Feb. 27. I went back and checked my records from last year and fish crows invaded my yard on the exact same date. Yes, there were a few reports of them a week to ten days ago but they were a few isolated early arrivals. The large numbers arrived right on schedule to spread out over the area.

I would expect to have heard of a few purple martins reports by now but there haven’t been any from Mecklenburg County. That is a species I have seen during the third week of February in some years.

Migration timing is influenced by an incredibly complex set of controls. One major factor is the length of daylight in the spring and fall. The length of a day with respect to the calendar is constant year after year so avian neotropical migration timing will not, and has not, changed much.

I know many of you eagerly await the return of the ruby-throated hummingbirds each spring. In our area the first early males show up around the third week of March with the really big inundation coming right at March 29-April first. I checked the current and past years’ migration maps and the birds are right on schedule this year as compared to those in the past decade. Not ahead or behind; right on schedule.

So even if right on schedule, they will be here in short order. I am really looking forward to a great spring migration through the area and I hope you are too.

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.