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Spring migration brings birds back to the Piedmont at last

Tree swallows have returned to the area as spring approaches.
Tree swallows have returned to the area as spring approaches. LEE WEBER

It’s been a long, cold winter; the month of February seemed like an entire winter in itself. But it’s warmer now, and even by the first part of March there are breeding birds returning to the area.

Traditionally the first spring migrant to return to our area is the fish crow. Sometimes by late February this species will suddenly appear overhead and in shopping center parking lots, perching on light posts and giving its nasal calls. This year they did not show up until March 4, when several area birders reported hearing them. I had a flock of 13 fish crows fly over my home on that date.

The next day ospreys and tree swallows arrived, about on schedule, with the swallows being perhaps a few days early. Osprey magically appeared at old nest sites, claiming old territory and refurbishing last year’s nests. Look for them at the large reservoirs and along the Catawba River.

The tree swallows are the first insectivorous birds to arrive. Tree swallows are able to spend the winter farther north than other swallow species because they are able to digest the waxy berries of the wax myrtle. Tree swallows do not have too far to travel to reach our area because of this available food source along the coast.

I observed three tree swallows at some ponds off Vernedale Road last Saturday. They were also joined by another species, a pair of Northern rough-winged swallows. I also have heard that purple martins and barn swallows put in an appearance at Lake Norman last Saturday. I haven’t seen those species yet, but it is just a matter of time.

Every week there will be new arrivals through mid-May. The next species to come back to the Piedmont will be broad-winged hawks, Northern parulas, white-eyed vireos, and blue-headed vireos. And don’t forget the ruby-throated hummingbirds. They will start appearing at feeders by the last days of March. If you want to see the first-arriving males, get your feeders cleaned, stocked and ready. I am getting psyched for a big spring of great birding.

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com. Check out his blog at piedmontbirding.blogspot.com