Despite the recent regression to wintertime temperatures we are barreling towards spring judging by the signs our area birds are giving us.
Red-shouldered hawks, Carolina chickadees, Eastern bluebirds, and brown-headed nuthatches have started nest building and some pairs may have already produced eggs. Barred owls can be heard really hootin’ it up even during the daytime with increasing frequency.
I noticed a male American goldfinch that had pretty much already molted into bright yellow breeding plumage at my feeder last week. If you have goldfinches you perhaps have noticed the gradual change from the relatively drab dull olive plumage of winter birds to the yellow plumage of male birds. Many individuals still exhibit a mottled mix of dull yellow and dull olive but they will rapidly continue toward bright yellow for the next few weeks.
I have been getting reports of large flocks of cedar waxwings moving through the area lately also. Waxwings are wanderers, and they have wandered elsewhere for most of the winter. Now they are moving north and flocks numbering many dozens of individuals are not uncommon right now. Look for them around stands of hollies or cherry trees where last year’s dried fruits persist on the branches. Many individuals will fly down, seemingly engulf the food tree for a few minutes, and then return to overhead perches. More individuals then take their place at the buffet. Eat, rest, repeat.
Observant feeder watchers may notice a hermit thrush hanging out under feeders in order to scavenge seed or suet crumbs dropped from above. The hermits have been with us all winter but by late March most of their natural food has been consumed. For a few weeks at the end of winter and into early spring they become more conspicuous at feeders.
Go ahead and get your hummingbird feeders up now, if you haven’t already. The first males will appear in our area in less than a week, with a big surge in numbers right around April first. Don’t expect them to stay… they are moving on pretty quickly. We will start seeing females a week to ten days after the males appear. The majority of them will move on also.
Changes in our resident birds’ behaviors and new arrivals will increase almost daily now. Take some time to notice what is going on in your neighborhood.
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