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Hummingbirds return to the Piedmont early this year

Rose-breasted grosbeaks, such as this male, visit feeders for sunflower seeds beginning in mid-April, with a peak around May 1.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks, such as this male, visit feeders for sunflower seeds beginning in mid-April, with a peak around May 1.

Thanks to everyone who reported their first hummingbird sightings of the season. I received more than 60 reports from readers as early as March 25. A few seemed to indicate rufous hummingbirds moving out as the ruby-throateds were moving in. Reports of ruby-throated hummers were exclusively pouring in by about March 31.

Keep in mind that these initial reports are likely a combination of northbound birds and local breeders. There will probably be a decline in activity at feeders as the northern birds move out, reducing the temporary glut of hummingbirds in the area. Keep the feeders up. You may be lucky and host a breeding pair. If your birds seem to disappear, don’t worry. The feeding frenzy will return by late July as birds begin drifting south.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds, and other species, are arriving several days to almost a week earlier than a couple of decades ago. On March 22, I recorded Louisiana waterthrush. It was my earliest sighting by a full week.

Yellow-throated vireos and prothonotary warblers used to show up well after April 1. Now they are here by the end of March. Northern parulas appear in the southern portions of Mecklenburg County by the third week of March now, whereas April 1 used to be the arrival date.

The birds that patronized your feeders through the winter have already moved on; my feeders went almost silent this week when the pine siskins finally departed. Continue to keep the feeders stocked, however, especially with fresh sunflower seed. Some really exciting feeder birds will be passing through in just a couple of weeks.

Rose-breasted grosbeaks visit feeding stations for sunflower seeds beginning in mid-April, with a peak around May 1. The males are truly breathtaking. Indigo buntings and blue grosbeaks will take sunflower seeds, too. Remember to provide fresh water through the spring. The brightly colored tanagers and warblers that spend most of their time in the treetops have to descend for a drink several times a day.

Now through mid-May will be an especially exciting time for birders. Spring migration is accelerating, giving folks a brief opportunity to observe northern breeders passing through the Piedmont.

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.

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