If you haven’t already, you might start seeing the annual late winter red-winged blackbird / brown-headed cowbird assault on feeders very soon. Last weekend I counted about 350 birds in a blackbird flock, about evenly split between the two species. Both are slowly winging north through our area now, stopping at some feeders along the way.
The red-wingeds won’t stay too long, but some cowbirds will linger in your neighborhood. There just won’t be large numbers of them. If you see a mid-sized blackish bird with a light stripe on the shoulder, it is going to be a red-winged blackbird.
Pine warblers were starting to repeatedly sing last weekend as the males get territorial. The have two songs: a relaxed robust musical trill and a more rapid trill that still retains the musical quality. If you have lots of pines around, try listening for them now.
Northern mockingbirds have started singing in earnest, along with Eastern towhees. Listen for the towhee’s “Drink tea” song or the longer version “Drink your tea.”
Red-shouldered hawks are ready to get obnoxiously noisy. If you have a mated pair in your neighborhood, you will soon know it. They are our most vocal hawk, loud and incessant in the late winter and the early spring.
Any day now, fish crows will appear. One day they are absent, the next day their noisy, nasal “car, car” will fill the air. Fish crows have taken over fast-food restaurant parking lots and shopping centers over the last couple of decades. They are a much more predatory crow than our year-round American crow. They actively search out songbird nestlings. I don’t like them much, yet I listen for them in anticipation each February.
It looks like a southerly air flow for the next couple weeks, so I’ll also be listening for the pleasing, liquid notes of purple martin scouts. Keep an eye out for these large dark swallows around local lakes and ponds in the next few weeks.
If you delayed cleaning out your bird boxes, go ahead and start thinking about it now. Cavity nesters like Eastern bluebirds, Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice already know where the boxes are. They will start staking claims soon. Consider adding a brown-headed nuthatch nest box. This tiny bird that likes to visit feeders is a “Species of Concern” in North Carolina due to a reduction in its favored habitat.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.