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The Promise of New Birds

Kelly Colgan Azar / flickr
Indigo Bunting

While there is certainly much to see if you pay attention, even in your own yard, I won’t pretend that March is my favorite birding month. So I’m just fine with putting the doldrums of the past month in the rearview mirror and heading April-wards. For April brings hope of all sorts of newly arrived migrants, beginning with just a trickle. In that way, April allows us to get our bearings and refresh our memories before gently transitioning us into the hardcode and mentally demanding month of May, with its deluge of migrants, some singing songs we haven’t heard in a year.

Plus, the birds displaying nesting behaviors in recent weeks are about to get serious. I have seen crows and titmice carrying nesting material, and some type-A Mourning Doves have already fledged their first chicks. Look for Cooper’s Hawks engaged in their fun, floppy display flights over woods.  Piping Plovers, Osprey, and American Oystercatchers will all be on eggs by months end. Carolina Wrens are apparently busy making nests right now in some areas. And our earliest nesting warbler, Pine Warblers, will arrive en masse in the coming days to choose territories, so listen for their ubiquitous songs in any woods with at least a few pines. 

Typical songbirds to expect this month include relatively short-distance migrants like Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers and both Ruby-crowned and Golden Crowned Kinglets, none of which breed on the Cape, typically. A couple of our local sparrows that migrate out of here each fall, Chipping Sparrows and Eastern Towhees, will both be back in yards and woods any day now. Towhees are famous for going from essentially absent to fairly common overnight at some point in April. Overhead, look for Barn Swallows arriving from as far away as Amazonia, close on the heels of their less migratorily ambitious cousins, the Tree Swallows, who should soon be checking out nest boxes on warm days.

Expect the first few sightings of colorful songbirds more typical of May in the next few weeks, like Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, mostly after strong southerly winds. A couple of very early tanagers have already been reported in the last week. A classic April phenomenon, known as “overshoot”, is for such southerly winds to deposit all sorts of too-early migrants in coastal areas like ours, so don’t be surprised to see an Indigo Bunting under your feeder this month after a warm air mass passes.

A more predictable event is when the first few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds buzz onto the Cape in mid-April. Most people don’t put their feeders out until May, potentially missing one of the handful of early arrivers. The same goes for backyard birder fan favorites, Baltimore Orioles, who typically make their first appearance in late April these days along with their fellow jelly-feeder patrons, Gray Catbirds.

So take heart, and heed this roadmap for the birdier times ahead. And who knows, maybe we’ll even feel safe leaving our neighborhood by month’s end.

Mark Faherty writes the Weekly Bird Report.