Just Talking…About Migrating Birds

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) in full bloom.  When buds are tightly closed, they are dark purple; when flowers open, they are light purple.  The first warbler wave happens when buds are mostly closed.

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) in full bloom. When buds are tightly closed, they are dark purple; when flowers open, they are lighter purple. The first warbler wave happens just as flowers open.

May 15, 2015.  After storms last night, a second wave of tropical birds dropped in on St. Paul.  Tailwinds from the southeast that came along with the low pressure system gave them the extra nudge that makes the journey less strenuous.  I knew that birds from Nicaragua, Columbia, and like tropical places would be here today because all signs pointed to it.  Oak leaves were 3-4 inches long, lilacs in full bloom, and a storm had just passed.  And the next morning, I heard “neotropical migrants” practicing territorial songs in my back yard.  The first warbler wave of the year was May 8, after the previous storm system passed through.  Warblers—brightly-colored insect-eating birds—aren’t the only group coming in from tropical America.  Flycatchers, vireos and thrushes make the same thousands-of-miles trek.

In this latest batch were Nashville warblers—bright yellow below with a bluish-gray head—red-eyed vireos singing “here I am, in this tree, way up high, look at me”—and my favorite, the Swainson’s thrush.  In early evening this thrush pipes an unearthly double-voiced tune in the midst of garages, alley pavement, and garbage cans.  Eternal beauty and bland functionality here in the same place.  Listen to the warbler, vireo and thrush at the Cornell Ornithology Lab website:

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Nashville_Warbler/sounds; http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-eyed_Vireo/sounds; http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Swainsons_Thrush/sounds

For the next couple of weeks, I’ll enjoy along with my coffee an unusual chorus.  By early June the migrants will be away on their nests in forest, scrub and taiga around here and as far north as Hudson’s Bay…while we city folk will have to content ourselves with cardinals, downy woodpeckers, house finches, and the ever-chatty English sparrow.  For now, though, it’s a big spring party after every storm. – Kim

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