Finally, spring has arrived. Forsythias, hyacinths and daffodils are blooming, lilacs are budding, and the grass soon needs mowing. And of course, spring migration is under way. And my email box is filled with notes from readers who love warmer days, blue skies, and sunshine.
Let's compare notes, and see how our observations compare.
Typically spring migrants return in three waves. The first appears in late February or early March. This group includes killdeer, eastern phoebes, eastern towhees, and Louisiana waterthrushes. This year, however, only killdeer made an early appearance. It was probably those intermittent March snowfalls that kept other early migrants at bay. On March 25 I found eight inches of heavy wet snow in the backyard.
Earlier this month the stragglers began to arrive. Eastern phoebes returned on April 4 (this name-sayer sings a buzzy "fee-bee!"), chipping sparrows on April 9 (listen for a high pitched monotone trill in well manicured backyards), field sparrows on April 10 (a series of pure whistles that accelerates like a bouncing ping pong ball), and towhees on April 11 ("Drink your tea!").
Mid- to late April brings the second wave of spring migrants. I'm expecting my first ruby-throated hummingbird by the time you read this. Track their return at www.hummingbirds.net, and be sure to report your first hummers of the year. If you don't have a nectar feeder up yet, do it today. (One part sugar with four parts boiling water, cool, then refrigerate.)
Nectar can also be used to attract a variety of insects that attract a variety of birds. An insect feeder is simple to set up. Start with some hummingbird nectar. Add some stale pancake syrup, juice from canned fruit and blend the mixture with a soft, over-ripe banana.
Place a small container of this sweet cocktail on a tray feeder. You may want to put this feeder in a far corner of the yard because it will attract bees and wasps as well as myriad other insects. And shortly after the insects arrive, so will the birds.
Virtually all nesting birds feed their nestlings insects (except finches), so expect to see almost any bird at an insect feeder during the nesting season. Because spring migration is underway, the array of birds that visit will change over the next six weeks. Even hummingbirds, will hover above the slurry and pick off gnats, fruit flies, and other soft-bodied insects.