Wildlife: Spring migration finally underway

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Forsythias, hyacinths and daffodils are brightening the yard, trees are budding and spring migration is underway. Finally. 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 your observations compare to mine.

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.

Earlier this month the stragglers began to arrive in my area. Eastern phoebes returned on April 4, chipping sparrows on April 9, field sparrows on April 10 and towhees on April 11.

Mid- to late-April brings the second wave of spring migrants. I'm expecting my first ruby-throated hummingbird by the end of the week. 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 (1 part sugar, 4 parts boiling water, cool then refrigerate).

Over the next 10 days, watch and listen for blue-headed and white-eyed vireos, yellow warblers, ovenbirds, brown thrashers, gray catbirds, Baltimore orioles, barn and tree swallows, and chimney swifts.

In early May, expect the third wave of migrants. House wrens, red-eyed vireos, common yellowthroats, scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks and indigo buntings will brighten backyards. If you need a reason to keep one seed feeder filled in the spring, remember that brilliantly colored grosbeaks and buntings love sunflower seeds.

To attract other migrants to backyards, offer live mealworms. Most songbirds love them, and they feed them to nestlings. And be sure to include a flat saucer of fresh water for drinking and bathing.

The highlight of spring migration for me will occur sometime between Thursday and May 4. I'll wake up one morning and hear the sweet flute-like notes of a wood thrush rising from the woods. And as the sun sets, I'll smile as they whisper vespers to remind me it's time to listen for owls and whippoorwills.


Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 WMNY-AM (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.


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