April is the beginning of the spring migration of songbirds and shorebirds. It can be a very exciting time watching your backyard for new visitors, or taking a bird walk to see all the colorful songbirds now in their breeding plumage. A visit to area wetlands and mudflats will surely produce some exciting bird observations as Nebraska has one of the premier shorebird migrations in the country with more than 36 species arriving to nest or stopping over as they wait for the northern winter to loosen it’s grip before traveling on. But as we welcome these new arrivals we will also be saying goodbye to those birds which visited us during the winter months. By months end the Juncos, Pine Siskins, Red-breasted Nuthatches and other northern birds will be leaving us till next year.
April is the month we will begin seeing the Neo-tropical birds arrive. These are birds which traveled to far away places such as Central and South America to spend the winter. Many of them began arriving on the Gulf Coast in late February and March with some traversing the nearly 600 mile flight over the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. They have been slowly making their way north and will begin arriving in the Central Great Plains and Midwest throughout April and into May. Adult Purple Martins with prior nesting experience will begin showing up followed by last year’s off-spring who will be arriving throughout April into early May. Soon the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks will be returning after wintering in Brazil. They will grace our backyard bird feeders along with many other Neo-tropical birds.
Watch closely for unusual birds in the shrubs and bushes in your yard or at the bird bath. The are a variety of warblers passing through. Yellow-rumps, Black and Whites, Tennessee and Orange Crowns to name a few. They have no interest in the bird feeders, but the habitat and water you have provided them. Several species will remain here to nest such as the Common Yellow-throat and Yellow warblers. These birds are small and quick but are a joy to see. One year I was fortunate enough to have a Black-throated Blue Warbler show up at my avian pond. That’s the excitement of spring migration. It can be full of surprises. A walk in the woodlands at the Nature Center, Wilderness Park, or just about any riparian or woodland area can produce some outstanding bird watching during spring migration.
Keep an eye on the ground as well looking out for Swainson’s and Wood Thrushes, Brown Thrashers, Towhees and other ground foraging birds to arrive. It is common to see a variety of native sparrows under backyard bird feeders. White-crowned Sparrows are usually abundant along with White-throated, Harris’, and Song Sparrows. The grasslands and prairies will come a live with Dickcissels, Meadowlarks, and other sparrows such as Grasshopper, Henslow, and Vesper Sparrows.
It can exciting and a bit challenging to identify many of the birds mentioned above along with the Vireos, flycatchers, Tanagers, the list continues. This is a perfect reason to purchase a good field guide and a pair of binoculars and keep them handy. Take them with you on walks, day trips and vacations. The birds are all around us just waiting to be discovered. Take the time this spring to identify 5 new birds you have not noticed before. It can be very rewarding.
One of the most anticipated arrivals in April is that of the orioles followed by hummingbirds in early May. For orioles we suggest you put grape jelly, oranges, fruit flavored suets and nectars out by April 25th. Since we do not know which day the Orioles will begin to show up we want to be prepared well ahead of their arrival. You may have to change your oranges and nectars several times before they appear, but it will be worth the added effort when they finally arrive. Hummingbirds will be arriving in early May so keep that in mind as well. Again Wild Bird Habitat recommends you be prepared ahead of the arrival of these little dynamos by having your hummingbird feeders out by Mother’s Day. Spring is also a great time to install plants that appeal to hummingbirds. Ask the staff at Wild Bird Habitat for a list of preferred plants.
Bluebirds will begin nesting in earnest in April having several broods during the season. It’s always a good time to put up a bluebird house. Many folks have had bluebirds nesting in August and some even early September. If you have the habitat for attracting bluebirds I highly recommend you put up a bluebird houses.
The American Goldfinches are abundant at the feeders during the spring as our resident population has returned to merge with those finch from the north that have spent the winter with us. The males are now in their bright yellow breeding plumage and quite a sight to see. By early May the northern population of goldfinch will begin to follow the dandelion bloom and warmer weather back north. This will leave us with our resident population of goldfinch at the thistle feeders with their ongoing veracious appetite for Nyjer seed. It will be late June before they begin nesting. Since goldfinch only feed their young seeds they are late nesters as they wait for an abundance of ripened seeds to feed their family.
Maybe this will be the year you add a water feature for birds in your backyard if you haven’t done so already. Or if you have a bird bath maybe you’ll add a dripper to create sound and motion. These small drips can be heard a ways off by birds, and the motion of a simple ripple caused by a dripper gets their attention fast. Drippers also help replenish the bird bath automatically during times of high usage or evaporation.
Bird baths are effective water features but may need frequent cleaning. At the Wild Bird Habitat Stores we offer a non-toxic product where just a few drops will help keep the bird bath bowl clean but not totally alleviate a periodic good cleaning. Locating the bird bath in as much shade as possible reduces the amount of algae build as the sun promotes algae. To clean a concrete bird bath use a weak solution of Clorox and water followed by a good rinsing. This will kill any algae spores in the pores concrete finish. Care must be taken if the bath has a stained finish. Polypropylene, ceramic, glass and acrylic bird baths can be cleaned with a solution of vinegar.
Another option is an avian pond with a meandering creek bed. This is by far the most effective water feature for attracting a large variety of birds. Often a bird bath is easily dominated by larger birds until they have finished but a ground water feature is much more natural and will attract multiple species at the same time. We currently do not stock avian ponds but special order them from our Avian Aquatics dealer.
With the return of the blackbirds, the Common Grackle, many folks change their feeding practices. Adding a platform bird feeder with safflower seed or Nutra Saff safflower seed is a great way to feed the birds you want while reducing the visits by blackbirds, even eliminating them from the feeder. Safflower seed is an appropriate feed for most any bird feeder including hopper type bird feeders and seed tube bird feeders. Caged seed tube bird feeders are just the answer for attracting many smaller birds and woodpeckers while keeping the grackles, starlings, and squirrels out. Hulled sunflower seeds work best in these feeders.
Suet will continue to increase in popularity with the woodpeckers during spring and summer. Often the adults will bring their young to enjoy this supplemental treat. Birds will consume up to 30% more animal protein during in spring and summer with the energy needs of defending territories, nesting and raising a family. Offering suet provides and extra source of protein for them.
Spring is such a busy time in relationship to birds that it is hard to cover all the areas and topics about bird feeding, nesting, and the enjoyment of watching birds and what to expect along with all the events going on to celebrate birds. But the staff at the Wild Bird Habitat Stores can answer all your questions and if not will get the answers for you. We hope encourage everyone to enjoin the spring bird migration.