The snowbirds are back. No, not your neighbors—they won’t be back from Florida until June. I’m talking about the flood of migrant and locally nesting birds that are returning daily from southern wintering grounds. If you’re an aficionado of bird migration, this is the golden hour.
The proverbial floodgates have opened, and new birds are dropping in all the time. And for many years now, they are dropping in a little earlier every year.
Southerly winds last week brought back some familiar backyard nesters right on or ahead of schedule. The first Baltimore Orioles, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Gray Catbirds, and Great-crested Flycatchers all dropped in between April 28 and May 1.
I know a lot of folks really look forward to that first hummingbird of spring, but some don’t know that late April is when they arrive. More than one person I spoke with said they don’t put their feeders out until the beginning of May, which is a mistake. I had my first hummingbird on April 28th, though he has made only quick and furtive visits to my feeder. They may not settle in to a feeding routine until later in May, so you have to be on the lookout to catch those first arrivals, who are typically males.
The same goes for the other neighborhood favorite, Baltimore Orioles. I heard my first one back on Sunday a few yards away from mine, but have yet to see one in my yard even though my grape jelly is out. So if you haven’t seen your first one yet, be patient—they are around, and many more are on the way.
Beyond the better known backyard fare, many more obscure migrants made their first appearances in the last week, including some of our more common migrant warblers, like Black-and-white, Magnolia, Black-throated-green, Northern Parula and American Redstart. They are easier to see on the Cape because our trees are so far behind the mainland in leafing out. Look for these and other warblers probing for caterpillars among the newly formed oak flowers on our relatively still bare trees. Let’s hope they’re working over those Winter Moth caterpillars.
On the beaches and in marshes we’re having a bit of an influx of Caspian Terns, with reports from Provincetown, Orleans, and Harwich. These gull-sized terns with the giant red bills are striking compared with our more petite local Common and Least terns, both of which are also arriving by the minute.
Southern overshoots migrants continue to show up among the usual migrants, including a Summer Tanager in Barnstable Village, Tricolored Heron and Blue Grosbeak on Nantucket, and a fancy and quite rare Kentucky Warbler discovered singing on private property in East Sandwich last week. This glowingly yellow, black-masked warbler of the south is hard to see when they’re not singing.
Many of the warblers and other migrants I’m talking about are only here for a few weeks in May and then they disappear, off to more northerly forests or other far flung habitats to breed. So get them while you can. I can’t say the same for your snowbird neighbor—once they get back from Florida, you’re stuck with them until October.