It is a fascinating pursuit to "keep tab" on the arrival of the spring birds. As though realizing that it is important to make a good impression, they come attired in their very best garments, all of these new, and some a wedding outfit.
Everything considered, the birds are remarkably regular in their return each spring according to calendar. Each species has a certain normal time of arrival, and in most years the dates will not vary much.
It seems wonderful that, with only instinct to guide, they can sense the time as nearly as they do. There is, however, some variation, depending upon the weather.
Unseasonable warmth will bring the birds on prematurely, and continued cold will keep them back, or at least the majority of them. Yet even then there are often individuals in whom the instinct is so strong that they brave cold and storm and come on time.
Quite a number of our hardier familiar land-birds winter in the Southern States and return to their familiar nesting-haunts comparatively early in the spring. But the great majority pass on to Central or South America.
On the return migration in spring, some come by the all-land route, through Mexico and Texas, but more of those that reach the eastern districts prefer to fly across the Gulf of Mexico. Of these, some take the easier route through Cuba or other islands of the West Indies to southern Florida. This route affords convenient resting-places to break the long journey.
The flight from Cuba to the Florida keys is only about one hundred miles, yet, it is surprising that the great majority of these migrants prefer to fly directly across the Gulf of Mexico to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, or northern Florida, without a single opportunity to rest. Many of them are feeble fliers, and during unfavorable weather the loss of life must be appalling.
From the Gulf States the time required to migrate to the latitude of New England, seems to be ordinarily just about one month.
Some species move more slowly and take about six weeks, while a few do it in half that time. The dates of arrival given are for the latitude of New York City. From here, according to the rate of progress as above, one can approximate the time for arrival in other localities.
The migratory movement begins before there is much sign of real spring. In some years by the last week in February, if there should be a mild spell and thaw, the first early spring birds suddenly appear.
The bluebird, robin, red-winged blackbird, and song sparrow can occasionally be seen throughout the winter. About the tenth of March, though, is more usually their time of arrival.
With the early four come crow blackbirds, meadowlarks, cedar-birds, phoebes, cowbirds, and flickers.
Soon we may expect to encounter small parties of fox sparrows along the roadsides or in the woods, and toward the end of March, the swamp, vesper, and field sparrows. Though the birds which have already arrived increase in numbers and the females, which are preceded by the males, have put in their appearance, additional species are slow to come, and meanwhile the winter birds are leaving for the north. Many water and raptorial birds arrive early.
We begin to see the purple finch in numbers, though sometimes it arrives earlier. The American pipit, in small numbers, which can be recognized by its habit of wagging the tail, runs about open, rather barren fields or hill-tops, picking up food. The first of the warbler host, the myrtle and yellow palm warblers, arrive.
By the middle of the month we are glad to greet the hermit thrush, though he does not yet condescend to sing for us, and the first straggling swallows; tree, bank, and barn, — which do not necessarily make a summer, for sometimes it snows after their arrival.
During the last days of April the great wave of migration, in middle latitudes, begins to be felt. In these days we see the first individuals of such typical summer species as the brown thrasher, towhee, whippoorwill, chimney-swift, and a few more of the warblers, especially the black-throated green, black and white, and oven-bird.
By the second week of May everything is pouring in at once, and a list of arrivals would include about all the small birds not yet mentioned. By the twenty-fifth of May most of the birds which go farther north have passed on, though occasionally the migration is greatly slowed when the season is cold and backward.
Birds do not always, by any means, migrate directly north and south, as they are popularly supposed to do. There seem to be certain "rivers" of migration, we might call them, corresponding to the " lanes of navigation " used by trans-Atlantic steamships. River valleys are notable highways of migration, as is the coast-line. Certain species are peculiarly limited in their distribution and migrate only along rather well- defined pathways, especially along the valleys of rivers or the sides of mountain ranges.
In some cases the course of migratory birds is locally deflected by conditions of topography. Land-birds in migration following the Connecticut shore-line, when they come within sight of New Haven Harbor, are deflected and fly miles inland around this bay, rather than venture a mile or two across it.
The birds in the spring migration are more in evidence than at any other period. They are on the move and in sight, they sing loudly constantly, they invade the garden with their welcome presence and come to our very doors.
The main trouble with this delightful period is that it is too short. Before we realize, it has slipped away from us.
Fortunately there are other good things in store.
Jan 11, 17 10:20 AM
Woke up yesterday morning to find a group of about a dozen of these large-breasted birds with proportionately small heads and a long tail. Suburban Southern
Dec 31, 16 08:25 PM
I live near Albany, New York and I was wondering why these past 2 years we haven't seen any cardinals. Is it because the winters have been to mild. The
Dec 31, 16 08:23 PM
We have lived in this home for 12 years and have had a pair of Pileateds coming to our feeders every year all winter long. They are here all year round.