Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: The birds are definitely coming

By CHERYL KIMBALL May 12. 2018 12:20AM
A robin catches some sun while sitting in an early-blooming tree. (Courtesy/Cheryl Leblanc)

Radar maps following bird migration have been showing the clusters of our feathered friends headed in our direction. I am a little suspicious that these supposed maps are duping us like adults do with children showing maps of Santa and his reindeer trip delivering presents. The adults know the kids are getting presents and can stack the believability deck. Same here — the birds are definitely coming. But how do they know what is on the screen is birds? Or how do they target just birds?

Whatever the radar says, the usual suspects are all returning in what seems like a mad rush. A couple weeks ago I spotted the first phoebe of the season bobbing its tail on a branch near the pond. Just three days ago the first barn swallow of the season chattered at me as I entered the barn.

Even those who hang out here with us over the winter are looking and acting like different birds. The goldfinches are now brilliant yellow. Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal are hanging together all the time. The mourning doves are less peaceful; all winter they amicably feasted on seed on the ground around the bird feeders but now they are feisty and clearly have an agenda.

I got a kick out of a robin who thought the dogs’ shed might be a good place to build a nest. But even though the nest is way above the dogs’ reach, the comings and goings of the dogs made the bird think otherwise. She or he would sit in the top of the chain link fence with a long string of nesting material looking in to the shed and contemplating the wisdom of this choice. A very feeble attempt at a nest was started on a board at the ceiling and then abandoned, an impressive collection of dried grass and hay intended for construction left on the floor below.

Other folks have announced the arrival of rosebreasted grosbeaks and even hummingbirds, but I have not yet seen either. Postings on Facebook of a rather healthy-looking black bear roaming around town convinced me to finally let my feeders run out of seed not to be replenished til fall — although after a few days’ vacation I may fill one and take it in each night. I assume the bears will be less desperate in a couple weeks.

The Eastern phoebe is a small, brownish-gray and white songbird that is part of the flycatcher family. (Courtesy/Cheryl Leblanc)

One thing that we humans haven’t managed to disrupt in the natural world is that we can get all excited about the influx of seasonal birds and throw open our windows in the spring to hear the nighttime chorus of peepers and wood frogs, but what all this means is that they are back because so is their food source: bugs. I have never heard anyone say how thrilled they are about their first sightings of black flies and mosquitoes ...

One friend texted me saying she was seeing upward of 30 wood ducks in their pond. I get excited when I see a pair in our little pond or the swampy area in our field; I’d probably pass out if I saw all those wood ducks at once! I hoped she could get a picture but she said that they are pretty easily spooked. 

On a sad bird note, I was driving home from work a couple weeks ago and saw something dead in the road ahead. I passed by and a flash of red made me turn around. It was what I had hoped it wasn’t — a gorgeous male pileated woodpecker flattened in the road. I tried to imagine what situation the pileated had gotten itself in to get hit by a car. I didn’t think it was subject to the typical hawk roadkill that are often struck by cars as they rocket low in pursuit of prey. Woodpeckers don’t pursue prey. A woman who lived in the house there came out with a shovel and we placed the poor thing in it and she was going to bury the bird. I took a picture which I will not treat readers to, but the 2D bird lives on in my phone.

A reader wrote wondering why swallows have stopped nesting in her barn. When she said that a hawk also nests there, I thought that must be it. But she says that the hawk has been nesting there several years and the swallows have always nested anyway. I wonder if the succeeding generations are less enamored of their barn mate. A quick browse online for nesting habits of swallows doesn’t give me a definitive answer for whether generations come back to nest in the place of their birth, but that is going on my list of things to learn. Any thoughts out there?

Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at

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