Jeff Green | May 08, 2008
Outdoors -May 8, 2008
Back toHomeOutdoors in the LandO'Lakes - May 8, 2008 Mid-Spring birds: Woodpeckers, Phoebes and “Little Brown Jobs” Outdoors in the Land O'Lakes by Lorraine Julien As spring unfolds, more and more of “our” birds come back from their extended winter holidays in the south. The end of April and the beginning of May is a great time to focus on some of the early spring arrivals that tend to fade into the background once the summer begins. For example, before the trees leaf out, it is much easier spot the five relatively common local species of woodpeckers in our area – the Hairy, Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (male sapsucker, at left) and the Northern Flicker. The first three live in our area year round, whereas the other two migrate south to the United States or even further for the winter. All five species have their own distinctive drumming pattern, which can be distinguished with a practised ear. I have many strong memories of walking in the woods on cool, misty April mornings surrounded by the persistent drumming of busy woodpeckers.
Eastern Phoebes have also arrived by this time, and are actively seeking out overhangs or sheltered platforms to build their mud and moss nests on. Often nesting near cottages, bridges or farm buildings, these charcoal and greyish-white members of the flycatcher family seem to have benefited from human construction. I have found Eastern Phoebe nests propped up on outdoor lights, under cottage decks, and even on the seat of an overturned canoe. In the spring, the female lays four to five pale pink eggs, and frequently raises more than one brood per year.
Phoebe nests are often parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds, a species of blackbird whose numbers are steadily increasing and are believed to be an important factor in the decline in the numbers of many species of songbirds. They will lay a single brown speckled egg among the Eastern Phoebe’s eggs, abandoning it to be hatched and raised by the Phoebes. Whenever this happens, the Phoebe nestlings usually don’t survive. I try to check Phoebe nests that I am aware of and remove any cowbird eggs.
This is also a good time of year to appreciate the sparrows that spend the warmer months in our region. While many sparrow species appear in our area during spring migration, a few of the more common species which stay to breed include the Song, Chipping, Swamp, Field and White-throated Sparrows. The Song Sparrow is one of the most abundant breeding birds in our area, and pairs of them can be found in virtually any brushy patch, especially near bodies of water. All of these species of small brownish birds (sometimes referred to by birders when seen quickly as LBJs, which stands for “little brown jobs”) have distinctive songs. Perhaps the most widely recognized song is that of the White-throated Sparrow, whose ringing “o-ca-na-da, ca-na-da” song is the source of one of its more common nicknames, the “O Canada” bird.
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