Spring Greening, Birds Winging

My garden has greened-up and color-wowed during these sumptuous spring days, but adding to that beauty are the migratory birds who are daily visitors. Their stop overs in my garden are unpredictable: some visits last more than a day, the migrants fitting in well with the native birds at the pond or baths. Other visits are ephemeral, with a merest flash of bright color or unusual flight pattern. Migratory birds are fleeting in the garden as they hurry northward to meet summer’s breeding season. Both spring and fall migration have become a fun and instructive time of year for me as a backyard birder. I’ve become (somewhat) adept at recognizing that rarer movement–different from the my familiar year-round avian buddies–which means an unusual visitor has landed in the garden.

I’ve seen the odd Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis, around Austin, but never in my own garden. This lovely, sunshiny bird was hunting insects, probably honeybees, but it could have been eating any kind of flying insect. This bird is a flycatcher sort and dines mostly on insects, though will eat some fruit. Many birds require insects in their diets, which is yet another reason to limit or eschew the use of insecticides. Insects are beneficial for all sorts of reasons, there’s usually no need to kill.

The western half of the US, including Texas, is the breeding ground for Kingbirds and they winter in the southern part of Mexico and Central America. While this was my first garden Kingbird, I certainly hope it won’t be the last.

Each spring I’m fortunate to enjoy short visits from America’s most colorful native bird, the Painted Bunting, Passerina ciris. This week, three showed up, two males and a female, all flitting around the pond. This guy enjoyed his bath and posed for his admirers!

Pretty front view:

Pretty back view:

I haven’t yet snapped a photo of the female, lime-popsicle in feathers and skittish in personality. She hung out in the mostly-defoliated trees and noshed at the peanut feeder. In past years, I’ve seen buntings nibbling at Mexican Feathergrass, Nassella tenuissima and munching seeds of Lyreleaf Sage, Salvia lyrata. Buntings are mostly seed eaters, as the strong, slightly curved bill suggests.

Austin lies within their breeding range, but I’ve only ever seen Painted Buntings during breeding season. I know that bird lovers north of Central Texas enjoy observing these beauties throughout summer. Alas, they are strictly a spring treat for me.

I missed the bathing of the second male, but caught him fluffing and sunning and being generally gorgeous in the tree just above the pond.

It’s been several years since I’ve seen a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Pheucticus ludovicianus in my garden, but this fella was a charmer, looking here and there, curious about the feeders and alert to other bird activity. Grosbeaks fly long distances, wintering in southern Mexico and South America and breeding in the northern part of the Midwest and into Canada. No wonder this guy needed a rest!

I’ve seen the less colorful, but still attractive female Grosbeaks in my garden for the last two years, but I was thrilled to see the stunning male. He stood out when he landed at the top of a swing beam, then decorated the Red Oak tree with scarlet, black and white. Grosbeaks eat a variety of foods: insects of all sorts, berries and fruits, and plant matter. The males are equals in nest building and parent partners to their mates. They guard their territory aggressively.

What a cute face!

This male looks northward; he has a long way to go before he chooses a mate and creates a family with her.

Birds-n-blooms are garden delights–check out Anna’s Wednesday Vignette for more garden musings.

19 thoughts on “Spring Greening, Birds Winging

  1. Imagine what our world would be like if many groups of people migrated thousands of miles back and forth twice each year. We get a limited sense of that from the so-called snowbirds who spend winters in places like Texas, Florida, and Arizona to get away from frigid parts of the country.

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    • I know, the Painted Buntings are gorgeous! I love spring’s migration. I’ve been fortunate to have a wide variety of these neo-tropical birds come through. Fall migration is a bit less dramatic, but I still see some of the same species.

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    • And I’m jealous of those in North Texas who get to have these beauties during the summer! It’s interesting though, we’re both in the “official” breeding ground. We must not have quite the right set of plants that they like. I hope you get to see one, they really are spectacular!

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  2. Oh, those painted buntings – what gorgeous visitors, and the others aren’t so shabby either!
    Our summer migrants are beginning to show up here in New England. Saw my first hummingbird today, which thrilled me no end.

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  3. Fabulous shots of spring migrants. Love the kingbirds and see them some days throughout their season in my area. I often hear their distinctive call which signals me to look for them on the utility wires at my back fence. Your pond is truly a bird magnate.

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  4. I’ve seen a painted bunting once or twice, but not in this area. I think I might have a chance to see all three if I tracked the fallouts, and spent the number of hours some birders do at various sites designed to attract them, but… well, there are only so many hours in a day. Your garden is such a blessing, with its food and water. If I were a bird, I’d want to visit, too.

    I laughed at Steve’s remark about the snowbirds. That’s what we call them, and down here on the coast, you can’t avoid the great flocks of them. When I went down to Rockport over Easter weekend, they were trekking back home, and Highway 35 was filled with camper after RV after trailer heading north, all with plates indicating their destinations: Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Kansas. The growth industry along the coast is RV parks!

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    • I grew up in Corpus and well remember the October influx of campers, trucks with trailers, and cars with those license plates that you mentioned. Then, come late April/May, they were one the way back north. I know my dad golfed with some guys who’d come down each year, golf during the winter and he wouldn’t see them again until the next year!

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  5. Tina, you are very lucky that migratory birds make a stop in your garden to regain strength, and you offer them food, water, bath and shelter: it is wonderful. The Western Kingbird became your first garden Kingbird, it’s fabulous! Let many more come because they are precious. The Painted Bunting is divine with its colors – I love it. The fat-beaked, pink-breasted male is gorgeous. All three are charming and the photos are magnificent, I love them. Tina, thank you very much for everything I learn from your comments about each bird. I am very happy that the garden is recovering. Tina takes great care of your back. Happy bird watching. Take good care of both of you. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita.

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