Marvelous Migration

Spring bird migration is ongoing in my gardens, birds visiting as they wing their way north to their breeding grounds. I usually observe these far-flung-feathered-friends at or near my pond in the back garden; it’s a draw for these weary travelers and they love to splash. Near the pond are are several small trees/large shrubs where birds (both migratory and resident) take refuge when startled, or hop through, nibbling at whatever they find on foliage and limbs. The pond and garden beckons, so the migratory birds visit–sometimes for a couple of days, often only for a brief time.

The migratory birds don’t typically spend time at the feeders, but occasionally, that’s the main focus of their interest. This seems the year of the Red-winged Blackbirds, Agelaius phoeniceus. I’ve never seen so many in my gardens and they’ve never stayed around for so long. I observed a handful of males and lots of females. I usually hear these birds, their melodic, high-pitched call crystal clear, before I see them. They’re mostly gone now, but while they visited, they were interested in feeding.

I’ve never been successful at capturing the stunning red and yellow markings under the wings of the males–until this spring. This guy was on the prowl, trying to impress a gal! He fluffed his feathers, the bright spots shone, the camera clicked!

That red against the rich, velvet black is swoon-worthy!

This was the object of the handsome male’s interest; she’s good-looking too, if less interested in him than he was in her. She ambled through the garden, seed-eating as she skillfully maneuvered away from the amorous male.

I think he finally gave up his courting attempt. A couple of honeybees kept him company on the water source, while the rejected male soothed his bruised ego with a cool drink and bath.

Probably my favorite of the migratory birds are the Lincoln’s Sparrows, Melospiza lincolnii. If not the flashiest of birds, they are nevertheless elegant in marking and form. Additionally, they have a line of feathers on their heads that stick up, suggesting birdie mohawks! They’re shy little things, zipping through the garden’s foliage, successful at not being seen. I have learned to recognize their call, and if I’m patient, sometimes catch them in a contemplative moment.

A truly flashy bird is the male Summer Tanager, Piranga rubra. Every spring, I see several in late April and early May. They hang out in the back garden where the beehives are located and hunt honeybees. Tanagers are known as bee and wasp hunters, catching the insects on the wing. This shot of an adult male with a honeybee snack was a dumb-luck photo. The tanager and I are thrilled with the capture, the poor bee probably less so!

A week or so later, I heard another Tanager calling and saw this juvenile male, also hunting near the hives, his yellow and red coloring easy to spot in the leafy Mountain Laurel. He was also successful in honeybee snacking. During the tanagers visits, I saw only one adult female, but could never get a clear photo of her. The females are a rich, golden yellow and are just as fascinating to watch as their male counterparts.

A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Pheucticus ludovicianus, spent a couple of days going between my garden and my SIL’s garden. Cornell Lab of Ornithology shows their migration ranges from most of Texas (excepting far West Texas), through the eastern half of the U.S. They breed in the Great Lakes region, northeast, and Canada. Most years I see one or two, but I wouldn’t mind if more hung out for a while.

My new, full-sun front garden has proven to be another safe place for the migratory birds to spend time and eat. There isn’t a water source in this garden, but the native plant growth is welcoming for food and safety. Another bashful, super-flitty little warbler is the Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas, and they’re abundant in the front garden this spring. Hard to catch perching still, this male stayed long enough in my Desert Willow for me get a shot. I love the male’s rakish mask, he looks like a daredevil bird! As I write this post, there are two couples bopping around in my front garden, dashing through the plants, eating small insects as they go, sneakily avoiding the gardener and her camera.

It’s been a good year to see Painted Buntings, Passerina ciris. Sightings over several weeks have allowed regular viewing of this most beautiful bird. This male wouldn’t cooperate and show me all of his colors, or the whole of his cute face, but I still like the shot of him resting in the tree after a bath.

His mate was more willing to be out in the open and spent time fluffing her feathers on the rocks bordering the pond after her bath, camera and human notwithstanding!

Another female Painted Bunting perched for a time while I was Yellowthroat watching. I couldn’t decide which photo I liked the best: her good side,

…or her other good side!

This shot is less clear, but demonstrates the magnificent colors of this gorgeous male. My cat, Lena, was watching him through our front window, no doubt wishing she could say a feline “hi” and maybe relieve him of his stunning plumage. That’s why she’s an indoor cat!

I’ve only seen one Nashville Warbler, Leiothlypis ruficapilla, this spring, which is unusual. I like these tiny, busy birds and they’re fond of the bog section of the pond. This fella is identified by his rusty cap a and white eye-ring. I hope more Nashvilles come through the garden to rest as they have a long way to travel. Their non-breeding area is in Central America and they nest in Canada.

One White-crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys, spent several days noshing on fallen safflower seeds. It hung out with the White-winged Doves, who didn’t object to its presence. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology map, White-crowns’ nonbreeding area encompasses Central Texas, but I’ve only seen them during spring migration. He definitely needed to fuel-up; his breeding grounds are in the northern most part of Canada and Alaska and it’s a long flight.

I was thrilled that a flock (gaggle? pack? gang? murder?) of Baltimore Orioles, Icterus galbula, spent a couple days between SIL’s and my gardens. Coincidentally, I happen to have some oranges, which is great because they love oranges. There were several males and females, adults and juveniles, each one gorgeous!

They adore oranges! They also enjoy grape jelly, though I don’t have any of that to offer. I don’t own an official orange feeder, but I stick the cut orange pieces on the cylinder feeder and on nails that I’ve hammered into our back fence. The birds seem satisfied with their treat.

Female Baltimores aren’t the orange-n-black-n-white show stoppers like the males, but are eye-catching birds nonetheless.

Orioles are adept at getting into the sweet spots of oranges with those pointed beaks.

Another of the sparrows tricky to identify is this Clay-colored Sparrow, Spizella pallida. This isn’t a great shot as these petite birds feed on seeds in the undergrowth, with lots of interfering plant material. They’re only in the clear as they wing swiftly upward to hide in trees or taller shrubs. I’ve seen several of these, usually feeding in pairs.

Like most sparrows, their colors are often considered drab, but I find the subtle colors and markings quite lovely.

I’ve had quick glimpses of other migratory birds, too, including one Black and White Warbler, a couple of Orchard Orioles, and an itsy-bitsy yellow thing that was too fast for me to identify. Birds are quick, bird watchers (at least this one) aren’t always so quick. It’s about halfway through migratory season, so there’s still plenty of time to observe the remarkable birds.

This weekend, Cornell Lab of Ornithology sponsors its annual Global Big Day of bird watching. Birders all over the world–serious and casual–will spend a few minutes (or a few hours) noting the birds they’ve seen. Participating doesn’t take much time, and it’s fun, educational, and it helps science and those who study birds. What’s not to love about that? Click on the above link to find out how to participate and become part of Team Bird!

Happy backyard birding!

Juvenile Summer Tanager

16 thoughts on “Marvelous Migration

  1. I rest my case, Tina. What did I just write about your Texas garden having a greater variety than our Colorado garden?! 😊
    I can only dream of Painted Buntings and Summer Tanagers here, and while I might see Lincoln’s and Clay-colored Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats in the county, we don’t have the habitat to attract them to our plot of land. Our vegetation is also not as far along as yours, so our migrants regularly partake of what we offer them in our feeders.
    Thank you for sharing your bird bounty. I greatly enjoyed your post.
    Happy May,


    • Oh, that’s so exciting!! It seems like it was a slow start of seeing the migrants this spring. I wondered if somehow, they knew that winter was hanging on just a bit and spring was not quite ready for them in the northern areas. I envy your having these birds and more throughout summer.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sam. I’m so happy to have these visitors (not to diss on my resident birds–they’re entertaining too!). I am happy that this set of gardens is a welcoming place for these remarkable creatures that deserve safety and protection on their long journeys.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. All I can say is “Wow”! You could sell tickets to your garden. In years past I have had female Red-winged Blackbirds hang around for a while and then flocks of the males stopping by. For the last few years, I have had almost no migrating birds. You have birds I have never seen in this part of the state. You did a great job photographing them.


    • Haha–I don’t know who’d pay, but I like your thinking. 🙂 Interesting that you don’t have many migrating birds. I wonder why? It may be that they’re just coming across the gulf in a different area and not crossing your path. I hope you get to see at least a few.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I really think you are right and the birds are on a different path. I am sure there are many factors in that including weather systems and wind. I have kept a list of birds that I see and there were definitely more several years ago. I think it is the same with butterflies. I’ve had years when the yard was filled and other years with almost none. I do have Summer Tanagers visit and may have heard one in the trees. The first time I saw one was the day after Hurricane Ike and I thought the female was a sick cardinal. One can always learn. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Redwinged blackbirds tend to congregate down at the Brazoria refuge: not in great numbers, but it’s fun to see and hear them sing while they’re perching on the cattails and reeds. Just once, I got a photo of a male with those color patches not only spread but fluffed: if I was a girl blackbird, I would have been impressed.

    I was thinking about Judy’s comment, and it occured to me that the single Baltimore Oriole I’ve seen was on Galveston Island. That’s where I’ve seen Myrtle Warblers, too, and a few blue-gray gnatcatchers. I know a lot of birders collect on Galveston and Follett Islands during migration; if that’s where the migrants are landing, they’d have a pretty straight shot up to your area. I’d love to see some of them, but then again — we do have Roseate Spoonbills!


    • That’s the beauty of bird watching (and growing, or appreciating, native plants): we value what we get to see on a regular basis and share with others–it’s a win for everyone!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoyed this post very much. Thank you for sharing and being so good with your details.
    We had over 40 red wings this year for 3 mos. They also had immature cow birds in their flock. About ate us out, mercy they were hungry.
    Otis, or. Is barely inland of the Pacific Ocean.


    • You’re welcome and thanks for reading! Wow, that’s a lot of red wings! I thought I had a bounty, my numbers don’t even approach yours. I still have a beautiful male; it’s not uncommon for one or two to hang out through June.

      The Oregon coast!! One of the most beautiful places. I’m jealous. 🙂


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