Birds of Spring 2022 Migration

The great spring movement of birds from Mexico, Central and South America to various parts of North America is well underway. In my own garden, I began noticing a few visiting birds as early as the latter part of March, just a few weeks after I realized that my two regular winter warblers had left. Texas is a main migration flyway between the two continents and even though visits are brief, it’s always exciting to see unusual, non-resident birds in my garden.

This Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus, has been around the neighborhood for a few weeks. He has a lovely call and I hear him more often than I see him. Before he settled in to munch my peanut offerings, a group of female Red-wings worked the sunflower seeds that fell to the ground. They only stayed a day or two and I wish I’d snagged photos while they were here. In the past, I’ve enjoyed visits from other Red-winged Blackbirds well into June. I wonder if this guy will hang around that long?

I only see American Goldfinches, Spinus tristis, during late winter and spring. This year, it’s mostly males that I’ve observed, though few females have been in the mix. They visit sunflower seeds, but mostly they like to bathe and splash in the water features.

Migratory clockwork right on schedule, Summer Tanagers, Piranga rubra, show up every spring for a few days in late April. The gloriously golden females are adorable.

The scarlet males catch bird watchers’ eyes. How could you miss this head-turner of a bird?

He’s rocking his post bath fluff.

Along with a mature male and female, an immature male accompanied the adults.

Oh, those splotchy, awkward teenage months!

I’d like to think that they come for the peanuts I provide or the garden delights that I offer. But these bee and wasp eaters come to my garden for the baths and the bees–not necessarily in that order. Tanagers are great bee and wasp hunters, catching their prey as they swoop through the garden. According to the maps, Summer Tanagers breed in this area, but I’ve only ever seen these stunners in spring. They should hang around longer, there are always bees in my garden.

A common winter warbler in my garden are Yellow-rumped Warblers, Setophaga coronata. Typically, my winter yellow-rumps are females. Non-breeding males visit from time-to-time, but it’s a rare treat for me to observe a Yellow-rump in his breeding colors. Look at this guy! He knows he’s a pretty boy and that he won’t have any trouble finding a mate and raising a family of other darling yellow rumps!

A flash of orange in the trees and I knew immediately what was flitting about. This Baltimore Oriole, Icterus galbula, was only in my garden for a few minutes (that I saw), but he was certainly a bright spot, even if was a spot hard to document with a photo. Clear shots were tricky because he was skittish and stayed mostly in a neighbor’s small tree and was always a branch between the camera and the bird.

This is probably the clearest of the photos, but, it is a bum.

I also had a brief glimpse of a female Orchard Oriole a few days later; I was too slow with the camera for that lovely bird. I don’t see the orioles every year, so I’m thrilled when they’re around.

I’ve observed several type of sparrows this spring. This male White-crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys, spent a Sunday afternoon in my garden and I’ve seen him, or another male, since.

Larger than some of other sparrows, that bright white-crown is a feature that allows for easy identification of this sparrows, or at the very least, the id of the male of the sparrows.

The same day I saw the White-crowned Sparrow, I observe another sparrow that I haven’t seen before. Lifer! This is a Clay-colored Sparrow, Spizella pallida. The name is rather drab and not descriptive of the bird at all; I think the sparrow is fetching. I especially like its almost-a-mohawk top!

It’s possible that I’ve seen this bird before and didn’t realize that it was something different from the ubiquitous House Sparrow. With sparrows, identification is sometimes difficult. They all wear the same family of colors–brown, beige, cream–but with seemingly infinite combos of those related colors. As well, there are lots of native sparrows in North America, so there’s plenty of room for confusion. Birders often refer to sparrows hard to id as ‘little brown jobs’. I think I like that name better than ‘Clay-colored’.

I’ve enjoyed the antics of a couple of small Song Sparrows, too, but their zoomies through the garden, chasing off other birds, made a photographic record impossible.

Another migrant who spent lots of time chasing birds around “his” pond was this Nashville Warbler, Leiothlypis ruficapilla. I finally caught a couple of shots of the cheeky cutey.

He dipped his head just so, showing his rusty smudge topping, demonstrating his masculinity. Considering how possessive he was about my garden and pond, I’d already figured out that he was male.

Lesser Goldfinches, Spinus psaltria, come and go in my garden, depending on what seeds are available to nosh. They are considered migratory and these two dabs of sunshine opted for the birdbath, rather than the pond. I’ve witnessed others feeding on the seeds of Four-nerve Daisies.

A new bird for me is this Kentucky Warbler, Geothlypis formosa, who made a quick visit near sundown one evening.

It took me a while to identify him. To identify birds, I typically use the Merlin app of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, but I couldn’t find an exact match for this gorgeous fella. Eventually, the Hub and I grabbed our old copy of Peterson’s Guide to the Birds of Texas–an actual book–and after some perusal, we found our guy. Central Texas is barely in Kentucky Warblers’ migration path and I feel fortunate to have observed this beauty.

Like the Yellow-rumped Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers spend the winter months here. But after my winter warblers leave, there are always a few Orange-crowns who come through to rest and bathe. I miss them when they’re gone.

Orange-crowned Warbler, Leiothlypis celata

My favorite sparrow is the Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii. They’re shy, but fun to watch as they bop through the garden, looking for insects to eat. The ones who visit are big fans of the waterfall and bog sections of my pond.

Elegantly colored and marked, I think they’re such pretty little birds. Central Texas is in their non-breeding area, but I only see them in spring and fall. I’ve never had the pleasure of hosting them for winter, but here’s hoping for the future.

Migratory season is still in full swing and it’s likely I’ll see travelers coming through to rest and eat well into June. I hope you’re able to witness something of the remarkable process of the world’s birds as they make one of their two annual treks on ancient aerial pathways. Install some native plants and trees to provide cover and food, and add one–or more–water features to your garden space. Then, look out the window, they will be there, enriching your garden experience.

It’s Bird Time: Wildlife Wednesday, May 2020

While most humans are staying at home–and it’s a smart thing to do–the birds of the world are in migratory mode, traveling great distances to find their mates and start their  families.  It’s bird time and spring migration is well-underway.   I’m fortunate that my garden is smack in the middle of the North American bird highway, allowing for a good variety of birds who winter in Central and South America and breed in the northern parts of North America, to wing in for a visit.  

The migrants mostly visit my garden for rest, but gobbling some insects and a dip-n-splash in the pond and bird baths are also part of their agendas.  Each spring, I welcome back birds that I observe, albeit briefly, once or twice a year.  Autumn migration happens too, from August through September, but in my garden, spring is the the primary bird show.

One of my favorite migratory birds is the Lincoln SparrowMelospiza lincolnii, who visit in both spring and autumn.  Cornell Labs uses the term “dainty” to describe Lincoln Sparrows; I’ve described their coloring as elegant:  adults are graceful, painted in subtly marked cream and grey, with highlights of varying shades of brown.  Lincolns aren’t flashy, but instead handsome, low-key little birds.

Lincoln Sparrows hop along the ground and through the shrubs foraging for insects. They’re quite shy and secretive, therefore difficult to observe, as any movement sends them aloft to safety.  I get my best views when they’re at the pond; they especially enjoy the bog. 

According to Cornell’s All About Birds website, the Lincoln Sparrows breed in far north Canada, with their migratory routes in the northern and Midwestern parts of the U. S.  Texas is included as the ‘non-breeding’ area, though the only time I see them is during the two migratory seasons.   I’m glad to welcome them to the garden whenever they like.


Another common, mostly spring, migrant in my garden, is the Nashville Warbler, Leiothlypis ruficapilla.   Grey and yellow with a ring of white around their eyes and perfectly round heads, they’re cute, petite birds.    See the little smudge at the top of this fella’s head?   That’s the blush of brown that signifies he’s a he.  Typically, the brown patch is hard to see.  I usually don’t notice it, even with binoculars, until I download a photo.

He’s showing off his good side,

…and staring (or is it glaring?) at the camera.  

As a species, I see more individual Nashville Warblers than any other migratory bird.  Instead of just one, once-in-a-while, for a few weeks,  it’s not unusual for me to see two, three, and even four, hanging out together, traipsing down the rocks for a dip.  They’re not great at social distancing.

Most Nashville Warblers migrate along the coastal regions, but they have migratory routes through almost all of Texas.  Yay for Texas birders!!  The Nashville Warbler isn’t more common in Nashville than in other place.  They’re so named because the species was first observed–then named–in Nashville, Tennessee by Alexander Wilson in 1811.  Just to make things complicated, there’s also a Tennessee Warbler, Leiothlypis peregrina, which has also come through my garden recently, but I couldn’t get a photo.  Or, at least not one that was anything but a blur.  


Everyone wants to catch a peek of a Painted Bunting, Passerina ciris, and it’s obvious why.

Considered one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, bird in North America, All About Birds describes Painted Buntings as birds that “…seem to have flown straight out of a child’s coloring book.”  The males are stunning:  brightly colored and wildly patterned, and the females, while dull in comparison, are pretty great looking too, despite the lack of color pizzazz.   I’ve enjoyed several visits from one, or a couple of visits from several–I’m not certain which.  Most of my Bunting sightings were miss-it-if-you-blink glimpses, but I was tickled to watch this one bathe for a while in one of my bird baths that sports a little pump which bubbles water.

The female who visited was skittish; I saw her twice, only briefly.  I’ve typically seen more Buntings in May, so there’s still a good chance that more will come through.  Besides bathing their gorgeous selves, I’ve seen Painted Buntings nibble at the seeds of the native Mexican Feather grass, Nassella tenuissima, and at the seeds one of the early spring-blooming perennials, Lyreleaf sage, Salvia lyrata. There’s a lesson: if you plant native, the birds will come.

I think the bird charm prize must be awarded to this female Summer Tanager, Piranga rubra. The Summer Tanagers, usually one mature male, a female and one or two juveniles, show up at the end of April for a couple of weeks.  It isn’t the pond which draws them, nor is it the native plants that they hunger for.  So why do these bird hang out in my back garden?  For the honeybees!  

Summer Tanagers are adept hunters of bees and wasps, catching the insect treats in the air and eating them in trees, or sometimes, on the rooftop of a defunct beehive. 

While the photo isn’t particularly clear, as I watched, she definitely snagged a bee.  The bee is most likely from the hive named Woody, which resides to the left, just out of frame, but Ms. Bee-hunter plopped down on top of poor Buzz to snarf the snack.  Tanagers beat their bee snacks on a branch (or rooftop) then rub the bee on a surface until the stinger falls out.  Then gulp–and yum!  It’s a sting-free meal!

This female tanager has been in the back garden most mornings for a week or so and a joy to watch.  

She’s alighted on the black-oiled sunflower feeder several times.  I love the disgusted look on her face as she must be thinking:  I’m not gonna eat this.  Do other birds actually eat this junk?  

True to form, as she perched on the feeder, she kept a keen eye out for flying insects, ready for action when one became available. 

Compared to the bright red male she’s not as colorful.  But her intelligence is obvious and she’s also a pretty, pretty bird.  

I observed a mature male once early in the migration season, but he was gone in a flash.  An immature male has also been hunting bees, alongside the female.  

That seems to be a pattern:  in late April, I’ll see a mature male; maybe he hangs around, maybe not.  Then I observe both a mature female and an immature male, both hunting in my back garden for a week or two–then, they’re gone.  Central Texas is Summer Tanager breeding ground, but I only ever see them from late April and into early May.  They’re welcome to hang out though, as I always have a supply of bees.

The juvenile males are showy, even with their undecided coloring–splotches of red here, dabs of yellow there.   But like their elders, observing their keen hunting skills is a treat–and a privilege.


This little dab of sunshine zoomed around the garden, landed in a tree and then proceeded to give me the stink eye.  A male Yellow Warbler, Setophaga petechia, I typically have a gaggle of males and females show up in spring, flit around the pond for a few days, then move on to parts unknown.

It’s not a very good shot of this lovely, tiny bird;  I’m including it just in case it’s the only one I see this season. He’s a pure yellow, with burnished streaking throughout the breast.  The females are also yellow, though in a muted hue, and lack the breast streaking.  Both have adorable faces.  All of Texas is in their migratory path and north of Texas, they breed throughout a huge swath of North America. I hope to see more of them in the next few weeks.


A different yellow caught my attention one evening, near sundown. Again, it’s not a great shot, but I’ve never seen a Blue-winged Warbler, Vermivora cyanoptera before.

I don’t think the bird was in my back garden for more than a minute and I feel fortunate that I grabbed the camera and snapped the shot.   Considered a rare bird for Central Texas, there are occasional sightings of Blue-winged Warblers during migration season.  Blue-winged Warblers migrate through the eastern half of Texas and breed in the upper Eastern/Midwestern areas of the U.S.  I think this one is a female, as she lacks the dramatic black eye mask of the male and had less white on her wing-bar.  

A rarer bird for Central Texas also appeared in my garden a few days later. It wasn’t in the garden for long and certainly didn’t stay still at all, but this Golden-winged Warbler, Vermivora chrysoptera, provided some excitement for me.

With a quick perusal of Cornell’s site, I assumed this one was a female.  As it happens, Golden-winged Warblers and Blue-winged Warblers interbreed and hybridize, creating varying color combos.  Originally, ornithologists thought that the hybrids were separate species, but now think differently.  I believe this one is a “Brewster’s” which sports a white throat and more gray coloring.  A different hybrid (“Lawrence’s Warbler”) tends more yellow.

I’m especially honored to have observed this little beauty, even for just a few moments, as it’s a bird which has endured one of the greatest population declines of all songbirds.  The largest population is in Minnesota, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology, along with an organization called the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group, have developed a conservation plan to grow the population.  I hope it succeeds.  Golden-winged Warblers breed in the same region (Great Lakes) as Blue-winged Warblers, though in a much smaller area.

It feels like there haven’t been as many birds coming through my garden this past month, but May is usually the primary migration month, at least for my garden.  That said, I’m thrilled with the two rare bird sightings and grateful that my garden provides some safety and respite for these remarkable creatures.

If you’re interested, Cornell Lab sponsors Global Big Day, this upcoming Saturday, May 9, 2020.   The purpose is to observe and celebrate the birds around you–wherever you may be.  Birders big and small, expert or novice, gather in their spaces (social distancing, of course–that’s the birding way) and report the birds observed.  It only requires a few minutes of time, or you can watch on-and-off during the day.  Once the data is in (either through e-bird, or by email) it’s a fascinating look and a quick snapshot at what birds are where, all around the world.  Check out the link above if you’re want to participate–it’s easy, fun, and educational. 

You never know who might see in your garden. 

Today is Wildlife Wednesday and if you’re so inclined, share your wildlife happenings here.  Also, it’s Wednesday Vignette, so I’m also linking with Anna at Flutter and Hum.  Check out her site for gardening stories of all kinds.

Happy wildlife gardening!