Posts Tagged ‘migration’

Migrating Swans


Monday, December 3rd, 2012
Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans © Lisa Densmore

Migrating Swans by Lisa Densmore

Location: Red Lodge, Montana

Last weekend brought the first true cold snap to south-central Montana, zero degrees (F) overnight and a high of 15 degrees during the day. A fog bank preceded this Arctic cold front, which, combined with the drastic temperature drop, transformed the quaking aspens in my neighborhood into striking frosty silhouettes against the deep azure sky. I bundled up and headed outdoors to photograph the wintery fantasyland, or perhaps catching a whitetail deer grazing in a field. Instead, I was treated to a chorus of honks from the sky.

A few thousand Canada Geese had just migrated through the Red Lodge area. At first I figured more Canada geese were winging south in V-formation, long necks extended, but as they neared, I saw too much white. Snow Geese, perhaps?

They came closer, losing elevation as if targeting a place to land. Trumpeter Swans! At least 50 of them!

In search of open water, the swans intended to land on a pond near my house, but at the last second, they veered away, probably because the body of water they sought was solid ice. In that split second, I got a rare glimpse at these huge graceful birds in the air. The largest of North American waterfowl, measuring five feet from beak to tail and weighing up to 28 pounds, it’s impressive to see a flock in flight and so low the ground.

In September, I chanced upon trumpeter swans while in Alaska. I pondered whether these swans might be the very ones I saw in Alaska, now in search of a warmer place to spend the winter. I don’t have high hopes on either score. They’re probably from Alberta, and they’ll need to fly further than Red Lodge to find open water. The Alaskan swans generally winter along the Washington and British Columbia coast. Though trumpeters also breed in a few places in the northern Midwest, the only year-round populations in the Lower 48 live in the area around western Montana, eastern Idaho and northwestern Wyoming, a couple hundred miles west of my home on the east side of the Rockies.

Canada Geese, Departing


Tuesday, October 30th, 2012
Canada Geese

Canada Geese adults © Rob Curtis/VIREO

Canada Geese, Departing by Gene Walz

Buddy and I were out for our dog-walk this morning when I heard the faintest of sounds over the trees in the distance. I was going to write about the next sequence of events when I remembered that Aldo Leopold once described the very same phenomenon.

It took me a while to find the quote (in A Sand County Almanac), but here’s what happened to him and to me:

“Out of the clouds I hear a faint bark, as of a faraway dog. It is strange how the world cocks its ear to that sound, wondering. Soon it is louder: the honk of geese, invisible, but coming on.

The flock emerges from the low clouds, a tattered banner of birds, dipping and rising, blown up and blown down, blown together and blown apart, but advancing, the wind wrestling lovingly with each winnowing wing. When the flock is a blur in the far sky I hear the last honk, sounding taps for summer.

It is warm behind the driftwood now, for the wind has gone with the geese. So would I — if I were the wind.” (Leopold)

If I were the wind. What a fabulous wish! Thanks, Aldo Leopold.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese adults © Arthur Morris/VIREO

Did You Know? Bird Migration


Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

1. Bird Migration

There are about 10,000 bird species in the world and about half of them migrate. That’s an estimated 50 billion migratory birds out of the 200-400 billion individual birds on the planet. In eastern North America over two-thirds of all breeding birds migrate. They travel by day and by night across vast stretches of land and sea. They navigate using familiar landscapes, mental star charts, magnetic fields, and angles of ultra-violet light emitted by the setting sun that are invisible to us. Worshiped as gods by some past cultures, written into poetry, painted on canvas, studied by scientists, and loved by birders, bird migration is a marvel. From warblers to waterfowl, hummingbirds to hawks – each is a remarkable story. This fall, climb a hill and watch the hawks glide southward one sunny day. Or just before bedtime in a quiet place, go out and listen toward the sky. If you listen closely, you might hear the waves of songbirds overhead calling to each other as they head south for the winter.


Red Knot bird migration

Red Knot adult, nonbreeding © Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO

2. Traveling Knot

Of the six subspecies of Red Knots found worldwide, rufa migrates the farthest.  It flies over 20,000 miles round trip from its breeding grounds in the Canadian arctic along the eastern seaboard of North America and down to its wintering area at the tip of South America. But these birds are in trouble. Over the past decade, aerial counts of the rufa population in Tierra del Fuego went from more than 56,000 to just 10,000 birds. Some biologists believe that without intervention, they may go extinct.


Blackpoll Warbler migration

Blackpoll Warbler adult male, nonbreeding © Rob Curtis/VIREO

3. Blackpoll Migration

With the coming of frost, Blackpolls congregate along the Northeast seaboard to feast. This tiny songbird’s migration is fueled entirely by stored fat. One evening, when the winds are just right, they launch into the night sky on a non-stop flight to the Caribbean or even their final destination, South America. Scientists have calculated that a blackpoll has to weigh more than seven-tenths of a gram to have enough stored energy to safely complete its flight. For us, the metabolic equivalent would be to run four-minute miles for 80 hours, according to ornithologists Tim and Janet Williams. They also found that if blackpolls were burning gasoline instead of body fat, they would be getting 720,000 miles to the gallon.


Broad-winged  Hawk migration

Broad-winged Hawk adult © Lloyd Spitalnik/VIREO

4. Gliding Home

While songbirds rely on body fat to fuel migration, the Broad-winged Hawk simply relies on the power of the sun. The broad-wing doesn’t gorge itself. It doesn’t have to, because it wastes little energy on flapping its wings. This hawk, like many hawks, is a glider. Using the lift from rising columns of hot air, hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of hawks congregate in flocks, or “kettles,” slowly circling upward on thermals and then gliding southward and downward to catch the next free ride. They rarely, if ever, sail over open water where few thermals exist. They follow the land as it becomes narrower and narrower through Central America, until some of them make it all the way into South America after a month of migration.


Arctic Tern migration

Arctic Tern adult © Arthur Morris/VIREO

5. A Bird of the Poles

Arctic Terns may have the longest annual migration of any animal in the world. Their lifetime frequent flier miles would be equivalent to three round-trips to the moon. Scientists recently used a tiny new device attached to the terns called a geolocator. It regularly records light levels and time of day, which can be used to generate its latitude and longitude, much like mariners once did. They found that the Arctic Tern averages 44,000 miles round-trip each year from Greenland to the shores of Antarctica and back.


Whooper swan migration

Whooper Swan adults © Jari Peltomaki/VIREO

6. Thin Air

Most migrant birds flying over lowlands reach altitudes of around 2,000 feet in North America. Raptors migrating over Texas have been found to be as high as 4,000 feet. Long-distant travelers over the ocean have been found as high as 20,000 feet. A pilot once reported Whooper Swans at 27,000 feet. But the records go to species in other parts of the world. Bar-headed Geese, a species regularly found at zoos, climb to over 30,000 feet when passing over the Himalayan Mountains. The all-time record belongs to Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture flying over Ivory Coast at nearly 38,000 feet when it was unfortunately sucked into a jet engine.


Bar-tailed Godwit migration

Bar-tailed Godwit adult, nonbreeding © Steve Young/VIREO

7. Godspeed Godwits

Using satellite transmitters scientists found that Alaskan Bar-tailed Godwits make an 8-day, 6,835 mile autumn migration from Alaska to New Zealand in one, long flight. This is almost double what scientists thought birds were capable of physiologically. They expend energy up to 10 times the rate they would at rest, besting riders of the Tour de France who manage just a six-fold increase. By the end of the journey, some males may have lost so much weight that their satellite transmitter backpacks simply fell off.


Swainson's Thrush migration

Swainson’s Thrush adult Olive-backed © Brian E. Small/VIREO

8. Not a Silent Night Flight

On an autumn night after the passage of a cold front millions of songbirds are passing overhead as we sleep. Waves of birds take to the skies even lighting up otherwise quiet weather radar. The birds are not silently floating over us. Especially in eastern North America, on a good night of migration listeners can here hundreds, even thousands of birds calling as they pass overhead. Some species are readily identified by their familiar call, like Swainson’s Thrushes. No one knows why they call as they travel. It may to keep in contact with neighbors to avoid collisions.


snow geese migration

Snow Geese adults © Arthur Morris/VIREO

 9. A Skein of Birds

Have you ever wondered why some bird flocks fly in a “V” formation? First, it is to conserve energy by taking advantage of the upwash vortex fields created by the wings of the birds in front. The rising air helps lessen the load. Each bird can reduce drag by up to 65%, increasing their range by 71%. Of course the leader of the formation gains no benefit, causing this position to be regularly traded. The other reason is to facilitate orientation and communication among individual birds. There are fewer blind spots in formation.


Snowy Owl migration

Snowy Owl juvenile © Scott Linstead/VIREO

10. South is in the eye of the beholder

The classic theory held by ornithologists to explain the irregular migrations of Snowy Owls southward has always centered on lemmings, a favorite food of the arctic breeding owls. These small rodents undergo population booms and busts. About every four years lemmings become incredibly abundant. Many scientists believed that after the lemming populations eventually crashed, snowy owls would head southward in search of food. Intensive research now shows this may not be the case. We find the highest numbers of owls south of the arctic in winter during lemming population booms, not after the lemming population has plunged. Most of them are juvenile birds that may have been pushed southward by the adults.

Falcons on the Hunt


Friday, September 21st, 2012

Falcons by Gene Walz

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, adult male © Richard Crossley/VIREO

Buff-breasted Sandpipers migrate through southern Manitoba in late August and early September. But they’re not reliable migrants. Some years almost nobody sees them. So, when word goes out that Buff-breasted are around, I jump.

They were at a sod-farm near a bison ranch just west of Oak Hammock marsh. We spotted the birds, twelve of them, almost immediately.

We weren’t the only ones. There were falcons about. We were in for an aerial treat.

Peregrine Falcons

Peregrine Falcon, adult © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

The first was a Peregrine Falcon. It flew in from the east, the marshes, at a considerable height. Every other bird in the area shut up and hunkered down. The peregrine plummeted. Missed. A juvenile. It’ll have to get better to survive its first year, the most dangerous one for young peregrines.

It quickly headed back to the marshes where the ducks were settling in for the night and were easier picking.


Merlin, adult male © Richard Crossley/VIREO

A Merlin darted in, low to the ground, and scared up the sandpipers. They wheeled in formation as most shorebirds do, flashing in the late sunlight as they banked and turned in perfect synchrony. The merlin gave them little heed. Probably sated on mice or Savannah Sparrows.

On a nearby field we spotted a falcon on the ground eating bugs. A warm-brown bird. Another young peregrine or, could it be, a rare Prairie Falcon. We watched and waited.

Suddenly it took wing and banked with its wings spread wide. Aha! The underwing coverts were very dark, almost like wing struts. A prairie falcon.

Prairie Falcons

Prairie Falcon

It flew low and fast over the sod field; the chase was on. The Buff-breasteds rose and circled the area. As acrobatic as they were, they were no match for the falcon. With hair-trigger reflexes, it flew into their midst, reacting to their every twitch. Soon it had snatched one right out of the air in mid flight.

The falcon flew to a nearby fencepost. The feathers flew as it feasted. With lighter, narrower “sideburns”, it was clear this wasn’t a peregrine.

Before it was too dark to see anything more, we had counted eight falcons. They all tried to get a Buff-breasted meal; only the first prairie falcon succeeded.

There is a Rhythm to the Seasons


Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Throwback Thursdays

Notes from the Field by Tom Wood: There is a Rhythm to the Seasons

hawks during migration season

Swainson’s Hawks © Tom Wood

There is a rhythm to the seasons. Technically, fall began on September 23 when the sun crossed the equator and the days in the northern hemisphere began to grow shorter. But to me, the first precursor to fall is the arrival of waves of Rufous Hummingbirds winging through Arizona on their way south to Mexico. I’ll know for sure when I hear the first Sandhill Crane calling in the Sulphur Springs Valley. If you are a naturalist or gardener or anyone else with a close attachment to the land you view the passing of the seasons differently than the deskbound city-dweller. Seasons are measured in the plants and animals around us rather than the calendar.

Actually, we have five seasons here in southeastern Arizona and it is the arrival of that fifth season that affects many of us at a very primal level. After months of hot, dry weather the first thunderheads begin to build in late June. When the first rains of our “monsoon season” come in early July, the impulse to go out in the rain and celebrate the season is often too overwhelming to ignore. I imagine that the arrival of the salmon in Alaska is greeted with the same sense of relief and celebration. Like the blooming of fruit trees or a vegetable garden, it is the promise of plenty.

This time of year the afternoon temperatures can still be uncomfortably warm. And, although there is scarce change in the morning temperature and humidity, there is SOMETHING in the early morning air that tells me that fall will soon be here. It arrives earlier on the mountain peaks and I can see the golden yellow aspen groves from miles away. Another hint that change is on the way. For a couple of weeks the newly arriving Sandhill Cranes, some of whom nested in Siberia this summer, will share the fields with the last of our nesting Swainson’s Hawks before the hawks leave for Argentina. It’s the pulse of the planet and you can hear it if you are listening.

Finding Fall Warblers


Friday, September 14th, 2012

Finding Fall Warblers by Drew Weber

Finding warblers in the fall can be much trickier than finding them in the spring. Males are singing less often because they are no longer attempting to attract mates, and most of their vocalizations are difficult-to-identify chips. These chips are actually the best thing to clue in on, as they can often lead you to a feeding flock of warblers. The feeding flocks can vary in size, but when you locate one warbler there is a good chance that several others are nearby.


Black-throated Blue Warbler adult male, breeding © Arthur Morris/VIREO

The first thing to do is find some suitable habitat. Fall warblers often concentrate along the edges of woods where early morning sun is hitting the trees and warming the air, increasing the activity of insects which the warblers are seeking out. Walk along the forest edge listening carefully for chips. In addition to listening for warbler chips, pay attention to any chickadees. Warblers will often forage in a loose flock with chickadees. Since the birds aren’t vocalizing as much, take your time as you scan the area and walk slowly. Also don’t be afraid to backtrack as a small flock can emerge from the woods and forage along the edge with no warning after you passed it.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee adult, Rocky Mountain © Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO

Another habitat type you should check out for fall warblers are fields of dense goldenrod. Tennessee, Orange-crowned and Wilson’s Warblers can all be found in this type of habitat as they forage in the goldenrod. Successional habitat with a mix of smaller trees and shrubs can also provide ideal habitat for finding warbler feeding flocks.


Wilson’s Warbler adult female, Eastern © Claude Nadeau/VIREO

Looking for fall warblers can be very rewarding because of the patience it can require. It is very exciting to find a mixed flock of 6 different species of warblers and get great looks at them as they forage at eye level, rather than in the treetops as is typical in the sling. And getting a good look is important.

Fall warblers get a bad rap for being hard to identify. They also have the reputation of being less colorful than the spring warblers. There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, spring migration is a quick and hurried affair as birds race northward to stake out territorial claims to some prime breeding habitat. In all the rush, we generally only manage to see the birds that are singing…males with their distinctive bright plumage.


Cape May Warbler adult male, breeding © Adrian & Jane Binns/VIREO

In the fall, migration is a much more leisurely event. The warblers take their time and stop for days at a time to feed and replenish the reserves they require for their long flights. This gives birders a chance to see females as well as males, adding an additional plumage variation that has to be identified. Also, each successful pair of birds raised maybe 2-5 young, meaning there are now more immature birds than adults. The plumage of immature males and females are often different as well.  Generally young males look similar to adult females, while immature females are even drabber colored.


Black-throated Green Warbler immature male (1st spring) © Gerard Bailey/VIREO

This means that in the fall, a birder often needs to be familiar with at least three, and sometimes four different plumages of a bird to be able to correctly identify each warbler they see. Adult males are still mostly in their bright breeding plumage, young males and adult females are drabber and sometimes hard to differentiate, and young females are the drabbest.


Cape May Warbler immature female (1st winter) © Rob & Ann Simpson/VIREO

If you get a chance to study females and immatures closely, you will discover although their colors aren’t as gaudy as the spring males, there is still a lot of color on many of the young warblers. Young Chestnut-sided Warblers, for example, have a beautiful lime-green back.


Chestnut-sided Warbler immature female, 1st winter © Gerard Bailey/VIREO

So, are fall warblers really harder to identify? The answer is yes, but a species often shares specific characteristics between all the different plumage. Learn these shared characteristics and identification will be much easier. Spend some time getting to know the fall warblers, and I am sure you will enjoy them as much as I do.

Early Migrant Warblers


Friday, August 31st, 2012

Early Migrant Warblers by Drew Weber

Migration may seem like it is just beginning, but some species are already moving south, and some have all but disappeared.  Some of the earliest migrants are Cerulean WarblerHooded WarblerLouisiana WaterthrushPrairie Warbler, and Worm-eating Warbler. These species were already migrating south at the end of July, heading towards their wintering grounds. These species have all but disappeared from many parts of their breeding grounds already, and have completed vacated northern parts of their range.

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler, adult male © Greg Lasley/VIREO

If you want to find these species yet this year, there is time to get out and search for them but time is slipping away. Worm-eating Warblers are on their way to Mexico and Central American, while Cerulean Warblers are heading for high quality forests in the Andes. On a trip to Costa Rica in early August several years ago, I was surprised to find a Louisiana Waterthrush chipping along a stream, looking quite at home already.

Louisiana Waterthrush Warbler

Louisiana Waterthrush, adult © Brian E. Small/VIREO

The distances these birds fly between breeding and wintering grounds is quite stunning.  The Louisiana Waterthrush that I saw in Costa Rica had just finished flying over 2,000 miles if it came from somewhere in Pennsylvania which is the central part of their range. To top it off, this 0.7 oz bird just flew across the Gulf of Mexico, possibly island-hopping from the Florida Keys thru Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico before arriving at this final destination.

Cerulean Warbler

Cerulean Warbler, adult female © Glenn Bartley/VIREO

In order to make their trip a bit easier, these long distant migrants are primarily making their flights at night when the air is more stable. Another advantage of migrating at night is that most of their predators are visual hunters and so the warblers are relatively safe at night. All night long while you are asleep, warblers and other migrants are streaming overhead, almost undetectable except for the occasional chip notes that alert us to their passing. These early migrating warblers are taking advantage of ample food supplies such as insects as they travel. A perk for us birders is that the birds then spend the day foraging to fatten up for the next leg of their journey. This makes them easier to find because they are actively moving around.

Hooded Warbler Range Map

Hooded Warbler Range Map © NatureShare

Once these birds reach their final wintering destination, they join up in mixed species flocks with other Neotropical migrants, as well as tropical species that live in Central and South America year round. In the tropics there are lush forests that have a bounty of food resources, enough for both the residents and the migrant warblers. A good question would be, “why don’t they just spend the entire year there if the food resources are so great?” The answer is that the food available to them at their breeding grounds is abundant as well, and they have likely evolved to migrate to both take advantage of these resources as well as avoid competition with the year round residents of the tropical forest.

So, the next time that you are out looking at birds and find a warbler, think about the journey that this tiny bird is about to embark on. With some good fortune, the same bird will be making the same journey back next year to nest again.

Worm-eating Warbler Range Map

Worm-eating Warbler Range Map © NatureShare

Late Nesters – The Birds


Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Late Nesters – The Birds by Gene Walz

The shorebirds have been passing through for about a month now. And the warblers in their maddening fall costumes are starting to show up on their way south. Grackles are massing noisily in my yard; robins too are clubbing up. I expect to hear the “peent” of departing nighthawks any day now.

Even though it’s been a spectacularly warm and sunlit summer in Manitoba, everything else seems normal. Fall is on its way. An acorn plunked me on the noggin this morning.

Some birds, however, are not ready to leave. Last week on the Clear Lake golf course in Riding Mountain Park I saw a Barn Swallow skittering over the fairways and lugging bugs to three nestlings in the eaves of the pro-shop.

Barn Swallow Birds

Barn Swallow, adult male © Gerard Bailey/VIREO

Barn Swallows aren’t the only late nesters. American Goldfinches are usually the last birds to mate. They wait for the thistles to bloom before using them to line their nests.

Mourning Doves don’t need thistles to construct their nests; in fact, they don’t need much of anything for their flimsy things they call nests. But I’ve seen them tending young regularly at this time of year. Probably their second nests of the summer.

Mourning Dove Birds

Mourning Dove, adult © Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO

This year because it’s been so hot, there’s been a bumper crop of cones on local fir trees. So, although the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas would ordinarily have wrapped up record keeping for this season, we’ve been told to watch for possible late nesting behavior by Red and White-winged Crossbills. Also Cedar Waxwings. There are lots of these species in Winnipeg these days, moreso than usual.

I haven’t seen any yet, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled.

I worry, though. Summer can turn on a dime. I only hope the birds have a better sense of what’s coming (winter! ARRRRGH!) than I do.

The Irregular Range of Dickcissels


Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

The Irregular Range of Dickcissels by Gene Walz

If you look at the range map for Dickcissels (Spiza americana), you’ll notice that they are mainly birds of the US Great Plains. Despite their Latin name, they do venture into Canada – into a small slice of the prairies of southwestern Manitoba and south-eastern Saskatchewan.

Female Dickcissel Birds

Dickcissel, adult female © Brian E. Small/VIREO

Most years it’s virtually impossible to find them here. It has nothing to do with US Homeland Security! Dickcissels don’t have fixed home grounds. They are opportunists, roaming about in response to grassland conditions.

This year is an exceptional one, the first big year for Dickcissels in Manitoba since 1973. A couple of weeks ago a few were spotted near the North Dakota–Manitoba border. Given the coordinates, local birders flocked to see them. Since then Dickcissels have been recorded in dozens of different places in this province. It’s what they call an incursion year. Many birders are getting first-ever sightings. Easily.

Male Dickcissel Birds

Dickcissel, adult male © Brian E. Small/VIREO

Dickcissels, like chickadees and jays, take their name from their songs. They’ll sit on a wire or a fencepost and sing incessantly all day long. With their bright, lemon-yellow chest with its distinctive black vee, the males look like a cross between a Meadowlark and a House Sparrow.

If they’re around, Dickcissels are pretty easy to find and identify. Drought conditions in the US probably account for their large numbers here.

Waves of Bird Songs


Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Naturalist Kent McFarland

Waves of Bird Songs: by Kent McFarland

Wood Thrush, adult © Brian E. Small/VIREO

Each year as the tilted earth travels around the sun, migratory birds wintering in the tropics are waiting. As the northern hemisphere passes from a cold winter tilted away from the sun into the longer and warmer days of spring, they get antsy. After a quiet winter, a Wood Thrush sings at dawn in the rainforest of Belize. Earth’s orbit brings changes. One early spring evening, they all lift off and fly northward. Millions upon millions of songbirds stream northward like a river of feathers each night.

Song Sparrow, adult, Eastern © Rob Curtis/VIREO

The lengthening days of spring sparks the rush of hormones. Higher and higher levels of testosterone and melatonin are produced in males. The high vocal center of the brain actually increases in volume. They begin to sing more and more as they arrive on the northern breeding grounds. By late spring with the length of daylight in the north near its maximum so are the testosterone levels of a male Song Sparrow. He’s feisty and he sings almost constantly on his territory. Other Song Sparrows beware; this is his patch of land.

Winter Wren, adult © Brian E. Small/VIREO

Hermit Thrush, adult male, Eastern © Garth McElroy/VIREO

Its June and around the temperate world songbirds are excited. The breeding season has begun. As sunrise and sunset circle the temperate zone each day, a wave of bird song travels with it. As twilight barely glimmers in the east each morning songbirds are proclaiming their presence. Imagine silently traveling in a hot air balloon at 700 to 900 miles per hour westward with the rising sun just above the temperate forests and grasslands. For 24 hours you’d hear nothing but the joyous songs of spring chorusing around the globe one mile after another, repeating itself day after day the entire breeding season. From a Winter Wren in Maine to a Hermit Thrush in Vermont, onto a Wood Thrush in Ohio, Kirtland’s Warbler in Michigan, Savannah Sparrows in North Dakota, Townsend’s Solitaire in Idaho, an American Dipper singing over the roar of a river in Washington. Just a few you’d hear as you glide with the sun across North America. Millions of songbirds on continents to the west await the rising sun. Wave after wave of songbird chorus travels around the globe.

Kirtland’s Warbler, adult male © Ron Austing/VIREO

Savannah Sparrow, adult (typical form, coloration variable from gray to red) © Claude Nadeau/VIREO

The chorus is music to our ears. For many of us in the north, we have had months of near bird silence. Our world is a cold and quiet one for much of the year. I once heard an ornithologist from the tropics exclaim that those of us in the temperate zone are such keen birders because each year we understand what it would be like to lose most of our birds only to be renewed each spring. Bird song is present year-round in the tropics. The strong sense of wonder of a morning bird chorus perhaps comes from not having it for most of the year. It’s the same excitement we get when we see the first fresh spring wildflower or the sudden appearance of green trees. It’s auditory wonder, scientific wonder, and spiritual wonder. It’s an annual miracle.

Townsend’s Warbler, adult © Glenn Bartley/VIREO

American Dipper, adult © Glenn Bartley/VIREO