Birders delight in the return of spring migrating and summer nesting birds.     

  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love spring,  not just for the end of winter but also for the return of colors other than gray, brown and dull green. For birders, spring is the highlight of a birding year. The more colorful birds return along with their beautiful songs.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Broad-tailed hummer by Tom Hedwall

I put a hummingbird feeder up in mid-April and have had a few Black-chinned and Broad-tailed Hummers visit. They must have been migrating farther north as they didn’t stay around. I love the way the Black-chinned  Hummer pumps its tail at the feeder and its purple gorget which may look black. Hummingbirds do not always show their colorful gorgets but when they do, it can be a spectacular sight. Over the years there have been visits from Anna’s, Calliope and Costa’s

Also returning are a few band-tailed pigeons, the only native pigeon in the United States. I love the bright yellow bill and feet of the “bandy”, as I like to call it, and the white collar on its nape. They are skittish because they have been hunted. The more common pigeon we see is a feral pigeon, or rock dove as it is called in the bird field guides.

One of the most colorful neotropical migrants that begins appearing in May in Flagstaff is the Western Tanager. The male is bright yellow, red, black and white and delights the eye.  They first visit the feeders in small flocks and then later leave the group with a female to mate and start a family.

Although not as colorful, the black and orange male Black-headed Grosbeak is the bird I most long to see and hear. A few appear at my feeders almost on schedule on May 1 every year. This year they were a little late, not appearing until May 6. They actually are in a different family from the Evening Grosbeaks that visit feeders in northern Arizona in the winter. Right now I have both visiting feeders at the same time.The Black-headed Grosbeak has one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard and he can go on and on singing to attract a mate and keep her happy on the nest. Last summer I timed one at around ten minutes of continuous song. Russ Balda who taught ornithology at NAU said that the American Robin is a Black-headed Grosbeak want-a-be. Yes, the robin has a pretty song but nothing as gorgeous at this grosbeak.

Lazuli-Bunting – NAAS files

Another colorful bird is the Bullock’s Oriole; the male is orange, white and black. I listen for the chattering sound they make and hope that one will come out into the open where I can see it. One has been visiting my neighbor’s hummingbird feeder and gathering nesting material that I put out (my cat’s fur). A couple other birds that I listen for are the Virginia’s Warbler (heard the first one this year May12) and the Cordilleran Flycatcher (haven’t heard one yet this year). They are small gray birds that are hard to see but I know they are nesting nearby if I hear them singing for three or four weeks in a row.  I think  it is neat that some birds not only sing  to attract a mate but also to serenade the female on the nest.

Lately a beautiful male Lazuli Bunting has joined the grosbeaks at the black oil seed feeder. It’s been also going for the shelled peanuts, too. And to think that that pretty blue is all feather structure! A surprise this year is a Red-breasted Nuthatch that has been around since last fall. It likes the peanuts, too.

Not obvious at all about these returning birds is the distances they travel during migration.  Broad-tailed hummingbirds, as well as most of the other birds species that I have mentioned,  winter in southern Mexico and Central America. When they reach northern Arizona, they may stay and breed here or go on to northern US and up into Canada. These journeys are perilous and many birds do not survive.

I wish I didn’t have to mention the sad side of  bird enjoyment but I must.  We are losing birds due to habitat loss, pesticides, drought and global warming. Every spring I think of the title of Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring”.  When the black-headed grosbeaks don’t show up the first couple days of May, I wonder if they will return at all.

I’ll leave you with this. In the fall of 2019,  the National Audubon Society announced a groundbreaking climate report, Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink. “Two-thirds of America’s birds are threatened with extinction from climate change, but keeping global temperatures down will help up to 76 percent of them. There’s hope in this report, but first, it’ll break your heart if you care about birds and what they tell us about the ecosystems we share with them. It’s a bird emergency,”

By Phyllis KegleyEditor Note: Phyllis is our longest continuously serving NAAS member. She has been President, Board Member, and Publications Chair over more years than she is willing to remember. Phyllis has been awarded Lifetime Member status and we continue to appreciate her.