The changing of the seasons is affirmed with the arrival of our migrating avian friends. The actual snowbirds have come to tell us that spring is here.
Robins are the traditional harbinger of spring; those early achievers can deal with late-winter snow. But during the past few weeks I’ve spotted orioles, swallows, finches and hummingbirds.
Apparently even the avians disliked our spring weather this year. The migration pattern is normally much more spread out across April and May but many of the birds didn’t book their flights until the last minute. It caused a winged traffic jam. According to the website Birdcast.info – which tracks and predicts the migration patterns of birds – the peak of this year’s migration so far was May 21 when more than 28 million birds crossed into Wisconsin.
Thankfully I heard no reports of any avian air disasters, but I really enjoyed watching – and hearing – the new arrivals. This past week after spotting an oriole I placed a container with grape jelly in the branches of our crabapple tree. It didn’t take long for the birds to discover one of their favorite foods. My wife, Sherry, prepared some hummingbird water and soon the males – the first to return to stake out territory – were back buzzing the bushes around our porch.
A few years ago we had a delightful couple stay at our inn for a few days. They watched the hummingbirds with great joy and fascination. It was special to them, they said, because they had never seen a hummingbird before but said they were mentioned in the Quran.
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The male red-winged blackbirds were actually here prior to our heavy snowstorm April 17. They flocked to our bird feeder for sunflowers while contemplating a class-action lawsuit against their travel agent for the early booking. Now they’re staking their territorial claims to nesting areas along our creek; they’re quick to scream their protests and fly around my head if they think I’m coming too close.
The barn-swallow population seems to have been smaller the past few years, but I welcome their presence every spring and summer. I’m willing to tolerate messy nests in the old dairy barn because they’re our natural mosquito predators; we can enjoy sitting outside in the evenings without being eaten alive.
The one migrating bird rarely seen but heard is the whip-poor-will. Nothing says summer nights more to me than the call of the whip-poor-will, which instantly takes me back to my childhood and listening to the bird as I drifted off to sleep. It was the whip-poor-will that greeted Sherry and I back home a few days after we moved to the farm in 2006.
We were sitting on the porch at dusk listening to the gobbles of turkeys settling in for the night and to singing frogs from the creek. An owl hooted. Then in the distance we heard the voice of the whip-poor-will. It was as if the bird was singing “welcome home, welcome home.”
It was about 4 a.m. recently when we heard the distinctive call from just outside our window. It was a little early for a wake-up call, but one we appreciated nonetheless.
“Welcome home to you,” I silently whispered.
Visit birdcast.info/migration-tools for more information.
This is an original article written for Agri-View, a Lee Enterprises agricultural publication based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit AgriView.com for more information.
Chris Hardie and his wife, Sherry, raise animals and crops on his great-grandparents’ Jackson County farm. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2001, he’s a former member of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and past-president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with comments.