Spring is for the birds

After a long winter, life seems to suddenly return to the forests, as well as the backyards, parks, shorelines and, even, along streets and highways of the Pacific Northwest.

Townsends warbler
Townsends warbler

Between March and May, migratory songbirds arrive to take advantage of the explosion of insect life in our temperate forests and countryside. Many of these birds return yearly from Central and South America to breed and remain with us through the summer months. Others merely pass through on their way to breeding grounds farther north, using our forests and shores to refuel and rest. Listen carefully at dawn to the chorus of song, as birds declare breeding territories and try to attract mates.

Research suggests that some of our migratory birds (western tanagers, Townsend’s warblers, flycatchers) may key in on our deciduous trees either because of the insect populations, or because the trees are similar to the broad-leafed forests where they spend the winter. Interestingly, many of the neo-tropical migrants arrive as trees are leafing out. Conifers have more consistent habitat features, with needles present all year long, and provide habitats utilized more by year around residents such as chickadees and nuthatches.

Western pee wee. Photo: G. Thompson.
Western pee wee. Photo: G. Thompson.

Rich shrub layers and overlapping canopy trees can provide critical habitats for these nesting birds. Many like snags along the forest edge, particularly if there are meadows or water nearby. Watch for flycatchers “hawking” (catching on the wing) insects by darting up into the air and flying back to their favorite perches. There are at least eight species of birds known as flycatchers that will grace your forest this spring and summer including the western wood pee wee and both the Hammond’s and dusky flycatchers. These birds nest in forked branches high up in trees, and actively feed throughout the day. Try telling them apart by their behavior and calls. Appreciate the journey they just made from central Mexico or Arizona back to our area.

This blog first appeared in a longer version in Small Forest Landowner News, a free e-newsletter published quarterly by the DNR Small Forest Landowner Office. Click here to get Small Forest Landowner News delivered to your email in-box each quarter.