Early Spring Migrants: Birds: Red-winged blackbird

Avian spring migrants come in two categories: Northbound birds and elevation transients or lateral migrators. The second group mostly consists of our high elevation breeders, such as dark-eyed juncos, that drop off the mountain tops for a few winter months in search of easier food, water and in some cases, shelter. Most of us, however, think of the distance travelers, when we talk about spring migration.  

One of the fun things about early migrant spring bird sighting is the juxtaposition of new arrivals to our special winter visitors…who will soon enough become early spring migrants further north, even within the Blue Ridge. Some of the birds that will soon be leaving are pine siskins, purple finches, and eventually white-throated sparrows. Here in Grayson County, our avian harbingers of spring include red-winged blackbirds, rusty blackbirds, tree swallows, pine warblers, and an increase in our most common thrushes, bluebirds and robins.

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

Other birds seen during late winter and early spring, but do not breed here, are several species associated with ponds, lakes and rivers.  Among them we can hope to see these ducks: Scaup, ring-necked duck, blue-winged teal, common mergansers and hooded mergansers.  

Red-winged Blackbird, Photo Credit: Wikimedia CC

Red-winged Blackbird, Photo Credit: Wikimedia CC

Most birders judge the evidence of spring by the red-winged blackbirds’ arrival. Males are always a couple of weeks ahead of the females, staking out territory for the upcoming breeding season. My Grayson County 2015 spring arrival species and dates follow:

  • Red-winged blackbird…late February
  • Blue-headed vireo…March 4th
  • Pine warbler…March 7th

In other notes, on March 5th, I counted 33 ring-billed gulls on the New River at Cox’s Chapel, and have been hearing sighting reports of osprey on the move. Early breeders include screech and great-horned owls, ravens, and red-tail hawks.