What is the Bird that Says Spring is on the Way?

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Now that Spring has finally arrived, we can all be happy to say a warm hello. Our area will still have snow and temperatures in the teens, but the birds are singing and brightening spirits.

Many folks think robins are the first to arrive in our area, but robins sometimes never leave. I have shown them bathing in the icy Niagara River in mid January. My post, Why Are Robins Still Here in Winter? is one people search asking the same question.

Who knows definitively why some robins migrate and others don’t, but usually it is based on available food. If robins are not reliable in ushering in spring, what other migrant can one use to predict the change of seasons?

The Black Birds are Back!

Really it is more about breeding and nesting times. Birds migrate to move from areas of lessening resources to areas of increasing resources. Resources are food and nesting locations. Birds migrating our way often follow insect populations and budding plants, but that happens further into spring. Birds might show up early to establish nesting territory. It all depends on individual species of birds.

Birds have no sense of the calendar, so it is based on instinct. But really science does not fully understand the mechanisms initiating migratory behavior. They are finding that weather plays a role in migration, but more in how the weather has been moderated or changed over the past fifty years. Arrival and departure dates are being extended and more and more birds like the robin are overwintering. Bluebirds are also more frequently seen in winter.

What is not always understood is why some birds of the same species migrate at different times. They will follow different migratory patterns too. One reason some birds migrate in differing waves of time is to ensure the species arrival will survive the weather. If birds alternate months of arrival, it guarantees some will find resources and a mate when they start to nest.

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I showed swans early this year and generally the Tundra Swan is the first to arrive in February. I photographed them in our mild, early December. Eagles were more plentiful  early in March, although some spend winters here.

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So what are the true birds of actual spring? The bird in this post is the Red-winged Blackbird. Many consider it a bird telling us spring is here, but they arrive earlier on average (late February or first week of March) than the calendar week of Spring. Also, they can be here over winter since the range maps show them year-round in our area.

Leucistic-Grackle

For my spring bird I just might choose the Common Grackle (Plus the not so common Leucistic Grackle). Grackles also can be found year round here, but I see more of them come spring. I know when I see the grackle, the calendar chimes Spring. They have been at the feeder the last few days so Spring it is.

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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46 Responses to What is the Bird that Says Spring is on the Way?

  1. Your grackle is certainly a scruffy fellow, and they do have a certain sharp eyed look. In contrast the red-winged black birds shown are quite handsome and a welcome sign of spring. I love to hear them calling in the cat tail marshes in Maine.

    • Just the leucistic one is scruffy, the others are rather handsome in a strange way. Some of my leucistic sparrows were also scruffy. We have many cattail marshes here too. Fun to watch them in the ends of the cattail calling and guarding territory.

  2. Ah, I’m so glad to hear it’s spring! Outside my window I see big, puffy snowflakes falling.

  3. bittster says:

    I’m with you! Grackles and blackbirds mean the first stirrings of spring are around. They usually come around the same time as the cardinals start staking out territories with their songs. I can hear one singing now in spite of yesterday’s fresh coat of snow.

  4. David says:

    I think the first photo in this post is really nice but I especially like the photo of the bird in the bush. I’m sure you know that two of those are worth one in the hand. 🙂

  5. The red-winged blackbird is beautiful. I saw one not long ago at one of our nature reserves here.

  6. lorieb says:

    saw my first robin yesterday! Spring is slow to get here this year here in Ottawa, but that is a good sign

  7. Wonderful close ups of the blackbirds. Just the other day a flock of about twenty hungry Blackbirds landed in our backyard and emptied the feeder in no time. Two red-winged blackbirds were within the group with their brightly colored red which stood out in the snow. There are no signs of Robins yet but it is surely a pleasure seeing more and more bird visitors each day. Happy spring to you!

  8. Great photos. We do have some birds here in New Zealand that migrate. But where I live the climate is relatively mild so most of the birds stay put.

  9. Given the changing migratory patterns I think I really now use the times I start to see nesting as apposed to a single species…I also think it is the first time I really notice the volume of the birds around me start to appreciably rise.

  10. Pat says:

    Love those Red-winged Blackbirds.

  11. Yay! Many more birds at the feeders and in the garden lately, so I am happy. We seemed to have weird patterns of bird migration in our garden this year, and I’m not sure why. It seems it was too cold for some species and too warm for others. Red-winged blackbirds are here now, too. Their song is a welcome sound. 🙂

  12. aussiebirder says:

    One of the things I love about the seasons and birds is that you know what time of year is coming when you hear the bird that hearkens in the new season on its arrival back again. Donna, we both mark the seasons with the return and exit of our birds.

  13. debsgarden says:

    Your blackbird in the shrub seems quite pleased with himself! Happy spring, and I hope the weather warms up soon for you!

  14. rose says:

    Beautiful photos of the blackbird! For me, the robin is still the sign of spring. I think many of them do overwinter here, but I don’t see them as often during the winter. When I see them all around my yard, as I have this past week, gathering nesting materials, then I know it is spring!

  15. Its the song of the first male Red-winged Blackbirds arriving before their mates and staking out their territories that tells me spring has arrived. Beautiful shots of this bird.

  16. I love the red-winged blackbirds. They are a sure sign of spring for me. Especially hearing their spring song. Beautiful photos and thanks for sharing.

  17. Kevin says:

    As always, fascinating post. As a zone 10 gardener, spring often means that many of the songbirds are returning north. That being said, I’m also new here and I’ve heard from locals that each year there seem to be less songbirds wintering in south Florida. The theory is that climate change is playing a role — birds don’t need to fly as far for their winter resources. Still, I do enjoy hearing the noisy squawks of wild parrots down here.

    • We await your birds. I love all those marsh birds… Also the climate change theory is two fold. The birds travel further than their range and over-winter places not usually found. That is why I mentioned science is a bit befuddled about migratory movements. Birds and bird behaviors are surprising them.

  18. This season, the Song Sparrow beat the Red-winged Blackbird by a full two weeks on The Acre. However, the first real avian sign of Spring for me is in the behaviors of our Winter residents – increased intraspecific aggression within Winter flocks and early song from males. Both these behaviors begin in early to mid-February and are triggered by metabolic changes tied to increased daylight. Whatever the case, Nature’s music is back!

    • You know you hit on something I noticed and could not explain. Males were singing far too early this year. I did not notice increased aggression, but did hear the males in song. Last year, I saw song sparrow in winter’s January. Maybe it was a fluke or a sick bird, but it lasted a few weeks before I saw it gone.

      • It’s been suggested that the early singers may be first year males responding to their first real surge in hormones. As for the aggression, you can easily spot the increase in aggression among the Black-capped Chickadees. We discussed their behaviors a couple years back (https://oakmossed.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/chickadee/). Their altruism begins to break off in February – watch for some Chickadees starting to “push in line” at the feeders in the last half of Winter. This type of aggression is also quite common in the male American Goldfinch, however, we usually don’t see this until early Summer due to them being late nesters. Happy Spring, Donna!

  19. Here the red-wings do not overwinter but return with the grackles…they came back on the 18th.

  20. We have grackles aplenty, but no other blackbirds. They stay for the winter also, but for some reason stay away from the feeders during winter. Redwing Blackbirds show up in my garden later in the season. The crows were pretty much wiped out by West Nile Virus.

  21. lulu says:

    I so enjoyed this post. I am continually fascinated by birds and how they come and go.

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