As May arrived, so too did an influx of spring migrants. On May 1, 2015, I observed my first of year Chimney Swifts as they circled the skies overhead. Chimney Swifts are one of many birds that have seen their numbers decline drastically in recent years, and likely go unnoticed by non-birders. These small birds can be observed throughout the day circling high overhead feeding on insects. Learning their chattering call is the best way to locate Chimney Swifts. Once heard, looking up will reveal these Species at Risk. The Chimney Swifts’ call can be heard on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All about Birds website.
More first of year species were observed as I birded local areas throughout the weekend. Firsts of Baltimore Orioles, Warbling Vireos, and Yellow Warblers were all recorded. Other area birders have also reported firsts of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Indigo Buntings, although I personally have yet to observe these species this year.
I have mentioned in the past that it is best to leave your backyard feeders up, at least through the migration, if not all year. Birds are fatigued and hungry upon completing their journey, which in some cases see them traveling hundreds, sometimes thousands of kilometers. Offering quality food is a great way to help them replenish spent energy. These colourful species can all be attracted to backyard feeders if they are left up. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks readily eat black oil sunflower and safflower seed, while Indigo Buntings prefer smaller seed such as white millet. Special nectar feeders for both Orioles and Hummingbirds are available at your local seed retailer. Baltimore Orioles will also feed on oranges. Placing orange slices on your feeder or around your yard will often attract these colourful birds. In my experience, Eastern Grey Squirrels also like oranges, so you may want to place them in a location where they are not accessible.
Nectar for Orioles and Hummingbirds can be made inexpensively at home using white sugar and water. For Hummingbirds, use a ratio of four parts water to one part sugar (1/4 cup sugar to 1 cup water). Bring the water and sugar to a boil and stir, this will ensure the sugar dissolves. Be sure to let the mixture cool before adding it to your feeder. Nectar should be replaced regularly, especially when the weather warms up, so I recommend making smaller batches. For Orioles, a ratio of 6:1 is recommended, although Orioles are often seen feeding at Hummingbird feeders and do not seem to mind the sweeter nectar.
When making your own nectar for either Orioles or Hummingbirds, do not use dyes or food colouring. Dyes and colouring are made from unnatural products and can be harmful to birds. Flower nectar is naturally clear, and Hummingbird and Oriole feeders are specially coloured to attract these birds, without the use of harmful artificially coloured nectar.
Early May is a great time to get out and observe many migrating birds as they return and move through our area. Thanks to the cool start this spring, many trees are not yet fully covered in leaves, making viewing these birds even easier. Several species, including Warblers, are often observed high up in trees feeding on insects and the absence of leaves provides excellent views. When birding in a forested area, be sure to observe the forest floor as many wildflowers are now coming into bloom. Bloodroot, Trout Lilies, Mayapples, and the popular Trillium are some of the species that are visible throughout the public forests and ESAs in London.
If you get the chance this week, head out to your favourite park, ESA, conservation area, or be extra observant in your own backyard. Spring migration is heating up and several more species will be visible over the next few weeks.