The 2015 spring songbird migration is almost over now in southeast Virginia, but birders have been witnessing this miracle for the past six weeks or so and relishing the riot of color that these little gems bring to a world that is just awakening from winter’s gloomy grays. Most of the songbirds spent the winter in Central America, Mexico, or the United States’ southernmost regions and are migrating north to their breeding grounds. For some species, the destination is here in Virginia; others stop in Virginia only briefly on their way further north, giving us just a small window of time to try to see them as they pass through.
In the spring the breeding songbirds are in their finest plumages and most vibrant colors, because it’s the time to attract a mate. There is usually fierce competition among male birds to attract a female, and the female is very particular when choosing her mate; she want to make sure he is among the healthiest and strongest of his species to ensure the survival of her offspring. So the males knock themselves out to sing the strongest songs, claim the best breeding grounds, defeat other males that challenge them, and to look their absolute best.
The photo at the top of this blog is of a gorgeous male Prairie Warbler that I photographed at the Dismal Swamp in early May. Prairie Warblers are quite common breeders in our area, but I never tire of them and I try to photograph every one that comes within camera range. The rest of the photos I’ve posted, below, are of some of the songbirds that I saw and photographed in April and May in Hampton Roads; I’ve selected them based upon their outrageous colors (all of them are male birds). I hope you enjoy them!
Hummingbirds might not quite qualify as “songbirds” but I’m going to include this guy anyway. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are usually the first spring migrant that I see in my yard, and they always arrive between April 8 and April 15. I always put out my hummingbird feeders on April 1 just in case an early one flies through. If your feeders aren’t out when the hummingbirds arrive, they will pass you by and set up their territories elsewhere. Here’s another shot of this individual, who arrived this year on April 9:
This next little bird is also one of our earlier spring migrants; it is a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. They have a nasally, wheezy call that, once you learn it, alerts you to their presence. They are tiny and can be hard to see, especially when they’re high up in the treetops, but they are always moving and you can find them by watching for their movements.
The next few photos are of different species of Wood Warblers, a family of small birds that only occurs in the New World. Lucky us! They are colorful and active, and are the gems of the birding world. They sport outrageous colors and plumage patterns, different for every species, and cover the whole spectrum of colors from blue to yellow to orange to red, and everything in between. I doubt that there are any North American birders who do not list warblers on their “favorites” list and target them during spring field trips.
This is one of my favorites, a male Black-throated Blue Warbler. I found him and several others at the Dismal Swamp in early May; I even caught him singing!
The next three warblers are fairly common breeders at the Dismal Swamp. The first is a female Black and White Warbler, followed by a Northern Parula:
The Prothonotary Warbler is a bird of southern swamps, and is one of the signature bird of the Great Dismal Swamp. Birders from other parts of the country visit the Dismal Swamp just to see this little beauty. Unlike most other warblers, Prothonotaries nest in tree cavities, and in the second photo below you can see the bird honing in on his nest cavity; shortly after I took the photo he flew right into the hole.
We’ll finish up here with one of everyone’s favorite summer birds, the Indigo Bunting. There’s no other bird that has the stunning colors of this beauty, not even other blue-colored birds. They are very common and occupy all kinds of different habitats; open fields, streamsides, and mountains, for example. But they can be hard to see, and even harder to approach unless you get lucky, as I did when this one let me take his picture:
Most of these birds are now nesting and are far less conspicuous than they have been for the last few weeks; they remain mostly silent when near their nests so they don’t give away the nest’s location. Now is the time to get out and look at our beautiful breeding birds before they are completely quiet and the oppressive heat of summer sets in.