It is still somewhat strange to go outside to see everything greening, leaves unfurling, flowers opening, and so on. The experience becomes beautiful not only for how it is but also for how it is different from the barren stillness of these past cold months. With the return of the green to Michigan comes many, many different birds. Turning into quite the bird enthusiast. Some say that the hallmark of spring truly returned is the distinctive conk-la-REE (check out this awesome YouTube video) of the Red-winged Blackbird, and, especially in the area that I live, I would have to agree. The males are the first to return, and they are difficult to miss with their brilliant red and yellow shoulders against the stark black plumage. Here are a couple pictures I have managed to take of these field-and-marshland birds.
We have encountered quite a few birds this spring on our trips to the park that I had never before encountered personally. Among these are the Eastern Bluebird, the Barn Swallow, the Baltimore Oriole, the Eastern Kingbird, the Brown Thrasher, and the House Wren. All birds and other wildlife we have met at the park are compiled into a list on the Animal Life page under the Educational Resources menu heading here on the blog with links to information about each.
I had always heard that there were Bluebirds in Michigan, but I always felt a little cheated because I had never had the pleasure of seeing one. The setting where I grew up, on a semi-busy road somewhere between city sprawl and suburbs, is not very suitable Bluebird habitat. They prefer open fields surrounded by trees with cavities to nest in, making the park a perfect location to come across them. Seeing the flash of light blue with a hint of rusty red dart among the young trees over the sprawling prairie grasses has been a real treat this May.
The Barn Swallow is very similar to the Eastern Bluebird in appearance with its blue top plumage and reddish-colored breast. Their appearances still have marked differences, though. Barn Swallow blue is darker, with the blue feathers having a jewel-toned luster; the whole underside of the Barn Swallow is tinted in shades of a soft, rosy red as opposed to the rust-red and stark white undersides of Eastern Bluebirds. And, of course, Barn Swallow has the distinctive forked Swallow tail. We tend to spot them swooping high above the grasses of the lookout area and believe them to be nesting in the small nest box closer to the apple trees.
The Baltimore Oriole is another bird that is supposedly common to Michigan in the spring and summer months that I had felt unfairly deprived of sighting. I had always thought that, with its bright orange underside plumage, it would be difficult to miss. The problem with spotting Baltimore Orioles, though, is that they tend to perch near the very tops of trees. You are much more likely to hear this bird before you can see it, and it can appear to be a smallish orange-red-breasted American Robin from far below. The beak of the Baltimore Oriole is thinner and black in color as opposed to the American Robin’s yellow beak.
These next two birds were ones that I had never heard of before: the Eastern Kingbird and the Brown Thrasher. The attack-and-re-perch behavior and the bright white underbelly contrasting the dark gray-black of the Eastern Kingbird was what initially caught my attention as I was walking through the field. At first I thought it was an Eastern Towhee (which I have yet to see), but it lacked the red-brown sides underneath the wings of the Eastern Towhee. It also had white chin feathers as opposed to the Eastern Towhee’s dark chin. An Eastern Phoebe was my next guess; the distinguishing visual factor between the Eastern Phoebe and the Eastern Kingbird is a bright white stripe at the tip of the tail feathers of the Kingbird most easily seen when the tail is fanned out. Having found this tail stripe in one of the many indistinct photos I managed to take of the bird, I was satisfied as to the avian’s identity at last. The name ‘King’bird comes from their very territorial, king-like behavior towards other birds, even birds larger than themselves.
The Brown Thrasher was quite a surprise. When perched and in photos, the Brown Thrasher seems to be an unremarkable light brown color. What drew my eye to this bird, though, was the red, clay-like color that stands out when it is in motion. The red-brown at first glance looked very similar to a female Cardinal, but the long beak, larger size, breast flecked with dark streaks, double wing bars, and yellow eyes proved this notion quite false. A bit like the goose in Charlotte’s Web with her “doube ‘E’, double ‘I'” spelling, the Brown Thrasher’s highly-varied songs tend to be in double repeat phrases. Last night a red-brown blur streaking across the path behind me caught my attention. Eagerly following it to the large shrub in which it had disappeared, I spotted two Brown Thrashers both with their beaks stuffed with nest supplies. I was so tempted to crawl closer in my delight at finding their nest, but I suppressed the silly notion and let them be.
Finally, we come to the tiny little House Wren. I had found this little bird in my determination to locate the singer of the very loud song; I had no idea that such a small bird could make such noise! Only a little longer than a chapstick case from head to tail, it was surprising I even spotted the thing. Its soft, fawn-brown color and small size makes it very easy for this bird to disappear in plain sight. Happened to spot it only because it was perched on the end of a largely bare apple tree branch about 10 ft away at eye level, and even then it took a minute or two to actually see it. I had first assumed it was some sort of Finch or Sparrow from its small size and brown color, but the beak was too long and thin to be a Finch and the body was a bit small to be a Sparrow. The cocked tail was another giveaway as to its Wren identification.
Other birds that I have met so far this spring are iridescently-colorful Grackles and European Starlings as well as hearing Gray Catbirds a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the distance. I very much look forward to more experiences with the birds throughout the spring and summer.
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