Bird Watching

Birds signal spring is on its way | Albion New Era

On a misty morning a few days ago, a day when the sun seemed to be shining through a veil and our outdoor thermometer was recording two degrees above freezing, I was sitting on a lawn chair by a path gravel in a park near my house, shoulders curled up against the cold, watching the birds on the road, foraging.

There were five birds, three directly in front of me a few feet from where I was sitting, and two to one side of me further away.

The three birds in front of me were dark eyed juncos, birds that nest further north and only seen in northern Indiana where I live, in winter. In winter, these are common birds in bird feeders.

The two birds that were feeding on the road on one side of where I was sitting that morning were chipped sparrows. Jagged sparrows are summer birds in northern Indiana. I hadn’t seen a chippy at any of my feeders all winter. They had just started coming to the bird feeders outside my house a few days earlier. So as I looked at the juncos and chippies, were they indicating that it was summer or winter?

Looking at the juncos and chippies, I heard a cardinal singing and looking through the tree branches beyond the road, I spotted the singer, on a branch, high in one of the trees. Cardinals do not migrate. There have been four, or more, that have come to my feeders all winter and, of course, all last summer.

But I hadn’t heard a cardinal whistle his happy song all winter.

Two male red-winged blackbirds came to my feeders all winter. Maybe there have been more than two, but until recently I haven’t seen more than two at a time, and no women. Now there are up to six red males at one of my feeders and a female.

Around the swamp next to our pasture, red wings, male and female, are abundant. I hear the males calling every time I go out. I see them and hear them every time I go to the barn where I can look at the swamp.

Many of the red wings that arrive at feeders and in the willows and cattails in and around the swamp, like the chippies, are spring arrivals. There are cowbirds coming to my feeders now, and those and blackbirds and two white-crowned sparrows have also arrived in the spring.

There are tree swallows with red wings around our swamp. I walked past the house of a man I know who makes and sells purple martin houses. These houses only had house sparrows a few days ago, but now there are purple martins and tree swallows in his martin houses. Purple martens and tree swallows are back, but I haven’t seen a barn swallow yet.

When I was young, living in northern Iowa many years ago, when I saw a blackbird or a mourning dove in April, or even in May, I thought it was a sure sign of spring. This year, and every year for several years, I have seen blackbirds from time to time every month, even in December, January and February. A male blackbird is in our yard, singing every morning at dawn when the weather has been good for over a month.

Back in the park this misty morning recently, I stayed by the car, sitting on a lawn chair. My oldest daughter, who drove and had the car, picked up our two dogs, kept on a leash and walked along the road for several miles. She saw bird species that I didn’t see, several towels and a pounded woodpecker. She passed a lake, which was obviously free of ice, and saw mallards and wood ducks and a great blue heron.