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Spring Migrations

The Beauty of Birding

The White-breasted Nuthatch has  the ability to move head-first down  tree trunks, thanks to its strong hind claws.

The White-breasted Nuthatch has the ability to move head-first down tree trunks, thanks to its strong hind claws.

photo by Leslie Holzmann

Those little finches, sparrows, nuthatches and chickadees that inhabited our feeders all winter have suddenly burst forth into a chorus. The trees haven’t leafed yet and the grass is drab, but the birds of summer don’t care.

Some, like juncos, will leave, and the migrants arrive, moving down from higher elevations or up from Mexico and Central America to bring brilliant colors and sounds to our landscapes. A flash of yellow or unexpected blue lands in the trees or on the edge of the birdbath. A Western Tanager makes a rare and stunning appearance and takes your breath away. Spring is here.

Who’s new in town? Different birds flock to different areas in our region, says Christine Bucher, president of Aiken Audubon Society, the local arm of the national organization. Among the earliest to arrive are the Indigo Bunting, Western Tanager, Rose-breasted and Black-headed Grosbeaks, Lazuli Bunting, Bullock’s Oriole, Green-tailed Towhee, Townsend’s Solitaires and the sweet Mourning Dove.

The White-throated Swifts that famously congregate in Garden of the Gods appear. They’re one of the reasons the park is designated a National Natural Landmark. The birds’ sunset ritual is a stunning phenomenon to see, when hundreds rise in a spectacular display of aerial acrobatics over Gateway Rocks as they pursue high-flying insects. The park provides guided hikes for this event.

“And of course, everyone waits for the hummingbirds to return,” Bucher says. The first to arrive as early as mid-April are the Broad-tailed hummers, one of two species that nest in Colorado. In late summer, the assertive Rufus, tiny Calliope and Black-chinned grace the plants and flowers as they prepare for their arduous journey south.
Provide them with several nectar feeders and those little jewels will be grateful visitors to your garden. Fill them with four parts water to one part granulated white sugar—never red food dye—and watch the flurry.

This is the time to create or refresh a bird-friendly environment. A garden area can be easily turned into a microcosm of wild bird habitat that provides a haven for the birds. In return, they will choose your garden to raise their families, pollinate your plants and help rid your yard of insects.

The most important element that will bring birds flocking to your yard is the food that’s offered. Not all birds like the same thing. But among the most preferred seed is Niger (thistle), sunflower hearts, white prose millet and black-oil sunflower. “Make sure you buy quality bird seed,” Bucher advises. It’s best to visit specialty bird supply stores for expert advice on feeding the feathered gourmets in your garden. And once feeding is started, it needs to continue. The birds depend on it.

Water is even more important than feeders. A birdbath or two provides drinking water, a safe place for bathing, and a welcome respite for birds on flybys, even those who ignore the feeders.

Birdwatching is addictive and fun. To learn more, several national birding organizations in town provide information and guided outings. And don’t overlook Pinello Ranch, a paradise for naturalists adjacent to Venetucci Farm, or Fountain Creek Nature Center. Our birds are treasures and critical indicators of a healthy ecosystem. We should thank them by helping them.