As you scour the garden for signs of spring, looking for those first crocuses or tulips, you might want to pause to look up.
Migratory birds are flying right now and some of the first arrivals of the season are already here.
From soaring bald eagles to shy hermit thrushes, spring birds are returning to Michigan, signaling the change of seasons. Here’s a quick guide to the species you might be seeing – and hearing – right now, plus some clues for where to look.
Red-winged blackbirds: When you hear the trills of these wetland dwellers, you know spring is just around the corner. Red-winged Blackbirds are usually found in cattail marshes and marshy roadside ditches. At this time of year, however, when hungry after their long journey north, they may also appear in your backyard bird feeder where they will stock up on black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn and peanut hearts.
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bald eagles: Not all of these iconic raptors leave Michigan for the winter, but those that do are usually among the first birds to return at New Year’s. While adults are easy to spot thanks to their iconic coloring, juveniles can be harder to identify as they are mostly mottled brown – the iconic white heads and tails don’t become definitive until the birds are four to five years old. If you want to see bald eagles, you are likely to find them near lakes, rivers or other bodies of water, where at this time of year they are already building their huge nests.
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Hermit Thrushes: These forest dwellers look a bit like tawny brownbirds – and that’s because the two species are closely related. But don’t expect to find Hermit Thrushes eating worms in your lawn like their cousins; Instead, you’ll need to head into the woods, where you’ll most likely see them hopping in the understory, perching on low branches, or scratching in leaf litter to feed.
song sparrows: This small, rusty-and-stone-colored songbird has a warm, happy call that you’ll most often hear along the edges of marshes and ponds, and in overgrown fields. Sparrows can be difficult to see (and tell apart from each other), so try to familiarize yourself with their call and ground markings before heading out.
American Woodcock: This plump shorebird is rarely seen during the day, but if you head out to a meadow or marshy field at dusk on early spring nights, you might be treated to one of the craziest courtship displays in the world. Michigan Bird World. The show begins with the male bird’s jerky calls, followed by aerial acrobatics in which the bird spirals 200 to 350 feet in the air, chirping all the way, before dropping and chirping to descend.
red-headed vultures: After spending their winters further south, these huge birds can now be seen returning to Michigan in impressive flocks called kettlebells. Keep your eyes skyward where you might see them congregating and circling above your head in pockets of warm air as they move through the area.
sandhill cranes: While our warmer winters have forced some of these dinosaur-like birds to stay in southern Michigan year-round, most have just returned from warmer winter regions like Mexico and Cuba. You are most likely to find sandhill cranes at this time of year in wet meadows, swampy areas and agricultural fields, but if you learn their distinctive prehistoric-sounding call, you can also hear them when they are flocking over your head this season.
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Killdeer: This small vocal bird owes its name to its high pitched call “kill-deer”. Like their cousins the piping plovers, killdeers are technically shorebirds, but they are very often found in Michigan in open landscapes that aren’t necessarily near water, including lawns, parks, fields, golf courses and parking lots. Listen to their namesake sounds and you’ll most likely find one nearby.
For more resources on birds and birding in Michigan, visit MI Birds Onlineon Facebook at facebook.com/MIBirdspageinstagram at instagram.com/mibirdspage and Twitter at twitter.com/birds_mi.
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