April Birding Madness




April is a month in which birders avidly search for neo-tropical migrants as they fly from the Caribbean, South and Central America and Mexico to their northern breeding sites. In SW Florida these feathered jewels tend to descend on us during westerly winds, which push them off course as they migrate at night from the Yucatan to the northern gulf states. Coastal areas often receive the bulk of the “fall outs” as they are termed, and parks such as Pinecraft, Kiwanis and Ft DeSoto are famous for these “avian rains.”

Our place on the bayside of Manasota Key is heavily planted with vegetation attractive to birds and equipped with three dripping water baths, so we sometimes have amazing displays of migrants. Here are five of these beautiful birds that we have recently seen in our yard.

This male hooded warbler is a brilliant yellow with a black hood and spends a lot of time on the ground, making it conspicuous. These birds are heading to heavily wooded areas from northern Florida throughout the eastern US. They are often extremely tired, hungry and thirsty and this provides a remarkable opportunity to observe them up close and personal.

This male prothonotary warbler is a striking bright gold color on the head and chest and will be breeding in northern Florida and throughout the eastern US north to the Great Lakes. It is typically found in wooded swamps, but during migration must often settle for a long dip in a water bath as shown here. This bird was so happy in our yard that it apparently remained here for more than a week.

This male black-throated blue warbler was foraging for insects on the trunk of a large strangler fig tree in our yard. It is migrating to breeding territories in the higher elevations of the Appalachian Mountains and SE Canada.

This male orchard oriole was feeding on nectar in flowers of the exotic silk cotton tree, close to our home. We saw them drinking nectar from sea grape and Cape honeysuckle flowers and eating mulberries in our yard. They are specialized for piercing flowers but also eat a wide range of foods. They will be breeding from N Florida west through Texas and north to the Canadian border. As their name indicates they are found in early successional habitats with a mixture of grasses, trees and shrubs.

This male prairie warbler might be a wintering bird or more likely one that is migrating from the tropics. In Florida they nest in mangroves. But in more northern eastern US states they often choose early successional areas with small pines.

It is interesting that these male birds (except for the prothonotary) are more brightly colored than the females, indicating that the females probably choose their mates based on such colors and patterns, perhaps combined with the quality of the territory which the male is occupying and its song. The females are generally much more drab, the better to escape detection by predators as they incubate their eggs.

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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