Migrant Bird Mini-“Fallout” Dazzles Local Birders

Many birds that have spent the winter in Central and South America migrate directly across the Gulf of Mexico. Strong northwest winds on April 24-25, however, brought an abundance of these birds to the yards and parks of the Florida west coast from Ft. Desoto near Tampa to Charlotte County. For example, arrivals to our yard in Englewood included blue grosbeaks, rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings and others.

The male Baltimore oriole is one of our most spectacularly colored birds and it loves flower nectar and fruit. Here a male is dining on a white mulberry in our Manasota Key yard.

Rose breasted grosbeak males are not only gorgeous but their song is spectacular- sometimes likened to a robin who has taken voice lessons! They breed in northern deciduous forests and are rarely seen so well as during migration when they are at eye level instead of in the top of a tall tree.

The blue grosbeak male is usually found on the ground or in shrubs and breeds at much lower altitudes in the coastal plain. You might confuse it with the male indigo bunting which is smaller with a much smaller bill. Both of them feed on seeds.

One of the most spectacularly colored birds is the male scarlet tanager which breeds in northern deciduous forests at higher elevations than the summer tanager which lacks the black wings. The scarlet loses its red plumage during the winter, whereas the summer retains the bright color.

Although we sometimes have painted buntings that winter in our yard this fabulous male was just passing through. The variety of colors in their plumage is simply unbelievable and seems to reflect the female’s choice in mates. The surprising thing is that the males retain these bright colors all year and you would think this would increase predation on them. But they are surprisingly hard to spot in dense foliage due to the heterogeneity of the color pattern.

More migrants are yet to come and as I write this there is a strong northwesterly breeze blowing into my window, so maybe an even better fallout of beautiful migrants may yet occur!

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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