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Volume 12, Issue 4
April 2014

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Vernal Equinox
By Lauretta Young

March 20 marked the official “first day of spring.” We had one or two days of lovely sunny skies after that, quickly followed by the typical spring break weather of rain and clouds—one of our neighbor boys the other day called it “Portland snow.”

Here are some common questions I get from bird tour clients regarding bird watching, seasons and weather.

When is a good time to go birding?

Anytime other than the middle of the night! (Even then one might hear some owls out hunting and calling, or one might be very fortunate to hear flocks of birds calling to each other as they migrate.) Spring is actually a wonderful time to go out, but of course birding in the pouring rain is not that much fun, so watch for a sun break and get outside!! If you want to see the perching birds, going out in the earlier morning is good—they rest during “siesta” time. Pond birds are active most of the day.

Summer is actually a relatively quiet time for birds. They have little reason to be singing, and in fact, keeping quiet is a good survival strategy. The juveniles are eating a lot to prepare for winter migration, so while the weather might be better, it’s harder to find the birds in the summer due to the trees being leafed out and the birds being secretive.

In Cedar Mill, spring finds us in a “mid zone,” where some of our overwintering birds are still hanging out before they leave for their breeding grounds. So, for example, there are still a few Tundra Swans at the local ponds, but most of them have left to go north to breed. You might find some straggler ducks still, such as Northern Shovelers or Northern Pintails, but soon most of those will have flown to their breeding grounds.

Golden-crowned Kinglet with willow catkins. Photo © Jeff Young, 2014

In the spring, we also experience the return of various species that spend the summer with us for breeding. These birds spent the past winter in warmer locations to the south. These include the many Swallow species that can be found flying over our yards and ponds plucking insects out of the air.

Another example is the tiny Kinglet family. In some areas in Oregon these may be present year-round. In our local area we tend to see them arrive in the spring and leave in the fall. We have two varieties that come to feast on, for example, the blooming catkins of our willow trees. The Golden-crowned Kinglets are tiny birds with a beautifully striped face and gold on the crown of the head. The Ruby-crowned Kinglets are slightly larger and the red crown is usually not visible unless they are agitated. Both are very active birds that move around a lot in the trees—now is a great time to see them when the trees don’t have leaves.

Anything special I might see in the spring that I won’t see at other times?

The increasing daylight signals to birds that it’s time to produce offspring, so we experience the most active singing of any time of the year. One can often hear the American Robins start up their songs way before the sun rises—even around 3 am or so. Certainly other birds sing to attract mates, to signal their territories, or to ward off invaders. The Red-winged Blackbirds have started to sing in earnest now and most wetland areas are awash with their song, along with the rat-a-tat-tat of the Marsh Wrens and the quacking of the ducks that stay in our area to breed.

Our earliest breeders tend to be Great Horned Owls and Anna’s Hummingbirds. Look for ducklings and goslings around mid April, and newly fledged perching birds such as Robins a bit later. Some birds, such as ducks, are born with downy feathers and others, such as Robins, are born with no feathers and have to stay in the nest for up to two weeks to grow and develop feathers.

You might have noted some different behavior from well-known yard birds such as Bushtits. In the winter they fly around in flocks of up to 40-50 birds and swarm around suet feeders en masse. However in the spring they pair up to build nests and raise young so you may only see one pair at a time at your feeder instead of the large flocks you might be accustomed to seeing.

What can I do to support our bird friends in this time of year?

Keep your outdoor cat inside if at all possible. Cats are the number one threat to newly hatched birds. For example—Chickadee chicks fall out of the their cavity nest and stay on the ground for several hours before they can fly. A wandering cat finds easy prey in such helpless creatures. Also keep some brush around—too tidy a yard leaves nowhere for juveniles to hide from other threats, such as Cooper’s Hawks who feast on other birds, especially juveniles.

Keep feeding the birds—often people think that there are plenty of insects and fruit, but, for example, during a wind storm last year, several thousand swallows died because they couldn’t catch bugs during the spring storm. Keep your feeders clean—hygiene prevents disease spread. Clean up around the base of the feeders often. Put up some bird houses to attract our local cavity nesters such as Chickadees, Nuthatches and Swallows.

Lauretta Young takes all level of birders on customized birding tours in Cedar Mill and beyond. See her website at See more of her husband’s photos at


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