Signs of spring: Migrating birds have returned to Rochester

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Spring in Rochester, Western New York, and the Finger Lakes can be a very fickle time that comes complete with cold spells, cloudy spells, and even the occasional wet snow flurry. For some, it’s just “par for the course”, while for others, it’s a “double bogey.”

We are long past the first blooming crocus of the season, and the first flowering cherry tree. For some, these are the first true signs that spring has sprung here in Rochester.

But others just need more convincing. In fact, for some, the real sign that spring has truly arrived is when some old friends that have flown the friendly skies for thousands of miles make base camp at the house.

No, I’m not talking about Aunt Matilda and Uncle Harry who are back from West Palm Beach.

Actually, I’m talking about our fine feathered friends on wing: migrating birds!

Your feathered friends that spent the winter basking in southern warmth have returned north for spring and summer and have decided once again to pay a visit to your backyard, and when they do, the experience can be truly a delight.

The atmosphere may not be cooperating in delivering warm weather to Western New York and the Finger Lakes in the coming days, but that makes no difference to hummingbirds, orioles, and grosbeaks, many of which have endured tough weather conditions, but all of which have been sighted this week for the first time right here in Rochester!

Courtesy of Mike Rathbun, Naples, NY, Photo taken Tuesday May 4th

Take a look at this hummingbird photographed by Mike Rathbun of Naples, NY, in the Finger Lakes. This guy (yes, it’s likely a male) came a long way just to summer here.

See if there’s been a hummingbird sighting where you live! Click here!

The hummingbird spends its winter in southwestern Mexico, and then journeys to the Yucatan Peninsula, and across the Gulf of Mexico to the United States. This is a remarkable flight for such a small bird. What’s even more remarkable is the fact that this tiny creature has to deal with strong headwinds and heavy rain when it encounters a cold front in the Gulf of Mexico. Its summer breeding range is from Florida to southern Canada and from the Atlantic Coast west to the Mississippi River. Males typically return in spring before the females do and then they depart before the females and young begin to migrate South for the winter. Ruby-throated hummingbirds typically are found from May through September in New York and are more common in rural or suburban settings.

The hummingbird is just one example of a migrating bird that has returned to the area.

Warbler, Photo taken by John Kucko, Kraai Preserve, Arcadia, NY

Warblers, like the type above photographed by my colleague John Kucko the other day, are also back in town. These colorful spring birds leave their warm wintering grounds in Central and South America and migrate up to the northern parts of the country every year. Although warblers are tiny, their brightly colored feathers make them stand out as they quickly move branch to branch in search of a hearty insect lunch! Many have distinctive songs, but most of them don’t spend much time at feeders, which is why you’ll want to spend your time while hiking through the woods searching for them. Just be sure to bring your binoculars. They are small!

Courtesy of Tim Burkey, Romulus, NY
Tweet from James Montanus

Then we have the oriole. Orioles, like the ones pictured above, just arrived in Rochester over the last five days or so. While male “Baltimores” sport flashy colors, females typically show colors that range from olive-brown on their heads to yellow-orange toward their bellies. Baltimore orioles do migrate to the subtropical edges of the southern United States before heading further north in spring. That said, during the last couple of decades, increasing numbers have been staying through the winter in the states east of the Appalachians, from Georgia north to New England, partly because of the abundance of bird feeders. Apparently Baltimore orioles can survive cold winters as long as they find enough food!

Report and track Oriole sightings here!

Birdwatching has become quite popular in the last year providing a social diversion from the pandemic and a fun activity for the whole family all while social distancing.

If you are thinking of becoming a birdwatcher, you have quite a bit of company. According to the Audubon Society, sales are through the roof (“flying high” perhaps?) for seed suppliers, birdhouse builders, and small businesses helping people connect with nature in their backyards. Some of these businesses are having a hard time just keeping up with demand. The reason being, of course, is the pandemic, which led to so many people on lockdown.

Want to be a citizen scientist and report a sighting of a migrating song bird? Click here!

Birdwatching can be a real treat. Sometimes your efforts are well rewarded with a great showing, while at others time, well, your efforts are…”on a wing and prayer”. Either way, it can be soothing to the mind, spirit, soul, and body just to spend some time in nature.

Bottom line, whether you are a birdwatcher or just a casual observer, take a moment over the next few days to admire the momentous beauty that’s just outside your window. After all, don’t we all need a little joy, instead of all the “OY”, that has come with the past year?

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