Songbird Season

In the American Midwest, the period between April 15 and May 15 covers the annual peak of bird watching activity. This is the spring songbird migration, encompassing the departure of winter residents, the arrival of summer residents and the appearance of numerous transients. The observation of these small, colorful birds is aided by longer, warmer days and relatively leafless trees (at least through much of April).

As juncos and winter sparrows depart for Canada in mid April, the summer residents are beginning to arrive from the south, joining tree swallows and eastern phoebes that turned up in late March. Among the first to arrive are chimney swifts, brown thrashers and house wrens, followed by indigo buntings, gray catbirds, barn swallows and early warblers. Orioles, hummingbirds, thrushes and tanagers appear late in April, joined by a variety of flycatchers. Warblers peak in number and variety by early May and common nighthawks appear in the evening sky soon thereafter.

Beginning birders are often surprised to find that trips to the local nature preserve, while enjoyable, are not necessary in order to see a large variety of songbirds. Indeed, all of the species mentioned above are commonly observed in residential areas. Assuming a mix of large trees, immature woods and shrubs in your neighborhood, a pair of binoculars, a field guide and evenings on the back porch are usually sufficient.