By Morgan Evans, Center Manager, Bent of the River Audubon Center
April 1, 2020—As we all cope with the changes happening in our communities this spring, the birds that we enjoy seeing as they come back from their winter vacations are slowly starting to arrive. Although only a few of the earlier migrants have appeared, there are still new birds to see at Bent of the River Audubon Center’s varied habitats and throughout Connecticut.
One of the earliest (and loudest) migrants to return is the Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe). This brown and white songbird, with its almost constant tail-bobbing, can be seen in multiple spots along our trails. Listen for its loud “feeee be” song when near woodland edges and streamsides. The Eastern Phoebe builds its nest out of mud and grass and prefers to place them in protected areas of bridges, barns, and other buildings. Check back on nests from previous years, Phobes will sometimes reuse old nest sites. As a member of the flycatcher family, you can often see this bird “sallying”, or flying out from its perch to catch its prey, a classic flycatcher move. When at the Bent, keep an eye, and ear, out for this early-arriving flycatcher around the main parking lot, along River Trail, and near the barn and house.
Another early arrival that is sure to pique the interest of birders of all types is the timberdoodle, or American Woodcock (Scolopax minor). This odd-looking and oddly named bird is actually a member of the sandpiper family, but spends its time foraging for invertebrates in shrubby fields and young forests. March is the perfect time to have a chance to see these birds perform their “sky dance,” which is a part of their mating ritual. Mainly occurring at dusk, the male lets out a loud “peent” call from a display area on the ground and then flies into the air in a wide spiral. Once he reaches 200-300 feet, his wings begin to twitter, which is audible to birdwatchers on the ground. He then begins a zig-zag flight back down to near his take-off spot, hoping to attract a female along the way. Be mindful to give this bird some room to do his thing. Woodcocks favor a mix of forest and open fields and can be seen at Bent of the River in the meadow at the main parking lot as well as Althea’s Meadow and through Cedar Fields.
One last species that has just started to arrive over the past week is the acrobatic Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica). This beautiful blue and tawny bird can typically be seen flying over fields and water, as well as in and out of barns and other open buildings as it searches for flying insects to prey upon. Males will defend their nesting area from other Barn Swallows as well as anything else that comes nearby. They will sometimes use nest boxes for nesting sites, but typically find eaves, rafters, and even the underside of bridges appealing. At the Bent, look for Barn Swallows around our barn as well as in and around Althea’s Meadow. Be sure not to mistake them for the many Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) that use our many nest boxes in our meadows. Look for the long forked tail and the tawny underparts of the Barn Swallow to help tell the difference.
Whether you are new to birdwatching this spring, or you live for the moment the migrants return each spring, Connecticut is a great place to be this time of year. If you have a chance to visit Bent of the River Audubon Center from mid-March through May, you won't be disappointed with new species arriving almost weekly.