Greenpoint: Keeping an ear out for the sweet sounds of spring

The black-capped chickadee (YouTube)

The black-capped chickadee (YouTube)

All winter long our bird feeder was populated almost entirely by three breeds: chickadees, nuthatches and tufted titmice.

They are fun to watch and friendly, if a little demanding — the chickadees will buzz your head as you exit the front door if the feeder is getting low.

But they don’t really have nice voices. They are more squawkers than singers. Add to that the crows, ravens and blue jays, who also stay all winter, and there’s not much lilt to the bird noise.

We are still looking forward to the full return of our spring birds and their music.

Up here, the ice is just out of the ground, and our migrants return a little late. The phoebes are back, building nests in the barn, and the robins are working the garden. I’ve seen goldfinches, though not yet in my yard. My neighbor and I spotted two bluebirds and a mess of red-winged blackbirds down by the swamp.

Other birds that don’t migrate prefer that swamp to my yard in the winter.

So I was happy to have a cardinal calling last week from the hedgerow, where they often nest, and to hear the cooing mourning doves. I know they were here all winter, but at feeders down the road.

Between 1 and 3 billion birds migrate each year from the south — from the southern states and from Central and South America — to our northernmost forests. A lot of them migrate at night and you may have been lucky enough to hear them.

In the temperate forests around here, some birds stay all winter, some make shorter journeys south and others spend the winters in the tropics before returning to their northern breeding grounds in the spring.

The Canada geese can be short-haulers, leaving this area for anywhere from a few hundred miles south to more than 1,000. But they’re back now, and there are more returning waterfowl on the lake every day.

The frogs have woken up from their hibernation, and the woods are full of their croaking and peeping from the vernal ponds.

We’re still waiting for the orioles and grosbeaks, the tanagers and buntings. I’m looking forward to mornings when the birds will nearly drown out the roosters, who spend their nights in the tree in front of the house instead of the chicken coop. They prefer to start crowing at around 3:30 instead of waiting until dawn, and they keep it up for most of the day.

This time of year it feels like spring but still looks like winter. My eldest sends me photos of magnolias in full bloom in Brooklyn, while I am still plucking first daffodil buds to bloom on my windowsill. Relatives in Pennsylvania had forsythia blooming two weeks ago, while up here there are still ice patches in the yard and not a single bud on a tree.

I know that will change fast, and our woods will be green again and the mornings full of birdsong. I can hardly wait.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on April 25. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

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