The vernal equinox occurred more than a week ago, and now day is longer than night. The birds’ hormones are flowing, birds are stirring and migrating. Early migrants are already here.
The first arrivals touched down in the Bangor area recently. Male red-winged blackbirds have arrived in flocks coming to bird feeders, filling up entire trees and spreading out in marshes.
Once in the marshes, they sing “Ok-a-LEE!” and flaunt their red epaulets to the next male red-winged blackbird. The one with the biggest, brightest epaulets gets to occupy the best territory, and will win over the most females. Older males have developed a more complex song, another asset in winning over females.
Females arrive a week or two later and choose the best territory with the best nesting areas and the most signs of insects for them and their young to eat. An older male with the flashiest epaulets and the most complex song most likely will claim the best territory.
Male grackles have a different way of facing off with other male grackles, as well as attracting females. They show off their colorful and iridescent purple-blue chests by raising the bill straight up and puffing out the chest.
The male with the biggest, most iridescent chest wins against the rival male and wins over the female. It also helps to have the most complex, richest song, even though the grackle’s song sounds only like a squeaky gate to the human ear.
These ways of symbolic conflict tend to keep male birds from resorting to violence against competing males of the same species.
Woodcocks and robins are showing up now in the Bangor area, too. Woodcocks find worms in melted seeps in the forest. Robins find leftover berries, and worms on the south sides of houses and south-facing slopes, where snow melts first.
We had some cold weather last week, but that didn’t stop the birds from migrating. Their signal to migrate is the increase of light. The sun’s rays are stronger, coming through less atmosphere, and sunlight is with us longer every day. Sunlight is a reliable sign that spring is here – warm weather or not. Br-r-r-r-r-r!
For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.