May 2019 Wildlife Column: Migrating Birds Arrive

Written by Gwyn Loud for the Lincoln Land Conservation Trust. She welcomes your sightings, questions, and photos at 781-259-8690 or at

Rain, more rain, and cold was the pattern for most of April, and right into the first week of May. It was even sleeting on the morning on May 1. Historically, April had more rainy days (21) than ever recorded in Boston’s weather records. Aside from making us feel gloomy, a positive effect includes welcome water levels in ponds and reservoirs such as Flint’s Pond (highest since 2010). And Walden has finally recovered, with the wide beach around the perimeter now just a ribbon.

The cool wet weather seems to have made plants happy, with lawns and fields bright green and beautiful flowering trees and shrubs. Most trees are now leafed out with the lovely chartreuse of early spring mixed with the red and yellow flowers of maples and oaks and the red samara (double-winged fruits) of the red maples. Moss has flourished from all the moisture.   On the forest floor we should be watching for lady’s slippers amongst the carpet of Canada mayflowers.  In Adams Woods on a recent walk participants enjoyed seeing marsh marigolds and a big patch of false hellebore. Several species of violets are blooming and dandelions bring  dots of yellow to the lawns. The invasive garlic mustard is flowering; please pull it before it goes to seed.

A persistent atmospheric block of low pressure has kept some of our avian migrants from moving north, although as of this writing that pattern is changing. Small numbers of warblers have arrived such as pine, palm, yellow-rumped, black-and-white, Nashville, black-throated blue, yellow, common yellow-throat, Northern parula and black-throated green. Some of our larger colorful favorites, such as rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings and Baltimore orioles are here, with the orioles giving their distinctive loud whistling songs. Purple finches have visited feeders; they will breed farther north, as will the few lingering white-throated sparrows.

Tree swallows are back, swooping over ponds and fields to catch insects on the wing and I was happy to find a good number of barn swallows nesting in a barn in my neighborhood. Gray catbirds, red-eyed vireos, blue-gray gnatcatchers, ovenbirds, and chipping sparrows have arrived and all will nest here. Tom turkeys have been displaying, and several people report turkeys devouring seed below feeders. Ruby-throated hummingbirds came back right “on time” and will be making tiny nests of lichen held together with spider silk. Other recent arrivals include house wrens, Eastern towhees, bobolinks, chimney swifts, swamp sparrows, orchard orioles, blue-headed and red-eyed vireos, and Eastern kingbirds. Drumlin Farm staff are hoping an American kestrel which has been around for two weeks will nest in the kestrel box provided; they are a species of falcon in sharp decline in southern New England. Eastern bluebirds and other permanent residents are all busy nesting and some will have a second brood in a few weeks.

Insects play a key role in the food chain, so I try to be glad when swatting black flies and mosquitoes!  Some early butterflies are out, including the small pale blue spring azure. Ticks are out too; don’t let them keep you from going outdoors, but be sure to check for them.

Amphibians we may hear at this season include the gray tree frogs giving their ascending trill. The sticky pads on their toes allow them to climb; you might even find one sticking vertically on a window. Pickerel frogs have been heard giving their snoring calls and warm weather will bring us the banjo-like calls of the green frogs, and lastly, the low jug-a-rums of the bull frogs.


As the weather warms, reptiles, which are cold-blooded, become active. You may find garter snakes (harmless) in your garden. This is when many turtles leave ponds to find sandy spots in which to lay their eggs. if you find a turtle on the road, gently help it safely across, being sure to stay well back from the head if it is a snapping turtle. Painted turtles basking on logs are a common sight in ponds. On your property you can protect a turtle’s nest from predators by placing chicken wire over it. Some baby turtles have over-wintered underground and emerge now, looking much like chocolates from a far. It is amazing how they find their way to distant ponds.

Red foxes have been seen around town and coyotes have been giving their howling chorus. A Winter St. resident found a dead fisher and then was surprised to discover that bluebirds had used some of the fisher’s fur in their nest. Beavers have been busy in many places, building dams and felling trees. In the spring baby birds and mammals abound. What should you do if you find a baby mammal or bird which seems orphaned? In most cases the baby is not actually abandoned and the parents will return to care for it. Rabbits and deer, for example, leave their young intentionally for the daylight hours. If you find a baby bird which has fallen from a nest, return it to the  nest if possible, but otherwise leave it for the parents to find. Please keep your cat indoors; cats kill millions of baby birds annually. A useful resource to consult is the New England Wildlife Center at

                                                                                          © Gwyn Loud