What we’re seeing in our backyard now

Like all of us, Island birders Harsi and Ezra Parker are staying close to home these days. We asked them to tell us about the birds they’re seeing and hearing.

Rufous Hummingbird.
Rufous Hummingbird

Our spring migrants have begun to arrive! Here at our place, Rufous Hummingbird was the first to be counted in late February. By mid-March, Violet-green Swallows were spotted whizzing and soaring through the blue sky, and in the past week, they’ve actively started checking out the nest box where they’ve raised young for the past several years. (Barn Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Purple Martin should also be here on the island soon, if they’re not already.)

While we do see an influx of migrating Orange-crowned Warblers, White-crowned Sparrows and Purple Finches, these are also species that can—and do—overwinter on the island, so there’s no way to say with certainty which are the migrants and which are not. But all three of these species start singing in earnest at this time of year and we count their songs as a definite sign of spring’s progression. At our place, we’ve heard Purple Finch and White-crowned Sparrow belting out melodies in the past week, and although we also did locate an Orange-crowned Warbler, thus far it refuses to sing.

Savannah Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow

Migrants we personally have yet to see or hear, but expect to see in the upcoming week or two include Osprey, Pacific-slope Flycatcher (can’t wait to hear that familiar little whistle!), Brown-headed Cowbird, Wilson’s Warbler and Black-throated Gray Warbler. While these are not species that occur on our property, elsewhere on the island, Common Yellowthroat, and Savannah Sparrow should also be here now, or arriving very shortly.

While it is exciting to note the return of our migrant breeding populations, there’s plenty of joy to be had in watching and listening to our resident birds, many of whom have begun nesting, and all of whom are singing up a storm. At our place, the following species regularly serenade us these days:

Brown Creeper
Brown Creeper

American Robin
Pacific Wren
Bewick’s Wren
Brown Creeper
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (actually a winter visitor, but they treat us to their enthusiastic song prior to leaving to breed elsewhere)
Hutton’s Vireo
Anna’s Hummingbird
Pine Siskin
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

5 Comments on “What we’re seeing in our backyard now

  1. When is the Swainson’s Thrush expected to arrive on Vashon? I love that upward spiralling song!


    • Hi Linda – I heard one in my yard two days ago, but not since. It gave me hope, though, that we’ll all be hearing them soon. Ed Swan’s book says they typically start appearing around the end of April, reaching good numbers by the second or third week of May.
      Sarah Driggs


  2. Starting early December we have been seeing a huge flock of Pine Siskins. They have been dominating the birdfeeder. Should I feel bad for our residential Juncos? How much seed should I be leaving out? I am a new birder and I would appreciate your advice.


    • Isn’t this irruption of Pine Siskins amazing? People across the country are seeing huge flocks of them. This might be happening because there’s a shortage of conifer seeds in Canada’s boreal forests, so the Siskins are heading south for food. Here are some suggestions for supporting both Pine Siskins and Juncos:

      Keep offering them sunflower and nyjer seeds. You might try sunflower seeds that have the hulls removed. They take up less room, so you won’t be refilling the feeder as often.

      If you have more than one feeder, space them far apart so the birds will be less concentrated. This could reduce conflicts and help avoid the spread of diseases. If you’re seeing birds strike your windows, move the feeders farther from your house.

      Clean your feeders and bird baths frequently. This is very important to reduce the spread of diseases. Here’s a link to information about keeping them clean: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/how-to-clean-your-bird-feeder

      Thanks for taking good care of your backyard birds!
      Sarah Driggs


      • Thank you for all the wonderful advice. I will implement all your great suggestions right away.


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