The first weekend of May is generally the peak of the neo-tropical songbird migration. It can be both exciting and overwhelming to see so many birds and know little about them. I’d like to share a piece of advice I received many years ago. Trying to learn everything you see at once can be frustrating. Focus your efforts on just three species at a time. Learn everything you can about those three species: their call, nesting, habits, food source and male vs. female vs. juvenile. When you are comfortable with those three, choose the next three.
On all the other birds you see, make mental notes of all the particulars. Then when the bird flies away, write down everything you can. Extend your adventure when you get home by thumbing through books or bird calls to see if you can identify it. You may find that bird much easier to remember the next time. One resource that may be helpful for recognizing bird calls is the Missouri Songbirds CD from the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Nature Shop. Organized by habitat, it contains many of the more common calls you may hear. Another resource for identifying the calls is the Identiflier. The newest addition in the Identiflier line is the scanning wand. To hear a bird song, the user scans a bar code in the associated booklet or in your favorite bird guide using the stickers provided.
Depending on where you plan on bird watching, the Feeding Backyard Birds publication, free to Missouri residents, from MDC is a good place to start. Some that are very eye-catching in our area are the rose-breasted grosbeak, oriole, white-crowned sparrow and indigo bunting. Remember that not all birds are seed eaters. Water in your feeding area will attract additional species, or, better yet, go to the river or one of the many area springs. A couple of years ago, my group identified 63 species of birds the first weekend of May. At Twin Pines last year in just a couple of hours I noted more than 30 species. Check out the online Conservation Atlas at the website below. And don’t stress if you don’t know the name of every species you see. The fact that you may not know the name doesn’t diminish the beauty. Just get out there and enjoy it!