Earlier this week, my wife and I went on a walk in Watson Woods. Almost as soon as we got out of the car, I could hear a Lucy’s warbler singing. A short time later, on the same walk, we saw a not-so- common (in this area) common black hawk.
Seeing two spring arrivals the same day instilled within me a feeling of gratitude, knowing that the natural cycle of life continues uninterrupted by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While birds may not have to worry about the impact of a pandemic, they have plenty else to worry about.
Daily survival is their biggest challenge. I recently read in the Sibley book, What It’s Like to Be A Bird, that “most individuals [wild birds] live less than one year” and that “songbirds generally have about a 50 percent chance of surviving each year.” What a harsh reality!
If you do the math, with the odds of a 50:50 survival rate each year, this means about one songbird out of 1,000 would make it to 10 years. Put in these terms, perhaps you can better appreciate the feelings of joy I experience knowing that “our” summer birds have successfully migrated back, surviving their potentially perilous journey.
Adding to my joy this week was an email I received from Noel Fletcher, Wildlife Biologist for the Prescott National Forest, announcing the successful hatching of two Bald Eagles from the nesting pair at Lynx Lake! This is tremendously good news, as last year their nesting attempt did not result in any young.
The life span of wild birds is an interesting subject to study. Generally, the smaller the bird the shorter the life span, and the larger the bird the longer the life span. In the spring 2021 Audubon magazine, there is an article about a Laysan Albatross named “Wisdom” on Midway Atoll that is now seventy (YES, 70!) years old, and is a mom for the 39th time!
Wisdom is the oldest-known wild bird on the planet. It is a remarkable story of survival. It is almost unfathomable to contemplate that a bird could live that long in the wild. It is not uncommon for birds kept in captivity to live far longer that their counterparts in the wild.
As winter gives way to spring, you will notice a gradual shift in the species visiting your yard. Soon our winter visitors — such as dark-eyed juncos, white-crowned sparrows and yellow-rumped warblers — will leave, and our spring migratory birds, such as black-chinned hummingbirds, lazuli buntings and black-headed grosbeaks will begin to return.
A fun exercise is to document the departure and arrival of the different species that occur in your yard each year. This is a two-step process, the first being the observation (or the lack of observation) of the species in your yard each day, and then documenting this information either on paper or in a computer-generated spreadsheet.
It is not uncommon for birders to record their sightings using annotations, such as “FOS” which stands for First of Season, or “LOS” for Last of Season. For example, maybe you are seeing dark-eyed juncos at your feeders each day, so you record their presence in your spreadsheet each day, by date. The last day you see one in spring would then be noted as “LOS.”
The same is true when you see a spring arrival for the first time, and it would be recorded as an “FOS” sighting. As you maintain these records year after year, it is interesting to see patterns develop where sometimes these arrivals or departures occur on the same day from one year to the next.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott, Arizona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.