I do a lot of birding by ear, whether at home or out in the field. Over the years I have learned to recognize bird songs, and I can identify most of the birds that occur in this part of Arizona just by hearing them.
This ability causes a lot of people to marvel, while I don’t think too much about it. Those who struggle with bird identification have a hard time fathoming that I can identify birds just by hearing them, while they can’t identify them when they are looking right at them!
There are certainly advantages to being able to identify birds by sound. As I lead bird walks and teach birding classes, I tell folks that when you are out birding, there are really only two ways to find birds. One is by seeing movement and the other is by hearing them.
Hearing birds adds a whole new dimension to bird-watching. The ability to hear birds increases the likelihood that you will see birds. If you have diminished hearing ability, it really hampers your ability to find and then see birds.
This past week in our yard, I have enjoyed hearing several varieties of birds that I haven’t seen in my yard for several months, which indicates that a lot of birds are on the move right now. Just in the last few days I have heard the mountain chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, Bullock’s oriole, black-headed grosbeak and blue grosbeak.
During breeding season, these birds aren’t normally in my yard. Having these birds in my yard is an indication that many species are finishing up their breeding activity and are beginning to disperse and move into new areas now that they are no longer tied down to an active nest site and territory.
Last week, I mentioned how many species are very habitat-specific. This is particularly true during breeding season. In spring, when migratory birds are on the move, they will spend time in a variety of different habitats as they forage for food.
However, as the time for breeding approaches, migratory birds gravitate to the specific habitat that meets their food and shelter requirements for rearing young. For example, in spring as western tanagers pass through Prescott, they can be found in oak/chaparral, pinyon/juniper, riparian and ponderosa pine habitats. However, their occurrence in these varied habitats is brief. When it is time to establish a breeding territory, they gravitate towards one specific habitat type – ponderosa pine. They will stay in this habitat until they have successfully finished rearing their young.
When the fledglings are sufficiently independent and no longer rely on their parents for care, the adults begin to disperse and once again can be found in areas outside of their primary habitat.
I encourage you to be on the lookout for “new” birds to your yard. I have customers who live in The Ranch that are seeing quite a few lazuli buntings in their yard right now. This is another example of a species that has finished breeding and is now migrating. Many of our customers see lazuli buntings in the spring when they pass through this area as they move north. They are now beginning to move through the area as they head south. Be on the lookout!