During these days of cautious social distancing, we’re mostly working from home. Some people still must go out to work in essential businesses, but many of us are staying in our residences.
A new friend, Deb Ford, helped me learn how to use an online birding site called eBird (ebird.org/home): a great way to share your bird observations with anyone anywhere in the world. You can learn which new or unusual birds are being seen in Door County, who is reporting them and generally where they’re being observed. As the spring season progresses, most birders are eager to discover new migrating birds that will either nest here or fly on to their breeding grounds farther north after a stopover in our area.
eBird is a project of the Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Avid birders in the Northeast founded the lab in 1915. If you ever need information about a certain bird species, type in the species name to find the lab’s description, an overview, photos and plenty of details, plus you can often hear the bird’s song. The site also shows a map of the breeding territories, migratory routes and wintering areas.
My late husband, Roy, was – and I am – a longtime keeper of daily records of nature sightings in our yard and around the county. I maintain a spreadsheet of all the birds reported in Door County during the spring, dating back to 2002. It gives the first date when a species was seen and the last date when the species left to head north to its breeding areas. Many species stay to nest in Door County.
In northeast Wisconsin, the spring season – March 1 until the end of May – can be a slow progression of cloudy, damp, occasional foggy days with chilly winds out of the northeast. Lake Michigan keeps us cooler in the summer, but it also enhances the cold winds that make one want to stay inside during the early spring.
I remember a day in May when we lived in The Ridges’ range light, and Roy had a crew of volunteers building a new bridge in the sanctuary. I wanted to see how they were doing, so I walked down the main trail toward the Lower Range Light. A strong wind out of the south brought in a new flock of birds. They were everywhere!
Bird migration usually happens at night and can be traced on some weather radars. During the spring season, birds are moving north in great numbers and take advantage of the winds pushing them up from the south. The males arrive first, aiming for their preferred nesting territory, and once they’ve arrived, they defend it while singing and trying to attract a mate.
The nesting season for some species can be a short period of only a few months, so they don’t waste any time setting up their territory. Most birds return to within a mile of where they were hatched and raised.
During some springs, we like to look for migrating shorebirds, but now, with Lake Michigan at record-high levels, there are few shoreline areas that are wide enough for these species to land and find food. Many shorebirds have extremely long migratory routes to their breeding grounds in northern Canada. Once there, they mate, raise their young, then start their southward migration, often by July.
It’s a tough life for many bird species. I keep my feeders filled all year so that, in times of stress, the birds can find something to eat. It also gives me pleasure to watch the many nesting species bring their young to my feeders during the summer.
You can help your feathered friends by keeping a bird bath filled with clean water. A friend had a dripping-waterfall variety, and it was magical to see how many species were attracted to that. The sound and sight of moving water draws in many birds and small animals.
Learn how you can both enhance your stay-at-home time and do things to improve the lives of the many birds that may visit your yard this spring. Nature is consoling and comforting, and it can bring you back to a calmer frame of mind and lifestyle.