2014-05-15 / Nature

Colorful Spring Migration

By Jack Kelly


Magnolia Warbler. (Photos by Bob Weaver) Magnolia Warbler. (Photos by Bob Weaver) Local bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts have reported that spring migration is in full swing throughout Newport County. Warm temperatures and favorable southerly winds have brought tens of thousands of avian visitors to our area. Large flocks of songbirds, traveling to breeding and nesting grounds in the northern United States and Canada, are alighting in habitats across Aquidneck Island.

Most of these species fly by night, when the winds are usually calm. They follow the coastline and pass over large areas in a single evening. Near dawn, the flocks will land and spend the daylight hours resting and foraging along coastal shorelines, as well as in meadows, wetlands, forests, and among the dense foliage. Most of these winged voyagers will spend at most a day or two in our area. However, poor weather conditions could cause an extended stay. If a sudden wind shift occurs, such as a cold front moving in from the northwest, the birds will stay put and wait for more favorable flying conditions.


Black-throated Blue Warbler. Black-throated Blue Warbler. In recent days, Newport’s Miantonomi Park, the highest point on southern Aquidneck Island, has come alive with multiple species of colorful songbirds including warblers, orioles, flycatchers and gnatcatchers. The vast majority of these small birds are migrating from Central American and South American wintering grounds and face long journeys fraught with dangers from predators and manmade changes in the environment.

Depending upon the species, the migrants can be observed feeding at many levels, from the tops of trees to the thickets and underbrush of the forest floor. Experienced birders can locate individual specimens by their songs, plumages, and through foraging techniques. The males display mating colors in vibrant hues that are designed by nature to attract the females of their breed.


Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. One of the special treats that has been sighted is the Black-throated Blue Warbler, which nests in deciduous and mixed forests from the Appalachian Mountain range into eastern Canada. The average adult is about 5.25 inches in length and has a wingspan of 7.75 inches. The male has a rich, deep blue plumage above a snow-white belly, and a black face and sides. The female is different from the male, with olive-brown plumage above and pale below, a white arc under the eyes, and dusky cheeks framed by a paler malar (the area extending from the base of the bill downward and slightly backward along the throat). This breed is a deliberate forager in the understory of forests, favoring mostly saplings and bushes. It has a sweet, and modulated song that is described as an ascending “zhur, zhur, zhur-zreee.”

The Magnolia Warbler is another visitor to Miantonomi Park that has delighted nature enthusiasts with its behaviors. This colorful bird nests in boreal and montane coniferous forests along the Appalachian Mountains northward through New England, across the northern reaches of the midwestern United States and throughout Canada. The average adult is 5 inches long, with a wingspan of 7.5 inches. The male has dark plumage above, broken by a white patch on its greater coverts (contour feathers that lie over other feathers and serve to protect them and to streamline the bird), a yellow breast with black streaking that ends at the throat, and white undertail. It has a dark gray crown, set with a slight white stripe above a black facial mask. The female is patterned similarly, but her colors are reduced and more muted.

This species will forage in many habitats but favors dense foliage with an edge or an opening. It can be observed gleaning insects and larvae while frequently fanning its patterned tail. It has been described as almost tame during migration and has a rich, rambling song of “weeta weeta weeto.”

Spring migration will continue during the next 7-10 days, with the majority of species passing in the next week. The best times to observe this amazing spectacle of nature are just after dawn until about 10 a.m. when the birds rest, and after 4:30 p.m. when they become active again. During these hours a number of experienced birders will be present in the park and are more than willing to assist folks new to the birding world. There are simple guidelines for all observers: walk slowly and quietly, keep conversations hushed and to a minimum, and always respect the environment and the winged visitors that pass through local habitats.

For an up- to- date sightings list, visit the Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s Website at asri.org or call 401-949-5454, the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

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