2016-05-12 / Nature

Songbirds’ Spring Migration Nears Peak

By Jack Kelly


Yellow warbler in Miantonomi Park. Yellow warbler in Miantonomi Park. In an annual rite that began in March and will proceed through late May, millions of birds are transiting from southern latitude wintering grounds to northern breeding and nesting sites. Driven by hormonal changes triggered by lengthening daylight hours, and guided by internal biological compasses, these wonders of the natural world make many local appearances as they feed and rest during their arduous spring migration journey.

The richness and diversity of Aquidneck Island’s native habitats are on full display during this time. Bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts flock to the various forests, wetlands, meadows and shorelines of our region with hopes of observing a multitude of avian species as they move north along the Atlantic Flyway. Early migrant arrivals include breeds from wading bird, shorebird, songbird and raptor families. A number of these winged creatures will breed and nest across the islands of Narragansett Bay and other areas of Newport County.

Miantonomi Park, in the city’s North End, has long been recognized as one of the top areas in southern New England to observe a kaleidoscope of brightly colored songbirds that are migrating. Many of these long distance voyagers travel in mixed flocks by night along the coastal regions of our area, and put down close to dawn to rest and feed. The park, located at the highest point of the island, offers a wide variety of trees and vegetation and is easily visible to the weary birds moving along the coast. Beginning in early May, it is possible to view songbird species such as tanagers, orioles, and vireos as they forage within the park’s perimeter.

One of the true spectacles of migration is the arrival of various warbler species in the park’s canopy. Stopping to restore themselves at Miantonomi, most of these birds are bound for the forests of the northern United States and southern Canada. Ranging in body length from 5-6 inches and with wingspans of less than nine inches, these intrepid, petite, flying palettes of color endure migrations of thousands of miles from their wintering grounds in the southern climes of Central and South America. Part of their trek involves a hazardous nonstop flight across the Gulf of Mexico to the southern United States.

The peak viewing times on the island for these special birds has historically been from May 15- May 24, depending on weather conditions and winds. As many as 21 separate warbler species have been sighted on a given day in the past few years!

Warblers forage for sustenance in many different ways. They take insects by fly catching, gleaning, hover-gleaning, creeping, ground-sallying, and plucking. For example, the American redstart fans its tail as it forages in the vegetation, fly catching the insects it flushes, while worm-eating warblers seek out insects in clusters of dry leaves on the forest floor.

Conservationists are worried about the decline in numbers of warblers during the past decade due in part to development, clear-cutting, fragmentation of forests, and the growing impact of climate change. Efforts are underway in both the United States and Canada to address these serious concerns.

As most birds rest during the heat of the day, the best time to observe songbirds in the park is just after dawn until about 10 a.m. and again in the late afternoon. Beginning bird watchers may find a number of experienced birders willing to give insights on identifications and the best viewing spots.

For the latest updates on avian sightings of all types, visit asri.org or call 401-949-5454.

Jack Kelly, a native

Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others.

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