Local birders have good reason to be atwitter. Migratory songbirds are back in the Vermont’s forests and fields having completed their annual migration north.
Some birds began arriving from points south as early as March and April, but May and June is when the forests truly come symphonic with songbirds, according to John Buck, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s migratory bird biologist.
Buck says that Vermont’s bird breeding season is shorter than many people realize.
“Some migratory birds, such as warblers, live in Vermont for only about three months,” said Buck. “The early migrants have flown from here by late-July or August, and most of our warblers are gone by September.”
During the brief time between May and September birders excitedly grab their binoculars and head outdoors. While some birds are easy to identify by sight, spring songbirds are usually best identified by their songs.
“The sheer variety of birds in Vermont in early summer can be a little overwhelming to a beginning birder,” noted Buck. “But with a little practice, and by focusing on a few common birds, you can easily learn to identify two dozen species by sound alone.”
Buck advises beginners to start with a few of the easiest birdsongs such as those of a robin, chickadee, or Vermont’s state bird, the hermit thrush. “The hermit thrush is like the Mozart of the bird world with one of the most melodic songs,” said Buck. “Once you are familiar with the thrush and a few other basic birdsongs, they become like old friends talking and the bird chorus takes on a whole new feeling.”
For birders who already have the basics, the next challenge is learning how to identify the wide variety of warblers in the state.
“Warblers arrive in Vermont as the leaves appear, because they rely on insects that hatch in sync with bud break,” said Buck. “As a result, the smaller-sized warblers can be a little more difficult to spot among the leaves.”
Migratory birds arrive in Vermont from places as far away as South and Central America. This migratory nature of birds can complicate efforts to conserve them.
“Habitat loss is the primary source of bird population declines,” said Buck. “As the land area available for birds to exist continues to shrink, ever-declining bird populations become concentrated in the remaining, sometimes marginal-quality spaces that remain.”
Buck pointed out that even in rural Vermont, forest cover has started to decline.
“Breaks in the forest such as roads, power lines, driveways, and lawns can degrade bird habitat and give an advantage to bird predators and parasites,” said Buck. “Because they are so mobile, we all assume that birds will just fly ‘somewhere else,’ but we’re quickly running out of ‘somewhere else’ for birds to go.”
To counter these habitat losses, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department acquires and manages land for a variety of bird species with a wide range of habitat preferences, and these lands are open to the public to observe birds. For a list of Wildlife Management Areas in Vermont, go to www.vtfishandwildlife.com.