The return of territorial singing

The eerie, tinkling song of the FOY Blackpoll Warbler on May 21 was a sure sign we’re entering the last part of Spring migration. This northern-breeding species is among the last ones to migrate through Cabot Head. I do love their delicate song, even if it means that migration will soon be over. We are certainly entering the peak of singing time for territorial breeding birds. At Cabot Head, almost as soon as the first ones arrived, the very abundant American Redstarts were singing and establishing or reclaiming their territories. In this past week, American Redstarts were the loudest birds in the dawn chorus, engaging in the timeless search for a mate and a place to establish a nest, given the unwavering urge to bring forth a new generation. We watched many high-speed pursuits between males, as well as between males and females. In their frenzy, they quite often end up in our nets, not paying as much attention to their surroundings as usual. As such, it is not uncommon to find two American Redstarts, of varying sexes, side-by-side in a net. These such occurrences meant that this species was the most often banded this week, with, notably, 21 and 16 birds on May 27 and 28, respectively.

We are also getting quite a few recaptures of American Redstarts banded in previous seasons. On May 28, we recaptured an adult male that was originally banded as a young in August 2018. It is thus a respectable 5 years old and quite faithful to Cabot Head: he was recaptured in fall 2019 and spring 2021 but missed both in 2020 and 2022. Of course, a bird not recaptured one season does not mean it is not around: there is always some luck involved. It is nice to see that this bird made it back again from its wintering grounds (Cuba, maybe?). Think about this remarkable feat for a moment – so many kilometers on such tiny wings!

The weather is starting to feel more and more summer-like, especially in the last few days. It seems as though migration is over… but there are still birds on the move, even if not always in big and impressive waves. On May 27, for example, we observed a small and diverse flock of warblers, including the boreal species Tennessee, Cape May, Blackpoll, Blackburnian, and Bay-breasted Warblers. Most of them were females, which typically migrate after the males who have raced ahead of their prospective mates to secure the best quality breeding habitats. Nonetheless, we also banded a male Wilson’s Warbler on May 28, one of the last species to migrate.

With the leaves in full display on every tree now, it is getting more difficult to detect and observe the not-as-numerous migrants. But they will still be on the go for a few more weeks, so keep your eyes (and ears) open! 

A remarkable sighting (and hearing) was made on May 23 by Lara, the current volunteer, when she found a male Blue-winged Warbler! It is only the 5th Spring season with detection of this species (last one in 2014).