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The songs of spring birds

The birds are coming back. We see and hear new birds every day as those long-distance migrants return from their journey. How amazing it is that birds weighing no more than a 25-cent piece can find their way back from their wintering grounds in Central and South America. So accurate is their timing and navigation that they can return to the same acre to breed.Audubon Sharon has been helping monitor populations of migratory songbirds at bird banding stations throughout Litchfield and eastern Dutchess counties for almost 15 years. By recapturing birds that have been banded with a small leg band bearing a unique identification number, we can learn a lot about population trends and breeding site preferences. For example, at our station at Great Mountain Forest in Norfolk, we have recaptured the same Canada warblers (look them up, they are beautiful!) four years in a row in the exact same net. These are birds that migrate as far south as Central America and find their way back to the exact same spot to breed year after year.As the birds return, our forests once again ring with a symphony of bird song that gets louder each day as more musicians arrive. Many people don’t realize how important our forests are to a wide variety of spectacularly colorful songbirds, both as breeding areas and migratory stopover sites. Right in many of our backyards we are host to the black-masked common yellowthroat, the deep-blue indigo bunting and the brilliant scarlet tanager just to name a few. We provide the nurseries that perpetuate the species.As the symphony continues, there is nothing more satisfying than learning some of the players by sound. This can be done from the comfort of your back deck as you sip a cool drink. Start with the top five: American robin, Northern cardinal, black-capped chickadee, Eastern phoebe and song sparrow. Then gradually add a few more: Baltimore oriole, yellow warbler and so on. Before you know it, you will have command of the top 20 and you will be amazed at the satisfaction you will get.There are many resources available such as CDs, phone apps and websites. A good place to start is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds site. The more we all know about the natural world in our own backyards and neighborhoods, the more we will strive to protect it. Scott Heth is the director of Audubon Sharon and can be reached at sheth@audubon.org, (subject line: Nature Notes).

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