Grab Your Binoculars: Spring Migration

by Jeff Sole, Director of Conservation

Yellow-throated Warbler ©Jeff Sole
Yellow-throated Warbler ©Jeff Sole

For Kentucky birders the month of May is one of the most anticipated periods of the year as spring migration movement peaks. Starting in late April and lasting through May, the majority of migrating songbirds return to, or pass through, the Commonwealth to return to their breeding habitats. Many of the species will be passing through our area and heading much further north while others will take up their summer residence in Kentucky. Once they have returned to their breeding grounds they immediately set up territories, attract mates, raise their young and then begin their long journeys back to Central or South America to spend the winter months.

Yellow-rumped Warbler ©Jeff Sole
Yellow-rumped Warbler ©Jeff Sole

Probably most anticipated during this annual migration event is the movement of wood warblers. This songbird group includes numerous highly colorful birds traveling in mixed species groups. When a large flock of warblers is found, observers may be able to see 10 to 20 species within a fairly small area and in a fairly short amount of time. Sometimes the action is fast and furious and the birds are here and gone quickly while other times the birds may hang around a general location for a few days. During this month-long period, birders often watch the weather closely. When a storm front passes through from the north there is often a “fallout of warblers” in the area and the birds are forced to take refuge.

Kentucky Warbler ©Jeff Sole
Kentucky Warbler ©Jeff Sole

Fallouts lead to a lot of collaborative birding activities by birders and opportunities for birders of all skill levels to participate. To stay informed about what birds are currently being seen in your area, you can subscribe to the BIRDKY listserv or visit eBird, Cornell University’s global birding database. This type of weather pattern has just occurred in central Kentucky and there are numerous reports of large numbers of warblers currently being found by local birders.

Black and White Warbler ©Jeff Sole
Black and White Warbler ©Jeff Sole

Within the past 24 hours birders have reported at least the following warbler species passing through Kentucky in high numbers:  Ovenbird, Worm-eating Warbler, Louisiana Waterthursh, Black-and-white Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Cape May Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Canada Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat.

So grab you binoculars and get outside!  A little time watching the tree tops and field edges will likely yield some surprisingly colorful birdlife passing right through your yards, local parks and nature preserves.