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Fancy-feathered birds delighting the East End

Among the local cardinals calling “purty-purty-purty” and the “cheerily-cheerily” of resident robins, springtime also brings the bird songs of warblers, tanagers and other species migrating through the area.

Early to mid-May is the peak of the spring migration, offering birding enthusiasts with a good set of binoculars peeks at exotic and rare birds, many with intricate colorations and vocalizations.

World Migratory Bird Day — which is today Saturday, May 11 — arrived amid the seasonal migration, drawing attention to the flights of the various visitors ­— and their plights.

“Birds are declining and that’s a fact,” said MaryLaura Lamont, a naturalist at the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “Birds have it extremely difficult now to find enough food and protection for themselves and their babies. Their migratory pathways that were once pristine are now lost to development.”

This time of year, Ms. Lamont said she expects to see many kinds of neotropical birds migrating to northern breeding grounds. They include many species of warblers, vireos, grosbeaks, tanagers and thrush. 

Black and white warbler, a small songbird that typically forages on tree trunks, similar to white- and red-breasted nut hatches. (Credit: Meredith McCarthy)

“Rose-breasted grosbeaks are stunning,” she said. “So are scarlet tanagers. Even the little warblers are showstoppers in their breeding plumages, like black-throated green warblers, magnolia warblers, yellow warblers and American redstarts, to name just a few.”

To help identify the many species of warblers in the area, Ms. Lamont said to note their tails, wing bars and eye rings.

Many of the visiting birds stay in the area for just one day and take off overnight if conditions are good. Should bad weather set in, Ms. Lamont explained, they may stay put for several days until better conditions enable them to continue northward.

World Migratory Bird Day is a global avian conservation and education campaign lead by several nonprofits.

The theme this year is “Protect insects. Protect birds.”

“About 95% of birds feed their babies insects because insects are protein-rich, which allows the youngsters to develop properly,” Ms. Lamont said. “Insects are in severe decline, which means birds are in decline because they are losing their major food sources. The way people can help is to plant native species of plants, which insects seek out for their food. Don’t spray herbicides or pesticides. Insects need a good variety of plants to feed on, not monocultures of plants.”

The American redstart is a black warbler with bright orange patches on the sides, wings and tail. (Credit: Meredith McCarthy)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also suggests helping migrating birds and pollinators by turning off lights at night. 

“Make your home or other buildings safer for birds by taking steps to reduce or eliminate building collisions and keeping artificial lights off between dawn and dusk during fall and spring migration seasons,” the federal agency’s World Migratory Bird Day webpage states. “Artificial lighting can also drastically affect the behavior of insects and pollinators, reducing the ability of plants to produce fruit and reproduce.”

Another way to support birds is to learn about them through educational outreach programs at area locations such as Mashomack.