Turn and face the strange
– David Bowie

I have more than once caught myself humming David Bowie’s 1972 hit Changes over the past few weeks. Spring in southern Ontario is very much a season of changes – from day to day, week to week, month to month. It’s an exciting time to be a newbie birder since, with apologies to the late, great David Bowie, each time you turn to the window it seems you face the strange, in the form of a new bird you haven’t seen before or in a very long while.

The unmistakable chirp of a blue jay – a sure sign that the feeder is once again out of peanuts.

Downy woodpeckers are year-round residents, but they seem so much more active in spring.

Living as we do near the western end of Lake Ontario, we’re blessed with an abundance of temporary visitors who stop by the feeders for a day or two on their annual migrations. We see them briefly, then they’re gone – some not to be seen again till the fall, others not till the following spring. The white-crowned sparrows, for instance, show up faithfully each May but stay for only a day or two, prowling around the base of the feeders before continuing on to their summer homes somewhere else. We see white-throated sparrows far more frequently, making the white-crowned birds all that much more special.

White-crowned sparrows visit every spring, though they only stay for a few days.

Wish they would stick around longer.

The rose-breasted grosbeaks follow a similar path. Although our bird books show them to be resident in this area year-round, for some reason we only ever seem to see them for a day or two each spring. That first prolonged warm patch in early May always brings a small number of grosbeaks to the feeder, where they camp out on the safflower cylinder and proceed to positively gorge themselves. And then, just when you think they’ve eaten so much that there’s no way they can fly any more, poof! They’re gone for another year.

Rose-breasted grosbeaks are always welcome guests in our yard.

Frisky blue jay, attempting to smooch with the finial on our feeder pole.

Even the birds who live in our yard year-round go through changes each spring. Take the goldfinch gang, for instance. In April the males are still dressed in their duller winter plumage, blending right in with all the girls. Then as the weather warms, for a week or two they begin to look downright scruffy as old feathers give way to new. But by the Victoria Day weekend, transformation complete, the boys have donned the brilliant yellow summer plumage that gives these birds their name. Each passing day brings a different view at the feeder, as our little friends swap winter olive for summer gold.

April goldfinches all look alike …

… then by month-end some of the males begin to sprout summer brilliant yellow feathers.

By Mother’s Day, the males are stunning.  This one is joined at the feeder by our first indigo bunting.

Yellow birds … blue birds … and red birds decorate the yard in a festival of colour.

The arrival of the first Baltimore oriole is always a welcome sight.

While every season offers its own unique charms, spring will always be special for the changes that it brings. Whether it’s the first ker-cheep of a red-winged blackbird confirming the end of winter, or the first glimpse of a bright orange oriole marking the true start of summer, spring brings the promise of something new with every glance at the feeder.

About Craig Ritchie

Craig Ritchie was born in Toronto and has always held a deep fascination with nature and wildlife. After an initial attempt at putting a bird feeder in the yard led to confrontations with gangs of house sparrows and mischievous raccoons, he set out to learn more about birds and birding, sharing those discoveries on his blog. Craig currently divides his time between southern Ontario and Prince Edward Island.
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One Response to Changes

  1. Angie says:

    Your yard seems very much like ours every Spring, though we are still waiting for the day an Indigo Bunting makes an appearance. 🙂