I doubt Tom Petty had birdwatching in mind when he wrote the lyrics “the waiting is the hardest part,” but it sure is appropriate for birders in the spring.
Signs of spring start as early as January or February when a few hardy flowers poke out of the ground. Owls also start their breeding season about this time but that is done in secret and largely unbeknownst to humans. March brings the first spring peeper calls, more flowers, red-winged blackbirds, American woodcock and, finally, eastern phoebes, at the end of the month. March also brings the official start to spring, of course.
April starts off fairly slowly until the first pine warblers arrive. Then it’s warbler season! The problem is, pine warblers are three weeks to a month ahead of most of the other warblers and other colorful migratory songbirds. Palm warblers and yellow-rumped warblers are the exceptions as they closely follow the pines.
Those three weeks to a month can seem like an eternity. We’ve endured winter and have slowly gotten small teases of spring. Bring it on already! We jump out of bed each morning confident that this is the day the first hummingbirds will arrive. The feeders have been out for days, if not weeks, with no takers yet. Today has got to the be the day, we tell ourselves.
But still nothing. We’re all confined to our homes so we know we didn’t miss anything while away at work. Where the heck are they?
The impatience is only compounded by rare bird alerts and birding community social media sites buzzing with other people excitedly reporting their first hummingbird, rose-breasted grosbeak or indigo bunting. It’s hard to not feel like a kid waiting for Christmas, especially since we are all in lockdown, but patience is key for birdwatchers in spring.
Of course there is no guarantee that all the birds we are looking forward to seeing will show up in our backyards or nearby parks, but many of them will. Not knowing what will show up is all part of the excitement. I’ve had rose-breasted grosbeaks and ruby-throated hummingbirds for several years in a row, so I’m fairly confident they will be back, one of these days. On the other hand, I’ve had indigo buntings visit my yard only once. I’m hoping the bright blue birds show up again, but who knows?
As we wait, patiently I hope, for the spring birds to arrive en masse, it’s best to take a breath and enjoy what spring has already bestowed upon us. Many birds are sitting on nests already, New England favorites such as loons and osprey have returned, and new warblers are arriving daily.
The waiting may be the hardest part but it also makes it that much sweeter when the wait is over.