Four Months Here, then Gone Again

Among the birds that breed in Eliza Howell Park and “winter” in or near Central America, I selected four and reviewed my records on first sighting and last sighting in the park each year from 2010 to 2018 (9 years). The dates indicate clearly that they are only short-term residents here, coming to breed, and longer-term residents elsewhere.

Note: All photos by Margaret Weber

Baltimore Oriole

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I do not get to the park every day and, of course, I miss some birds when I am present. Nevertheless, the record is quite consistent. Based on this experience, I expect to see the first Baltimore Orioles of the year the first week of May and will probably not see them after the first week of September.

Baltimore Oriole 2010 – 2018

First seen:     5/6    5/8   5/2   5/5   5/6   5/6   5/7    5/1    5/4

Last seen:     9/3   8/25  9/5  8/22  9/7   9/7  9/11   9/4   9/3

By the end of May, I start finding Baltimore Oriole nests every year in the large trees, often near the road, and find a total of five in a typical year.

Barn Swallow  

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Barn Swallows also nest in the park every year, at least one pair under a shelter and several under the Fenkell Avenue bridge over the Rouge River.

Barn Swallow   2010 – 2018

Fist seen:   4/24  4/23  4/19  5/1   4/17   4/26   4/22  4/29  4/25

Last seen:   9/2  8/28   8/24  8/22  8/24  8/23  8/20    9/9   8/31

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

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The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher arrival date (more exact, first sighting date) is spread over a three week period, not as consistent as with the Baltimore Oriole. The last-sighting date covers a shorter range of time. By the end of the second week of September, they have started their trip back to Central America (some to Florida) for a longer stay.

A couple pairs of gnatcatchers always nest in Eliza Howell and I have been successful most years in locating a nest to point out to participants in the June Detroit Audubon breeding bird field trip.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2010 – 2018

First seen: 5/3  4/28  4/19  5/1  4/23  4/11  5/1  4/20  4/28

Last seen:  9/6  9/14   9/9   9/2   9/7   9/7   9/11   9/4   9/5

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

male ruby throated protrait

There are always a small number of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that spend four month at Eliza Howell, but I have found an actual nest only once over these years. I am quite sure they nest here every year, however, based on the behavior of adults and on the slight increase in numbers by late summer. They spend the non-breeding months in Central America.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2010 – 2018

First seen: 5/12  5/8   5/10  5/14  5/10   5/15  5/13  5/11  5/4

Last seen:  9/6   9/5    9/9    9/14  9/14  9/13   9/16   9/9   9/22

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These four species are not the only birds that nest in the park and leave after breeding season, but these records may be sufficient for now.

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There are several points to be made based on the above records.

  1. Birds that migrate are amazingly consistent from year to year. It is often possible to predict when (within a week or so) a particular species will show up again.
  2. If someone wants to see any of these four species in October, don’t come to Eliza Howell.
  3. This information, along with the annual fly-through of the warblers, helps to explain why many bird watchers in this part of the country go a little crazy as May approaches. By then, it will have been a long time that some favorites have been gone.

April Visits from Two Little Kings

These tiny 4-inch birds, smaller than warblers, moving almost non-stop from branch to branch gleaning insects, will be passing through Eliza Howell this month. They are among the very earliest of the species that migrate through the park on their way to breeding grounds further north.

I am referring to the two species of kinglet, the Golden-crowned Kinglet and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. “Kinglet” means “little king” and is a good translation of their Latin genus name, “Regulus.” The head markings (crown) of the Golden-crowned Kinglet are much more distinctive than those of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. These are the only two species of kinglet in North America.

All photos below are by Margaret Weber.

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The Golden-crowned arrives first, often beginning in the first week of April, and they have all passed through by the end of the month. It can usually be identified as a kinglet by its size and behavior, and the head identifies it as Golden-crowned.

Golden-crowned Kinglets breed from the Upper Peninsula north, usually building their nests high in conifers. Detroit is at the northern edge of their winter range and I have once seen one in the park in January.

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The Ruby-crowned Kinglet arrives a little later each Spring, usually about the third week of April, and a few can be seen into early May. While they, too, can be recognized as kinglets by size and behavior, the head markings are often not noticeable. White wing bars are usually evident and the white eye ring helps to confirm their identity (taken together with the lack of a golden crown).

When seen from underneath, they do not look particularly like a little king.

ruby crowned kinglet branch

Ruby-crowns also nest from the UP north, typically in conifers.

The red crown of the male is rarely seen, only when the male is excited.

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In the Fall, both kinglets pass through Eliza Howell again, the Ruby-crowned normally starting in September and the Golden-crowned in October.

Those walking in Eliza Howell Park in April (and those coming on the nature walk on April 21) have a quite good chance of seeing one or both of these little kings on their annual spring visit.