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Birding Through the Seasons - May

On almost a daily basis, one can awaken to hear the song or call of a songbird that has just arrived overnight. This is especially true if you live near a good diversity of habitats. On a typical day in May, almost every habitat could be full of bird life. Trees may be swarming with the activities of Scarlet Tanagers, various vireos, Black-throated Green Warblers, Baltimore Orioles, Least Flycatchers, and Eastern Wood-Pewees among many others. The arrival of these neotropical migrants often corresponds with flowering time so you can see colorful orioles and warblers next to cherry and apple blossoms.

Shrubby thickets can be full of Yellow, Chestnut-sided and Prairie warblers, cardinals, Song Sparrows, Gray Catbirds, and newly arrived House Wrens. Fields contain Eastern Meadowlarks, Bobo-links, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Savannah, Grasshopper, and the rare Henslow's sparrows. In wetland areas, migrant shorebirds appear along island shores and common and Forster's and Black terns work their way north along major rivers and lakes.

A sharp eye and a good pair of binoculars are needed to sort out all of the flitting specks of color. Most species have their own distinct song, making this time of year a great opportunity to try to learn bird songs. In fact, several bird song audio CDs and MP3 files are available just for this purpose. Once you start to master learning bird songs you will truly appreciate the diversity of birds in your area, since so many birds are more easily heard than seen. This is especially true when trees are fully leafed-out, usually by the end of May, making it difficult to see the many treetop species, though they continue to sing until early July. May also includes Migratory Bird Day, generally the second Saturday, but can be held on any day that seems appropriate. On this day many local bird groups, state parks, and Audubon chapters, host birding walks. Checking the local newspaper can lead you to when and where these events will take place.

There are many good places to go birding in the state. With the tremendous number of birds passing through Pennsylvania in May, a wide variety of birds may be found almost anywhere. Any of our state parks, state game lands, and state forests will be productive for birds. All of these are free and open to the public, though caution should be taken and fluorescent orange worn when entering state game and forest lands during the spring gobbler season, which runs through May.

Birds are everywhere this month, in forests and fields and yards, and may appear in large numbers in response to weather events.

Dan Brauning
Pennsylvania Game Commission