Early Sounds of Spring
By now you probably know that some high-achieving Purple Martin adult males begin arriving in Austin in early February, back from their wintering grounds in South America. There were two late January reports, one from Corpus Christi and one from Galveston so more birds can’t be far behind. Our largest swallow, the Purple Martin is almost entirely dependent on human-provided housing. The colony gourds and houses maintained by dedicated folks at the Hornsby Bend Center for Environmental Research in East Austin are up and ready for occupants. Another well-known colony is on Virginia Avenue above Barton Springs Road. If you live close to a colony check it periodically during February to see when the male Martins arrive. Their lovely chirping is one reason that Purple Martin landlords look forward to their return. Listen to a recording at the All about Birds website. When a new landlord decides to attract Martins, playing their dawn song is one way to attract the attention of migrants. However, the birds arriving now are experienced older birds – the young adults hatched last year will arrive up to ten weeks later in the spring. They are more likely to establish a new colony.
In February you might hear birds like the Carolina Chickadee singing their courtships songs. The chickadee has a four or five note whistled clear song that sounds something like “fee bee fee bay”. Black-crested Titmice also have mating on the brain with their constant “teer, teer, teer” call which can go on for hours and hours without a break it seems, trying to attract a mate. Resident male Carolina Wrens will be counter-singing with other males too, sometimes matching them song for song, to defend their territory in preparation for the breeding season. If you hear the rolling “tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle” song of the male, following by a burry short chatter, you are hearing his mate’s response. Female Carolina Wrens don’t sing.
The Northern Cardinals will be tuning up too. Both the male and female cardinal sing, not true of all songbirds. Sometimes they sing a duet. Listen for their “what cheer” or “purty purty purty” songs, some of which have a percussive quality. As part of their courtship, the male will feed the female to demonstrate that he will be a good provider. Research has shown that bright red male cardinals hold better territories with denser vegetation, and that they give better parental care than drabber males.
Colorful Pine Warblers
Austin has three regularly-occurring warblers that are here for the winter: Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped and Pine. The Pine is arguably the most striking of the three. While some of them are a little drab, when a bright yellow bird shows up in your yard it will get your attention. Unlike most warblers which eat insects and occasional fruit and don’t visit feeders, the Pine Warbler is adapted to eating large quantities of pine cone seeds in the winter months and will sample millet, suet, and sunflower seeds. They live year round in the Lost Pines of Bastrop, east Texas and the southeastern U.S., joined by northern Pine Warblers that arrive in October and leave in late February and March. If you get a chance to visit the Lost Pines during the breeding season listen for the males’ fast paced musical trills coming from the tree tops.