A black, white and red bird rests in a leafy tree.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak A Rose-breasted Grosbeak rests in a leafy tree. © Cheryl Rose/Creative Commons

Stories in Pennsylvania

A Place I Love

Grosbeak Greetings

The Conservancy's Woodbourne Preserve naturalist marks springtime by welcoming back some of his favorite birds.

May comes but once a year…and it’s here now!

While early bird arrivals such as American robins, Red-winged blackbirds and Woodcock have already arrived, it is during the first two weeks of May that the floodgates open and millions (billions?) of migrants pour into the northern hemisphere from their Central and South American wintering grounds.

I love the mornings on my way out the door at Woodbourne Preserve in Susquehanna County. I’m often greeted by the songs of several new overnight arrivals. Hokey though it may be, I find myself smiling and quietly saying, “Welcome back!” to the warblers, vireos, and thrushes that dropped in at dawn after an all-night flight from unknown points south.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Rose-breasted Grosbeak A Rose-breasted Grosbeak perches on a branch. © Andy M./Creative Commons

Some will spend a few days fueling up before continuing to boreal forests hundreds more miles to the north, but some are finally home on their summering grounds.

As a bird bander, I catch and mark many birds in my backyard. Four years ago I captured and banded an adult male Rose-breasted grosbeak. I saw it throughout the summer as it fed at my sunflower feeders. Later it brought its mate and youngsters to the feeder, too.

Late in the summer they all took flight headed for the tropics. I imagine that they headed to Peru, in the heart of their winter range.

The next year I caught the same bird (as revealed by its band number) in the same place in my yard. And the next year. And the next year. Clearly it was returning every year to the same territory which encompassed my yard. Likely, it returned to the same wintering territory in Peru, a straight line flight of 3500 miles each way!

It’s a long and treacherous journey!

As May begins this year, I’m hopefully awaiting yet again the return of ‘my’ Rose-breasted grosbeak.

I’ll be sure to greet him with, “Welcome back!”