We’re passionate about birds and nature. That’s why we opened a Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop in our community.
Vintage Oaks at Novato,
104 Vintage Way, Suite A-7
Novato, CA 94945
Phone: (415) 893-0500
Fax: (415) 893-0511
Email: Send Message
Mon - Sat: 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Sun: 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Located between Macy's Furniture/BevMo and Pier 1.
We’ve now officially passed the equinox, with even the laggard calendars now admitting what many birds have been saying for months: it’s spring! The hills are speckled with a thousand wildflowers, trees have unfurled their billowing solar sails along every branch, and dawn birdsong eases us further into the season with each morning that arrives.
Violet-Green Swallow Chicks in WBU Box
Birds, like many animals, time their breeding season to coincide with longer days, kinder weather, and greater food abundance. Many birds are now establishing nest sites and starting construction, with the first batch of birdhouse-using birds like titmice and chickadees already on eggs. You still have a little time to put up nesting boxes for later-nesting individuals and for bluebirds, as well as for the migratory house-users like tree swallows, violet-green swallows and ash-throated flycatchers who will be searching for nest sites over the course of the month. On average, the house-using birds nest relatively early in the year (an enclosed cavity will help protect from late winter storms), while many more birds that build more exposed nests will lay eggs in April and May.
April’s flurry of nesting activity also sees the peak of the “dawn chorus,” the morning torrent of birdsong that rises with the sun on each spring day as birds vie to impress both would-be territorial rivals and potential mates with their heath and vigor. Song will continue over the next few months, but will gradually decrease in volume as birds move from the early “impress the ladies” phase to the later “shh! don’t tell anyone we have a nest” period. In your backyard, some of the prominent members of this ensemble might include oak titmice, juncos, Bewick’s wrens, spotted towhees, robins, or mockingbirds. If you go out to a diverse native woodland early in the morning, you’ll hear an even more varied rendition of the dawn chorus, with purple finches, Hutton’s and warbling vireos, and newly arrived orange-crowned warblers adding to the music. If you’d like to get started learning the songs of our local backyard birds, take a look at our newly revised Spring Birdsong article or attend one of our in-store birdsong seminars this April.
Backyard Birdsong Seminars at Wild Birds Unlimited of Marin
Sunday, April 2 at 10:15 AM or Saturday, April 22 at 9:15 AM
New Birds for Summer
Hooded oriole juveniles
In backyards, bird activity decreases overall in summer, as many seed-eating birds head north for nesting and are replaced by a more limited palette of tropical insect-eaters. The most notable of these are the hooded orioles, who look like the brilliant golden male at the top of this page, or like these paler birds to the left in their female plumage. The first orioles have already appeared, with more of these migrants from Mexico appearing during the first weeks of April. Orioles can be attracted to feeders offering jelly or sugar water, but you have to have the right habitat around to keep them in your yard throughout the summer. Hooded orioles nest essentially exclusively in California fan-palms, a tree native to southern California, but which has been planted extensively enough to expand the oriole’s range into our latitudes. The Bullock's oriole is less common in yards, but can be seen using oaks and other native trees at places like Novato’s Stafford Lake or Mount Burdell.
Early spring (Jan-March) saw the arrival of Allen’s hummingbirds, tree swallows, and violet-green swallows (see last month’s Nature News for more). But the migrants continue to trickle in during March and April, with a number of largely insect-eating birds moving into the canopies of our woodlands and forests. These birds include warblers (orange-crowned and Wilson’s), flycatchers (Pacific-slope and ash-throated), kingbirds, warbling vireos, and western tanagers. There are a few seed-eating summer birds, notably black-headed grosbeaks and lazuli buntings, but these are relatively uncommon feeder visitors, since their main habitat doesn’t usually include typical residential areas (grosbeaks like forests; buntings like mixed native plant communities with some rather brushy understory elements).
Meanwhile, golden-crowned and white-crowned sparrows—among our most abundant winter birds—become pretty scarce by mid-April, as do Townsend’s warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, and ruby-crowned kinglets. The slow exodus starts in March and can continue into May, but April is typically the month when you suddenly lift your head up, look at your feeding area, and notice the sparrows are gone. So say farewell until October!
White-crowned Sparrow - Mike Baird
In the wider world of bird diversity beyond the yard, April also sees a marked decline in our local duck and shorebird populations. Many of these birds are here only in winter, with ducks like scaup, bufflehead, canvasbacks, shovelers, wigeon, teal, and ruddy ducks already on their way north. Shorebirds like dowitchers, godwits, curlews, sandpipers, and dunlins are close behind, with numbers decreasing over the course of this month and May. Some of these shorebirds can be seen in their more colorful breeding plumage before they make their big trip, so take another look at them before they go!
Need to catch up with spring's early birds? Take a look at last month's March Nature News.