Spring Birding and Nature Journal Prompts

American Redstart bird, male
American Redstart bird, male. Photo courtesy of Dan Pancamo Photography http://photos.pancamo.com found on Wikimedia – 3 May 2015

Spring Birding is the time to watch out for bird species that don’t nest in your area but may be passing through to their summer nesting grounds.

In this article, we’ll focus on the places and species you can see as the spring migration and summer nesting season continues.

male house sparrow and male goldfinch
A male American Goldfinch and a male House Sparrow eat from the feeders in my garden. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Spring Birding in Your Backyard

The birds that will visit your feeders fall into three main categories: winter visitors, summer nesters, and spring and fall migrants. In the average yard 15 to 20 species visit. You will see the greatest variety of species during the spring and fall migration seasons.

The number of species you see depends on where your feeders are located and what habitats are near them. The number of trees and shrubs, grasslands, and water in your immediate area has an effect on how many birds species you may see. And which species will visit. 

Bullock's Oriole (Icterus bullockii)
Bullock’s Oriole (Icterus bullockii)

Seeing More Than the Feeder Birds

If you want to see more than the 15 to 20 feeder species, you have to go to other areas. If you want to see the many warblers, swallows, thrushes, etc. that won’t come to your garden and backyard feeders, a field trip is needed.

Trees are a key element on how many birds you can see. Public parks in city and suburban areas are great places to see migrating warblers and other songbirds. Environmental centers, refuges, and public gardens, and even cemeteries will host spring migrants. See Neotropical Migrants.

To see species that depend on bodies of water for food you will have to visit ponds, rivers, wetlands, shores, and even reservoirs.

Journal Prompt 1: Record Sightings

Keep daily records of sightings. Note the date, weather conditions, sunrise and sunset times. The sunrise and sunset times allow you to calculate the photoperiod or day length of when the birds appear. The most reliable cue to bird migration is day length.

Birds become restless as the photoperiod or day length increases or decreases. As the amount of day length increases in late winter into the spring, birds know they need to move to find good breeding and feeding territories.

Journal Prompt: What Bird Species Arrive First?

The earliest arrivals get to choose the best nest sites and feeding areas. Once good weather arrives  birds are flying north or choosing choice locations.

Birds that migrate a short distance, like local Robins that winter in the shelter of woodlands, are often one of the earliest birds to reappear in the spring. Other birds signal the arrival of a spring in different locals.

Each area has an indicator bird species which signals the arrival of spring.

  • Buzzards (Turkey Vultures) return to Hinckley, Ohio
  • Swallows return to Capistrano, California
  • Redwing Blackbirds return to northern marshes in mid-March
  • American Robins return to lawns and grassy patches in the east
  • Chipping Sparrows arrive at feeders in colorful plumage
  • Eastern Phoebe announce their return by calling a rapid fee-bee in early March

Journal Prompt 2: Calls and Songs

Early spring is a good time to pick out a few species and learn their calls and songs. If you venture out into the wooded areas and parks to spot warblers in April, you’ll need all the help you can get. Listen out for bird songs not calls. Songs mean a bird is staking a claim on a territory, or is courting. It is a clear sign the spring breeding season has begun.

If the songs you hear are not familiar, you may be hearing the calls and songs of migrants passing through.

Why not start with the song of American Robins? Or chip call notes of Chipping Sparrows? Or the fee- bee call of the Eastern Phoebe?

If you like the challenge of identifying warblers, find out which warblers are plentiful in your area and learn those calls and songs before moving on to the rarer species.

barn swallow and nest box
Barn Swallow nest box at John Heinz NWR at Tinicum in Philadelphia. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Backyard Habitat: Keep Those Feeders Topped Up

Most songbirds migrate at night. The air is cooler and it maybe safer. Raptors (birds of prey) follow  songbirds (their food) as the smaller birds fly north. Birders see these night migrants when they stop during the daylight hours to rest and eat. This is when you see them in wooded areas, parks, and backyard bird feeders.

Birdhouses in Your Garden or Backyard

Are you thinking of putting up birdhouses this year? I have but don’t know what to do in my small city backyard. I have set up the opportunity to interview a maker of birdhouses in the coming weeks.  I plan to ask many, many questions and post the interview and answers on this site.

Update: Read the interview – Birdhouses: Choosing, Maintaining, and Attracting Birds

See also: Choosing a Nest Box


I am just so excited to bird this spring. I have a new area all picked out to bird. I think maybe the lifting of pandemic protocols is also lifting my spirits. Happy Birding. Happy Spring, Happy Ending of the Pandemic! Fingers crossed!


More Spring Birding Information

Spring Migration for Beginning Birders

Spring Warblers – Birding Tips and Techniques

Birding by Ear: Learning Bird Calls and Songs 

Hummingbird Migration Dates 

Nature Activities for Kids and Other Beginners

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