Readers bird questions answered

By Jay V. Huner
Journal Correspondent

What topic should I pick for a story that has to be written a month in advance? However, sometimes a bird related phenomenon happens in the current month that warrants attention in the next month. May 2013 brought good numbers of black and white birds to piney woods vistas that aren't noted every year during spring migration.

When I get questions about birds, it's time to share the responses to the readers of these missives. One group of black and white birds with a rosy red triangular mark on their chests drew attention at backyard feeders. Another group of black and white birds with bright yellow napes was noticed in large flocks in knee high grassy meadows especially around major north-south rivers.

We have had an unusual spring with major cold fronts passing at 7-10 day intervals. The fronts have been preceded by very strong southerly winds that bring migrant songbirds northward from Central and South America from winter quarters to summer breeding grounds. The birds leave Yucatan in early evening and reach our Gulf Coast in mid-afternoon the following day. They typically land well inland from the coast, refuel and quickly move out of our area within a day or two. However, if they meet strong cold fronts and rain, they are forced to "fall out" wherever they are. This can be right along the coast or almost anywhere between there and 100-150 miles inland. Cold weather and strong northerly winds force the birds to remain in the fall out area for several days.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are medium-sized songbirds. Males have conspicuous black and white markings and a beautiful triangular-shaped rosy red medallion on their chests. The huge white beak is truly a "gross" beak. Some are reported at bird feeders every spring but rarely in the numbers that have been found this year. Females are not very conspicuous. They also have the large beaks but are basically grayish-brown with streaked breasts and prominent white "eyebrows". Under wings are a saffron yellow color.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks also pass through the Piney Woods during fall migration returning from nesting grounds in forested areas in the north-central USA and southern Canada. However, they are not seen as often as they are seen in a normal spring. They winter in northern South America.

Bobolinks are medium-sized songbirds that resemble blackbird relatives and often fly in large flocks. The males are black and white and have a bright yellow nape. As with Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, the black and white patches are conspicuous when Bobolinks flush from meadows and adjacent brush. Compared with the grosbeaks' bills, the Bobolinks' bills are more conical, sharp and pointed like those of other blackbirds.

While the male Bobolink is conspicuous in the spring, the female bird is buffy yellow with black streaks above. Before Bobolinks migrate south from their prairie-like nesting grounds in the north-central USA and southern Canada, males molt their feathers and come to resemble females.

Bobolinks are said to say their names in their songs. Males make quite a display in grasslands flying about their territories and singing to attract mates and displace competitors.

Bobolinks are long distance migrants traveling over 12,000 miles one way from North American breeding grounds to South American wintering grounds. They are sometimes called "rice birds" for a habit of feeding in rice fields much to the dismay of farmers in both hemispheres.

Jay V. Huner
Louisiana Ecrevisse
428 Hickory Hill Drive
Boyce, LA 71409
318 793-5529-