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Wings of April

Rob Zimmer

The wings of April fill the skies as our glorious songbirds lift northward across Wisconsin on the warm south winds of spring.

Tree swallows are among the earliest songbirds to return in April.

The bluebirds have already returned, along with the familiar robins, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, tree swallows and purple martins. The parade of migration has just begun and over the next four to six weeks, many more colorful backyard birds will return to our yards and gardens.

Already, eastern phoebes, along with robins, tree swallows and others, are nesting and laying eggs. Killdeer nest on open ground along country lanes, in open fields and even in our own driveways.

Next come the colorful and vibrant orioles in bright orange and jet black, announcing their arrival with their clear, whistled songs from the treetops. Orioles have already been spotted in Wisconsin in a few locations, though the big push is still to come.

Already, robins have begun nesting in Wisconsin. Many songbirds waste no time once they arrive back on their breeding grounds.

Be sure to get those orange and jelly feeders ready for these colorful songsters, which could arrive any day now.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are also on the move, with a few already been spotted in the state. Toward the end of the month and into early May, hummingbird numbers will really pick up and feeder activity will abound as blooming plants are still scarce when these nectar feeders arrive.

Brown thrashers, catbirds and northern mockingbirds, all in the same family of mimic thrushes, arrive in April and May, also. Each of these birds has a fun, effervescent series of squeaky, whistled tones, repeated incessantly as the birds sing from treetops and shrubs.

Waterfowl migration is largely complete and many duck species have already begun nesting for the season. If you're fortunate to enjoy wetlands or shoreline property, you may already have nesting wood ducks, mergansers, mallards and other species.

Among birdwatchers, the most highly anticipated spring arrivals are the colorful wood warblers. Nearly 30 species of wood warblers can be spotted in Wisconsin during May, when the peak migration of these tiny "butterfly birds" occurs.

The familiar call of the northern flicker sounds across backyards and woodlands when these migratory woodpeckers return.

Wood warblers come in all colors of the rainbow. One of the most beautiful is the black-throated blue warbler, colored striking black, white and metallic blue. The yellow warbler is colored a bright, cheerful yellow with red streaking down its breast. The American redstart is a breathtaking black and red, a tireless songster on its journey north. The chestnut-sided warbler is well known for his lime green cap and rusty, chestnut-colored patches along each side. The black-throated green warbler is black and gray over all with a vibrant, showy, lime green throat and chest.

Many other species of wood warblers can be found, as well, such as the yellow-rumped warbler, magnolia warbler, black and white warbler, ovenbird, northern waterthrush, Wilson's warbler, Blackburnian warbler, bay-breasted warbler and others.

Each day in April and May brings new arrivals from the south as warm fronts lift north and our winged wonders ride the south winds. Many birds migrate at night, resulting in massive fallouts at sunrise when we really begin to notice their arrival.

Grab your binoculars and bird field guide and enjoy watching the parade of spring migrants right outside your own back door.

Find Rob Zimmer online at On Facebook at Listen to Outdoors with Rob Zimmer, Saturdays, 7 to 8 a.m. on WHBY.