LBL Wildlife Report: Tropical Summer Birds in the Local Area
In the next installment of Sounds Good's LBL Wildlife Report, Tracy Ross and Woodlands Nature Station lead naturalist John Pollpeter discuss a variety of neo-tropical migrating birds that live in the local area during the spring and summer months before flying back to South and Central America for the fall and winter.
"When I'm out in my front yard, you notice the real colorful birds with the beautiful songs — cardinals, bluebirds, goldfinches. Those are definitely spectacular to have in our yard. But the summer brings in some real treats from tropical places. They're tropical looking because they have very vivid colors," Pollpeter begins.
"I would be remiss if I didn't mention any of the tanagers," he continues. "There are two kinds of tanagers we have here in Kentucky and Tennessee. One is known as the scarlet tanager, and one is the summer tanager. Most people are going to see the summer tanager in their front yard or backyard. They're going to be associated with your large oak trees. They're all tomato red, a bright, vivid color, kind of a fun bird to get to see, and very tropical looking. To see something that vividly colored in our yard besides a cardinal is a special treat."
"The other one is the summer tanager. If you live in a little bit thicker woods, a dry hilltop, or something that's got a lot of trees, the scarlet tanager can be just as beautiful, a deeper red with black wings and a black tail. Very stunning. It sticks out quite a bit. Both birds are here during the summer months mainly because there's a lot of food available for them that a lot of other birds may not take advantage of, things like fruit and insects are the main things that these guys are going for. They come up this way because there's not a lot of competition for them to be able to breed."
"[Scarlet tanagers] are larger than normal-sized birds," Pollpeter explains. "You really have to be in the deep woods to be able to see the scarlet tanager, but the summer tanager, you're going to see on almost every block in town. Their songs sound like buzzy robin songs, but they have a call note that allows you to be able to distinguish or locate them. The scarlet tanager goes chicka-burrr, chicka-burrr. The summer tanager is beekee-teht-taht, and you'll hear that often, especially around dawn or dusk. That's when they go pretty active."
Pollpeter says orioles are another kind of tropical bird that has multiple relatives. "Baltimore orioles are bright orange birds with black heads and black wings. They have an orange patch on their wing. They're a rather large bird. They have a flute-like call amongst them. They're one of the orioles we have, and then we have an orchard oriole that people are going to see in their yards quite a bit that has even more black on its head and on its wings. But both of them have the bright kind of orange that you see in the grocery store type of color."
"They'll come to bird feeders, hummingbird feeders if they can access the nectar. You can buy commercial oriole feeders and put in strawberry jam or something like that, and they'll come down and eat it because they eat a lot of insects, but they also eat a lot of fruit that attracts them as well as the nectar. One of the other interesting things about both orioles is they make a sock nest. It's called a bower, and you'll see it in the top of trees. It hangs down from a branch almost like a gourd, and that's where they raise their young."
"They're only here from about April to July, and once their babies fledge, they're gone," Pollpeter continues. "Orchard orioles, you're going to find in open spaces. Baltimore orioles are going to be found where you have a lot of large trees, suburban areas, but a lot of times, I'll see the Baltimore orioles along lakeshores and stuff like that." Pollpeter explains that Baltimore orioles earned their name after a British royal in pre-colonial times named Lord Baltimore noticed the birds in his local area. The birds' colors matched the lord's house colors, which is how the Baltimore orioles came to be.
"The last bird I wanted to mention — and this is one that a lot of people will ask questions about because they'll see it quite a bit as they're driving up and down in some of the local communities, maybe in Land Between the Lakes — is the indigo bunting. Sometimes people confuse it with the bluebird. The bluebird is a very vivid, light blue, and the males have a red chest."
"The indigo bunting is a relative of the cardinal, but it's an iridescent, blueish purple. A lot of times, you'll see them closer to the ground. That's where they usually nest. They're another neo-tropical migrant, so they're coming from South America, Central America during the spring and then leaving before the fall."
"Often people see them on the sides of the road as they pick up grit for their crop. They're seed eaters, so mowers will knock a lot of grass seeds into the gravel, and you'll see these birds fly in front of your car or off to the side. A very vivid, blueish bird that's always a great treat in the summer. All of these species that you're seeing will be here for a few months, and we get to enjoy them during that particular time," Pollpeter concludes.