It was a big week in the bird world, with scores of new species returning from their winter getaways.

A highlight of the week for me was a red-bellied woodpecker, a first for our place west of Gilby, N.D. Suezette spotted the bird on a suet feeder at the edge of our deck.

The red-bellied woodpecker is not a migrant, however, but a wanderer. This is one of the bird species that has expanded northward from the southeastern United States. Others include the cardinal and several species of egrets, including great and snowy egrets.

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Red-bellied woodpeckers first showed up in Grand Forks 20 years ago or so, and by now they have become regular, year-round residents. Its appearance at our place, which is northwest of Grand Forks, amounts to a range expansion.

This brings to six the number of woodpecker species on our yard list. We’re missing the red-headed woodpecker. Red-headed woodpeckers have caused quite a sensation in East Grand Forks. A pair is nesting very publicly along the Red River Greenway. They are said to be visible from the boardwalk, but I haven’t made my way over to check it out.

The other notable appearance in Wheatfield Township, which is west of Gilby and north of Larimore, N.D., was a pair of turkey vultures. This is another expansionist species. Turkey vultures occur to the southeast of our area and in recent years they’ve become quite common closer to the international border. They’ve been common in Manitoba’s Pembina River Valley just north of the border for decades. The valley’s steep sides provide an updraft that helps the vultures find their food. They are carrion eaters.

Perhaps nature’s clean-up crew is filling in a gap in its earlier range.

Our feeders also drew attention from pine siskins, which have occurred in explosive numbers. The word explosive is meant to be descriptive. The birds arrive in tight flocks that seem to burst open, producing dozens of birds. I’d guess there were close to 100 in one of these “bird bombs.”

This phenomenon was widespread. I heard reports from several observers around the area. Siskins have nested in the area, but they are more often found in evergreen forests. As Dave Lambeth, dean of local birders, noted in a post to the Grand Cities Bird Club, nobody knows where they came from, and nobody knows where they’re going.

Other, more familiar birds arrived this week, as well. Baltimore orioles showed up suddenly one morning, just after I’d put out oranges cut in half. I’m amazed at how quickly they appear once the food is available. Apparently, the birds and I have synchronized our schedules. Of course, the orioles might have been here already – but it’s hard to overlook a Baltimore oriole, both because of the brilliant colors and the loud, sweet song.

We’ve also had rose-breasted grosbeaks, always a welcome visitor, but I’ve never found them nesting. The barn swallows, however, have set to work refurbishing last year’s nest over the garage door.

I anticipate more pairs of swallows. One year we had eight. But barn swallow numbers appear to be declining, perhaps because rural areas no longer have as many buildings that offer attractive nesting sites – buildings with overhanging roofs and some sort of base for the swallows to anchor a nest – a feature that used to be standard in buildings but is often lacking in steel or aluminum construction.

From Darlene Kelley in Thief River Falls comes a report of an indigo bunting. “I haven’t seen one in probably 25 years,” she wrote. “This morning (Tuesday May 18) an indigo bunting was on my platform feeder munching sunflower seeds. I was amazed and took a few photos.” She was kind enough to send me one.

The sparrow parade appears to be about over. A chipping sparrow showed up early in the week. Usually, the “chipper” brings up the rear of the parade. Chipping sparrows are abundant nesters here.

The other notable visitor this week was a Cooper’s hawk. Earlier in the year, we had a merlin with us for a few days. This is the Cooper’s hawk’s first appearance of the year. Its arrival shifted suspicion about a couple of piles of blue jay feathers away from the merlin. Now, it’s the Cooper’s hawk that is wanted for questioning.

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Jacobs is a retired publisher and editor of the Herald. Reach him at mjacobs@polarcomm.com.

Mike Jacobs
Mike Jacobs