Over the next couple of weeks, birders in Louisville will welcome the neotropical migrators to their summer homes. Tanagers, orioles, indigo buntings, warblers of all stripes, and hummingbirds will delight our senses and wow us with their colors and vocalizations. However, before those brilliantly colored denizens of the bird world shake their feathers, how about we take a moment to give some love to the little, gray birds that fill our region with life and energy?
Below is a short list of some of the little gray birds that fill our woods, meadows, and feeders without the ego of our more showy species (yes, blue jay and cardinal. We’re talking to you). See if you can spot these little feisty birds in The Parklands on your next visit.
While these birds spend their winters in South America, they are among the earliest migrators to arrive here in The Parklands. Look for them along edges of forests and meadows. These guys are noticeable by their strong shoulders and large heads. A blast to watch during the summer, they are visual hunters that leap out from perches to snatch flying insects. During their winters in South America, they flock together and eat an almost exclusively fruit-based diet. Kingbirds have been seen this year in Pope Lick and Turkey Run Parks.
Another bird that eats the bugs that bug us, the Eastern Phoebe is a plump songbird with a medium-length tail. It appears large-headed for a bird of its size. Perching low in trees or on fence lines, phoebes make short flights to capture insects, very often returning to the same perch. Even if you haven’t seen a phoebe, no doubt you have heard its very distinctive song – https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Phoebe/sounds. For your best chance at spotting them, check out the southern end of the John Floyd Fields Fitness Circle and the Louisville Loop in Pope Lick Park.
Year-round residents of Louisville, and frequent visitors to most birdfeeders, titmouses are among our most consistently observed bird species. They have strong personalities and confidence that belays their smaller stature. Often seen in mixed flocks with woodpeckers, chickadees, and finches, titmouses hold their own quite well. If you wonder why you see them often at your home feeder, it’s because they are one of the few species of birds that hoard their food – nature’s original “preppers”. This particular bird can be spotted just about anywhere in the park all year long.
These winter, early spring visitors are ground birds in the sparrow family. While they breed in the Appalachians and northern Canada regions, they do spend their winters in the southeastern US. Very active ground feeders, they will flock up in winter around these parts. They are also one of the most populous birds of North America with current estimates placing their numbers at around 630 million individuals. While it is a bit late in the year to see these guys in The Parklands, in the winter keep your eyes peeled around the PNC Achievement Center in Beckley Creek Park for flocks of juncos.
A summer resident, its name is its game. A voracious bug eater, constant motion defines its lifestyle. As it moves, this steely blue-gray bird conspicuously flicks its white-edged tail from side to side, scaring up insects and chasing after them. Pairs use spiderweb and lichens to build small, neat nests, which sit on top of branches and look like tree knots. Look in shrubs and trees near open meadows for this guy. A good place to watch for these guys is in the Distillery Bend section of Beckley Creek Park.
A very common visitor to feeders, this bird has almost no neck and with its dark markings on the back looks like it is wearing an Edgar Allen Poe inspired cape. These guys love deciduous forests so look for them to be racing up and down hickories, oaks, and basswood. A distinctive, and very loud call makes them easy to locate even in the densest woods. Just hone in on the sound, and let your eyes look along the trunks of large trees to spot them. Good spots to locate them include Limestone Gorge in Broad Run Park and the Wild Hyacinth Trail in Turkey Run Park.