Friday, March 6, 2015

And the First Spring Migrant Is...

OK, its not all that exciting but fish crows returned to Mecklenburg County yesterday, March fifth. They are a little late this year. I usually notice them by the end of February. They really are the first harbingers of spring to show up. I had a flock of 13 birds fly over my house and I promptly sent out a report on their arrival. I received several responses letting me know that other area birders had noticed them for the first time yesterday as well. So I suspect they literally rode in with the warm, almost tropical air yesterday morning.

American crows are with us here all year round but the fish crows withdraw to more coastal areas in the winter. By February they are following the major rivers back into the piedmont of the Carolinas. I notice them by their characteristic call, a nasal car car, easily distinguished from the American crow's loud and raucous caw caw caw. Otherwise they are virtually identical to each other. The fish crow is a bit smaller and has a smaller bill but unless I see them side by side I cannot tell them apart.

Habitat can be an identification aid. Despite their name, fish crows seem to have adapted to urban environments more than the American crow. By true spring the fish crows will be staked out in shopping center parking lots, perching atop light posts calling constantly.

More spring migrants will follow closely on the wings of the fish crow. I'll keep posting as these other species begin to filter in.

Fish Crows by Jeff Lewis

Fish Crow by John Ennis
This is a typical location and posture for our area fish crows, calling constantly from a man-made, elevated perch. Look and listen for them in shopping centers. Cotswold is a regular location for them but they occur throughout the county.