COVID-19 UPDATE: The Harris Center has canceled or postponed all in-person programs and events through at least June 15. The Harris Center building will also be closed to visitors until June 15. Our trails and grounds remain open.

Nightsongs: Tracking the Spring Bird Migration

March 27, 2020   |   Eric Masterson
An Eastern Phobe perched on a branch. (photo © Doug Greenberg via the Flickr Creative Commons)

Eastern Phoebe: Harbinger of Spring.
(photo © Doug Greenberg)

I know when my phoebes have returned. They own the yard by their presence, staking out their territory from the clothesline or the roof of the shed. Last Saturday, as I was clearing brush, I heard the distinctive chip of an Eastern Phoebe overhead. Wondering if it was ours, I was dubious. Why would it be perched 60 feet up in the crown of a maple, acting like a guest in its own home? And then the little fellow took off. It was someone else’s phoebe, bound for someone else’s yard.

Go directly to Eric’s daily migration updates.

I was fortunate enough to be gardening at the right time to catch a glimpse of this bird in the midst of its journey. Phoebes are one of the few migrant birds that travel during the day. Most fly at night, arriving in our yards during the dark hours. But if we learn to see with our ears, we can bear witness to this most marvelous of natural phenomena, because many of these nocturnal travelers call as they migrate. Watch this 5-minute video for more on this phenomenon:

It would be worth our time to stop and listen to migration any year, but this year more than most. While we are asked to avoid unnecessary travel and to stay put in our homes, for the next two months, thousands of birds will be doing exactly the opposite across the world, across North America, and right here in the Monadnock Region.

They are a reminder that, while closures and cancellations reverberate across the land, the natural world is open for business as usual. We can vicariously live through it until this difficult moment is past.

For the next two months, I will be recording the birds that pass over my house in Hancock from dusk to dawn, and posting regular reports with tallies, recordings, and accompanying stories. It’s safe to say that whatever is flying over my yard is probably flying over yours too, and the season is just getting started. By the time migration and this blog winds down at the end of May, I hope that we will all be back in business, outside and enjoying nature together.

Contact Us

For more information on the spring bird migration or nocturnal flight calls, please contact Eric Masterson by email.