Monday, April 14, 2008

First of Season

“First of Season” or “FOS” is a notation in a birdwatcher’s records that highlights when migratory birds return from their winter vacations. Baltimore Orioles breed all across the eastern and central United States, from the Dakotas to Maine, and as far south as Louisiana. When they leave us in the fall, they go to southern Mexico, the southern tip of Florida, all the Caribbean islands, and as far south as the northern sections of Venezuela and Colombia. Then they come back in the spring…and the first one I see or hear gets the distinction of FOS.

My FOS Baltimore Oriole this year was April 10.

This year, he arrived at his cluster of Sycamore trees to find them overpopulated with his cousins, the Red-winged Blackbirds. I wonder if he found that to be strange. He will mate and nest in one of those trees (the one in my neighbor’s front yard, most likely). His wife will construct a dainty sock and hang it from a branch that cannot bear the weight of a gray squirrel, at the tippy top of the tree. They will eat insects, nectar, and fruit. They will occasionally drink from my hummingbird feeder, but they have yet to shop at a fruit feeder I put out just for them. Usually, they stay so high in the trees that I have to hurt my neck to try to see them.

Even though orioles and blackbirds are in the same family (as in Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species), they have their own niches. Red-winged Blackbirds don’t migrate. They like to hang out in the tall grasses in fields or at water edges. During breeding time, a male will have a dozen or more wives. They often put their nests on or close to the ground. They eat insects and seeds. The ones in my yard frequent my sunflower feeder. In the fall and winter, they flock together by the millions, but Red-winged Blackbirds still roost in small groups in the spring and summer.

My house is not that far from the marshy Quail Creek and two old river bayous. In the past, I have had the occasional flock of Red-winged Blackbirds to visit and empty out my feeder. This year is different. This year they aren’t just stopping by once in a while, they’re making camp.

Why are they sticking around? Kohl’s, JC Penney, Dick’s Sporting Goods TGI Fridays’, Lowe’s, Cost Plus World Market, Linens and Things, Pier 1, Starbucks, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, PETCO, Krispy Kreme, DSW Shoes, P.F. Chang’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Logan’s Roadhouse, Circuit City, Raising Cane’s…I may be forgetting a few. Shreveport is growing! And it just grew into the fields between Youree Drive and East Kings Highway, where the red-winged blackbirds had lived.

I hope my Baltimore Oriole doesn’t mind sharing his seven sycamore trees with a few hundred distant relatives.

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