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Redwings Can Be Back Early

Dear Bird Folks,

In past years, I’ve noted that the redwinged blackbirds return on Presidents’ Day. Last year they appeared on Martin Luther King Day. This past December, I looked out the window and saw them in my backyard. Are they back one month earlier or have they not left yet?

Judith, South Orleans


Thanks, Judith:

Thanks for not asking if early redwings means that we are in for a mild winter. Lately, every time someone sees a bird that is out of the ordinary, they want it to be a predictor of some kind of weather. I’m starting to worry that soon people will also be using bird sightings to predict the stock market or the outcome of the Super Bowl. As you know, the only true way to predict the future temperature or the score of the Super Bowl is to count the number of hairs on a chipmunk’s tail and divide it by the number of acorns found on Main Street in October. Everything else is just silly.

That is not to say that weather isn’t a factor in bird sightings, it certainly is. Most bird populations are the result of, not the predictors of, weather. The redwings that you have been seeing are the result of milder weather that our coastal area usually enjoys. Most redwings head south in late fall, but a small population of redwinged blackbirds can be found in most Cape Cod winters. Redwings are a ground feeding bird. Usually this time of year, the inland parts of Massachusetts are covered in snow (ha, ha). The Cape rarely has a long stretch when there isn’t at least some exposed habitat. So some birds hang out here.

Spending the winter here has it’s advantages. The birds don’t have the dangers of the long trip south and they can avoid having to eat at those awful Stuckey’s restaurants that line the migration routes. But Cape Cod winters aren’t perfect and if we have a long stretch of bad weather, the redwings that stay here take a hit and many of them are lost.

Redwinged blackbirds are one of our earliest signs of spring. Many return by the end of February. The birds that you saw around President’s Day may have been returning birds. But the blackbirds that you saw this past December, or on Martin Luther King Day, are winter visitors and not early returnees. It’s nice to know that some visitors actually go out of their way to be here in the winter. It’s just too bad they don’t like to go shopping. I could use a few more customers right about now.