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Nature Notes: Spring birds a beacon of hope in tough times

Sometimes we all need a dose of hope, something to cheer us up and brighten our lives.

A recent message from John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, gave me that lift, and I hope it does the same for you.

“I often talk about the power of birds,” said Fitzpatrick, “but this year they take on an even more powerful meaning. They enliven our days, brighten the trees, serenade in our backyards and city parks, and bestow us with so much joy and hope, all bundled together in feathers and lively personalities.”

In short, Fitzpatrick said birds, especially in the spring, are “beacons of hope.”

For instance, I can’t wait to see the robins strutting about my yard, tugging and pulling worms out of the ground. For me, that’s a sign that spring has sprung.

Another milepost that I watch for is the arrival of the beautiful ospreys, the only North American birds of prey that dive for fish. Wintering as far south as the French Indies, these regal “fish hawks,” who mate for life, arrive here in Stonington and in other parts of Connecticut to reclaim their old nesting sites by about March 25.

Then there’s the ruby-throated hummingbird, a flying wonder that usually arrives in our backyards by the end of April or early May.

In anticipation of their arrival, I break out my hummingbird feeders by the third week in April, clean them off, and fill them with sugar water, a mixture of four cups water to one cup granulated white sugar, lightly boiled and cooled.

These tiny birds, measuring 3 1/2 inches long and weighing as much as a penny, fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico, a staggering 550-mile, featureless, migratory flight that takes them 24-26 hours to complete. Hit head winds or get blown off course by bad weather and they could easily perish. But, thankfully, millions survive the journey and add beauty and joy to our lives.

Take time this spring to get out in your gardens and backyards and look and listen to the bounty of birds that are around us. There are about 990 different species of birds recorded in North America. Connecticut has about 440 species that either breed here or pass through.

About mid-May, when spring bird migrations are in full swing, I like to sit on my deck at dawn, with a cup of coffee, and listen to the “morning chorus” of birds, waking up and singing. It’s beautiful.

As Fitzpatrick says, birds are truly “beacons of hope.”

Bill Hobbs lives in Stonington and can be reached for comments at whobbs246@gmail.com.

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