- Continue to watch lakes and reservoirs, especially
during the passage of storm systems with south or
southeast winds. Under those conditions, unusual
waterfowl, gulls, and terns may appear briefly.
- To best appreciate spring migration, plan to spend at
least one long day in the field during the first half of
the month. The hours from dawn until mid-morning will
produce dozens of species. For the experienced birder,
this period is one of the high points of the birding
year; for the beginning birder, it can be an exciting
introduction to a lifelong addiction.
- Listen for the scarce Northern Bobwhite to begin
calling after the first week of May. There are few
remaining in the county, but occasional reports are
- Watch for loon flights during the first half of May,
especially the first three hours after sunrise.
- Some shorebirds may linger in dwindling numbers to
the end of the month; snipe most often leave by
- Most Bonaparte's Gulls will be gone after the first
- May is the prime month to watch for migrating Black
Terns over local lakes and reservoirs. They rarely
stay for more than a few hours. Local birders have become
accustomed to watching them make a single pass the length
of a lake or reservoir and disappear out of sight.
- Yellow-billed and Black-billed cuckoos come through
in small numbers throughout May; they may still be
migrating the first 10 days of June.
- Six of the seven county Chuck-will's-widow records
have been in May (the seventh was June 17). The most
recent was May 11, 1991. All records have been in the
southern or southeastern parts of the county.
- Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers may stay until early May.
- The last half of May is the time to spot an
Olive-sided Flycatcher in the top of a dead tree.
- Eastern Wood-Pewees are seen and heard in small
numbers until the middle of the month when most
- Alder Flycatchers are elusive migrants in this
county. The overwhelming majority of records have been
between May 14 and June 7.
- Willow Flycatchers migrate primarily mid to late May,
even into early June. This species is doing well in the
county in the wet, open, shrubby habitat it favors.
Meadowbrook Park, the islands at the west end of
Centennial Park, and the area east of Lake Elkhorn
beneath the transmission lines are reliable spots to find
- A few Least Flycatchers move through during this
month. Listen for their sharp, repeated two-note call at
wood edges or in open woods.
- For almost 50 years Common Ravens were an
extreme rarity in the county with just one accepted
record in December 1978. That changed dramatically in
2006. With at least two nestings or attempted nestings in
counties north and northwest of Howard County, ravens
began to appear south of the Patapsco River in May and
continued through the rest of the year. The initial
sightings were either along or north of I-70. By fall,
single birds were detected twice in the Columbia area.
All sightings in 2006 were in the Piedmont, but one in
East Columbia was not far from the Coastal Plain. The influx has continued
since, with sightings as far south as Brighton Dam. The majority of
sightings during 2009 were in April and May.
It is certainly worth taking a second look at any large
black bird. Interestingly, a number of the sightings have
involved one or more crows mobbing a raven.
- During the first week of May there is usually at
least one day when all of the swallow species can be seen
hawking insects at Centennial or over one of the Columbia
- Brown Creepers, Winter Wrens, Ruby-crowned Kinglets,
and Hermit Thrushes are seldom seen after the first third
of the month.
- Heaviest Swainson's Thrush migration normally runs
from the middle to around the 20th of the month,
while the Gray-cheeked Thrush movement peaks a few days
later. Thrush migrants sometimes continue to be detected
until the last week of the month. Listen at first light
or dusk for a brief period of song. Drizzly, overcast weather
may be the best in which to locate them.
- American Pipits are usually gone before the middle of
the month; most left in April.
- Cedar Waxwings are late migrants and late nesters.
This month they may still be wandering in flocks. At one
time, they were a relatively unusual county nester; the
last few decades have seen a decided increase in local
- May 1st to 15th is usually the period of heaviest
warbler migration, but some years the third week is best.
Keep an eye out through the end of the month. Although
numbers drop quickly, there will be lingerers of
the early moving species and others like Mourning
Warblers—which are late migrants—will be arriving.
Their numbers peak at the end of the third week or
beginning of the fourth week of May. The wispy song of
the Blackpoll may often be heard until the last day of
the month or even into June. Early in the morning, when
temperatures may still be low, it pays to seek out areas
where sunshine warms the trees and insects to find
maximum bird activity. On windy days, search for
sheltered spots. Do not confine warbler watching to sunny
days. Mornings with showers or overcast skies after a
rainy night may prove highly productive. An unusually
long period of wet weather may cause a fallout of
species in astonishing concentrations. Extended periods
of chilly nights with northerly winds may cause birds to
linger for several days.
- By mid-May scrubby fields at Centennial Park,
Schooley Mill Park, and Rockburn Branch Park should be
resounding with the strange combination of sounds
produced by male Yellow-breasted Chats. It is highly
entertaining to watch this species as it establishes its
- Although most of the spring Summer Tanager records
are from the last few days of April or the first week of
May, they have been seen throughout this month.
- Beginning in early May (occasionally late April),
check brushy edges and areas near water for Lincoln's
Sparrows. The largest numbers normally occur mid-month.
Mt. Pleasant is a prime location.
- White-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Pine
Siskins may linger in dwindling numbers until the middle
of the month. An occasional bird may stay later.
Wintering White-crowned and Swamp sparrows are joined by
additional migrants in late April and early May, but
their stay is brief with few seen after mid-May.
- Watch for Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings
at feeders. Not all members of these species have learned
to take advantage of feeder offerings, but there are a
handful of reports each spring.
- Bobolink flocks usually appear the last few days of
April or the first week of May; they leave by late May.
Look for them in extensive fields of mustard or alfalfa,
or in large areas of long grass with a few shrubs.
- Rusty Blackbirds are usually gone from the county
after the first week of May.