The Birds of Asheville’s Spring

Eastern Bluebird Couple, male and female, perching on flowering spring branch

Although the crisp winter weather has not quite departed, Asheville has experienced an early arrival of spring flowers. A few weeks after the Snow Drops came and went, we were treated to early Daffodils and Crocus pushing themselves up and out of the earth to drink in the sunshine. Along with Forsythia, Cherry Blossoms and the early blooming Tulips, we can expect to see some of our spring and summer feathered friends.  

As the morning casts its pink glow across my deck in West Asheville, the day breaks and the birds arrive. I’ve been calling them “the usual suspects” as many are now very well known to me. They flit in and out of my vision, some staying longer than others, some merely popping in for a quick bite, but all maintaining a certain wariness … just in case.

Several feeders hang from hooks, as this typical spring day begins. The sun is shining through trees not yet covered in foliage, creating dappled patterns on the deck as limbs just beginning to bud move with the breeze. I’ve gotten to know the birds of Asheville quite well, watching through the winter months as they change their habits and some change their colors. Male Gold Finches are mottled now—becoming gold.

There are an amazing variety in Asheville. I’ve participated in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Feederwatch program from November through April for the past several years. The most I’ve counted over the same two days a week required by the program has been 23 species. 

The finches—house and gold—hop from feeder to feeder. A sweet Carolina Chickadee flies in, grabs a seed and is gone in a breath. A Titmouse displaces a finch as myriad sparrows come and go. Song Sparrows are fairly consistent visitors. Recently, Chipping Sparrows have arrived en masse with their cute little rust colored caps. Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers fly down displacing everyone. My favorite is a Carolina Wren who actually and oddly was in my house on numerous occasions, but happily not recently.

While generally speaking, the American Robin is a good indication of the change in seasons, there are a number of other birds who return to the North Carolina mountains with the warming of the weather.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been seeing an Eastern Bluebird. Since there aren’t too many meadows in WAVL, with the weather warming and insects beginning to awaken, I’m assuming he’ll be heading out soon for other areas of town.

A number of other species return to our area from their Central or South American winter homes and if you’re vigilant, you might just catch a glimpse.

Purple Martin: The largest in the swallow family, this colony-nesting species is one of the earliest to return. The males are dark overall but with a distinctive purplish-blue iridescence visible at close range. The females of the species are grayer with iridescence on the crown and back. If you provide a nesting box, you may just be lucky enough to attract a pair. Early March

Louisiana Waterthrush: This small bird’s song is one of the first signs of spring in eastern North America. One of the earliest migrant warblers, its lilting cadence is quite like the rushing streams where it makes its home. This brown bird with bold streaks feeds on streambed invertebrates and according to the scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this species is an excellent indicator of the quality and health of a stream. Mid-March

Barn Swallows: Identified by their long, deeply forked tail that streams out behind this graceful acrobat, you’ll find these tiny birds feeding on insects above meadows and fields as well as over water. Keep an eye out for mud puddles as they use mud and grass to build their cup-shaped nests, mostly on human-made structures such as barns, stables or under bridges. Mid-March

Chimney Swift: The only swift in the eastern US, this spring arrival is often seen in small groups, twittering and flitting across the sky in search of insects. Nesting and roosting in chimneys, these tiny aviators fly all day long with incredibly fast and snappy wingbeats. Their body is dark gray with a slightly paler throat and their blunt head, squared-off tail, and long, sickle-shaped wings make them distinctive. Late March

Ruby-throated Hummingbird: You’ll find this small hummingbird in woodland and brushy habitats, however, they are readily seen at sugar water feeders and in flower gardens. The male has a distinctive ruby-red throat and black chin. The female has whitish underparts with almost no buffy tones, but with perhaps a light wash on her flanks. Getting a photo of these tiny birds, sometimes mistaken for large insects, can be very tricky as they are very quick flyers and rarely sit still. Early April

Other birds to watch for include the beautiful Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and if you’re fortunate, you may also be treated to flocks of Cedar Waxwing.

If you’re a new or even an experienced bird watcher, Bookends Used Bookstore in Pack Memorial Library has Field Guides available in the Math and Science area, under our Nature and Environment section. They typically sell quickly, but we regularly receive these as part of our ongoing book donations so they are frequently restocked. 

You can also check our section on Animals, located next to the Children’s and Youth books, for general bird information. 

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin Bird ID app is also a great tool.

Spring is a time to look outward and experience the beauty of nature and its distinctive interplay between the flora and fauna of western North Carolina. 

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