Migration Spotlight: Late Spring Migrants

By May, spring migration may be winding down for many species, but others get a later start, and reports of them are picking up right now. A number of warblers, thrushes, and flycatchers, among others, peak in late May. They may be a bit more difficult to locate as the trees continue to leaf out, but the mass movement of northern-bound birds isn’t over yet! This article is our third spotlight on species you might see during late migration.

Late Migrant #1: Wilson’s Warbler


Nice hat! This distinctively crowned warbler is one of the smallest and most easily recognized in the U.S. It often raises and flicks its tail as it bounces between branches. Look for it in willow or alder thickets, though it sometimes turns up in woods or brushy fields. It nests across Canada, Alaska, and mountainous areas of the West, but it passes through all of the lower 48 states as it heads north.
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Late Mystery Migrant #2: Yellow-breasted Chat


Classified as a warbler until recently, this skulker is larger and has a proportionally longer tail and a heavier bill than wood warblers. Listen for its extensive cascade of whistles, gurgles, and hoots, often delivered from an exposed perch or during an exaggerated flight display. This widespread species breeds in dense, shrubby habitats across North America after spending the winter in the tropics of Central America.
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Late Mystery Migrant #3: Common Yellowthroat


Wichety wichety wichety! This species’ distinctive call and broad black mask make it one of our most easily recognized warblers. It is the only warbler to nest in open marshes, and is found in reed beds coast to coast, including parts of Alaska.
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Late Mystery Migrant #4: Connecticut Warbler


Another large skulker with a yellow breast, this secretive warbler is distinguished by its gray hood and white eye ring. It passes through the eastern U.S. on its way to its nesting grounds in Canada’s boreal forests. Named for where it was first collected, the Connecticut warbler does not breed in Connecticut, and is not even a common migrant there!
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Mystery Migrant #5: Swainson’s Thrush


You’re more likely to hear the upward spiraling, flutelike song of this species before you see it. But once you locate it, often on the ground in dim understory, its buffy spectacles will set it apart from similar species. This migrant can be spotted in parks and woodlots across North America as it makes its way to its breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska, and parts of the western U.S.
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Mystery Migrant #6: Common Nighthawk


A sharp beerzt heard overhead, usually at dusk, will direct your attention to a graceful, looping performance as this aerial forager hunts for flying insects, flashing distinctive white bars on its underwings. This nightjar breeds throughout North America in both urban and rural areas. (The gravel roof of the BWD warehouse has served as a nest site in seasons past!) It often migrates in flocks as it heads north from its South American wintering grounds.
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Late Mystery Migrant #7: Yellow-billed Cuckoo


This species’ knocking call is likely going to be your first clue of its presence, as they sit very still for long periods, hiding their white underparts as they stealthily hunt for large caterpillars in deciduous woodlands. About the size of a blue jay or western scrub-jay, it has a long bill and bold white spots on the underside of its tail, which are sometimes visible from a shaded perch.
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Late Mystery Migrant #8: Yellow-bellied Flycatcher


Many birders miss this species since it passes through eastern North America later than other Empids, but it’s one of the easiest to identify due to its bold, complete eye ring and yellowish underparts. Unlike most other flycatchers, the yellow-bellied prefers deep woods to forest edges, and easily blends into its boreal and bog habitats. It migrates primarily through the eastern U.S.—even those that breed in western Canada.
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What species do you look for during late migration in your area? Use the comments feature below and let us know!