March through July
Many species of birds leave North America to spend their winter months in the tropics of Mexico south through Central and South America (the Neotropics). They then return each spring to raise their young during spring and summer. Many raise their young in Lousiana, rather than flying further north to breed. The forests and swamps of Louisiana’s coast are important breeding areas for several species of these Neotropical migrants. The term Neotropical migrant usually brings to mind colorful songbirds such as warblers and tanagers, but also includes our smallest breeding species (Ruby-throated Hummingbird) and one of our most stunning raptors (Swallow-tailed Kite). Louisiana’s forests provide foliage, shelter and camouflage for nests, and abundant food and water for these summer visitors and for many of our resident species as well. Along the America’s WETLAND Birding Trail, forests ranging from cypress/ tupelo swamps to upland hardwood offer the visitor opportunities to see these seasonal visitors during the spring and summer months.
Breeding birds are sometimes not as easy to see in forested environments as migrants are in cheniers along the coast. Although many are brightly colored, individuals can easily disappear into dense forest tangles or canopy. For example, some species such as the Swainson’s Warbler, prefer to lurk in the shadows deeper in the forest. However, observers are easily alerted to the male’s presence by his loud ringing song: we see whippoorwill. Visitors are greeted all along the forested Birding Trail by a wealth of bird song, as males sing to attract females and defend their territory. Here, among tall trees with thick foliage, it is often easier and more fun to locate birds by their song.
Diurnal birds (those active during the day versus owls) sing throughout the day when they first arrive on their territories, but song activity diminishes through the season and by late June and early July singing becomes relatively infrequent. Peak activity is during the morning throughout the breeding season. Early morning is also a good time to spot birds along the roadsides, especially those that nest close to the road in scrubby habitats, such as Indigo and Painted buntings and Yellow-breasted Chat. With patience, a flash of brilliant color of a Prothonotary or Hooded Warbler or Summer Tanager will alert an observer to its presence in a tree or in the undergrowth. Also keep a look out for Neotropical raptor species. Mississippi and Swallow-tailed kites and Broad-winged Hawks can be seen flying above the roads. Several hiking trails on the routes allow visitors to leave the roadside and venture deeper into the forest. (add examples?)
All of the WETLAND loops (except Grand Isle, Loop 9) have access to some forest habitat and the opportunity to see many of our nesting Neotropical migrants in addition to resident species. Two loops wind through bottomland hardwoods and offer the greatest opportunity to spend time in an assortment of forest habitats: Atchafalaya Loop 5: Sherburne Complex (site 5-2) and Indian Bayou site (5-4) are especially good places to visit), and St. Mary ( Loop 6). Pearl River WMA (site 12-9).is also a good site.
Along these loops nesting Neotropical songbirds easily located (and especially by voice) include flycatchers (Acadian and Great Crested); three species of vireo (Red-eyed, White-eyed, Yellow throated); Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Wood thrush; several species of warblers (Northern Parula, Yellow throated Warbler, American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler, Swainson’s Warbler, Kentucky Warbler. Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat); buntings ( Indigo and Painted); Summer Tanager, and Orchard Oriole. Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Chimney Swift, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Mississippi and Swallow-tailed kites and Broad-winged Hawk can also be seen.
West Florida (Loop Eleven) is the only route that visits upland hardwoods. For more information on breeding species, see regional checklists and Breeding Bird Atlas.
Note: You can see the distribution of breeding birds on the Louisiana Breeding Altas website at http://www.manybirds.com/atlas/atlas.htm.