Coming Soon to a Tree Near You

Presenting a new series looking at what birds you can currently see in the Greater Philadelphia Area. These posts will appear regularly and update as migratory birds come and go through the region in the coming weeks and months. Let us know what you are seeing in your own backyards in the comments and on social media.

As this unusually mild winter comes to a close, many of us will start spring working from home thanks to COVID-19, making for another unusual time. While sharing a bigger cubicle with a 7 year old will present some challenges, there will be opportunities too, if we take a few moments to look and listen from the comfort of our own backyards.

A White-throated Sparrow (Zonatrichia albicollis) feeds on Bittersweet berries, Long Island, New York.
© Tom Vezo/VIREO.

For birds, it is business as usual and spring means migration. Some birds that have spent the winter here will be leaving soon and their vacancies will be filled by many more already on their way from as far away as Central and South America.

Fortunately for us, migrating songbirds do a great job of announcing their presence with you guessed it, songs. Few birds sing in the winter, and even those sing infrequently.  When you begin to hear birds singing at the first inkling of dawn, it’s a sure sign that spring is really getting under way.

Not all White-throated Sparrows have a white supercilium, or eye stripe. Genetics give some birds a tan stripe.
© Rick & Nora Bowers/VIREO.

In our area, this spring phenomenon known as the “dawn chorus” has already begun, though its not quite reached the phenomenal stage yet. Winter residents such as American Robin, Tufted Titmouse, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Carolina Wren and Carolina Chickadee are all warming up with songs to proclaim their territories and attract mates.

Female Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) like this one show a subtle brown wash over their backs compared to the males.
© Garth McElroy/VIREO.

Dark-eyed Junco and White-throated Sparrow will soon be departing to their summer breeding grounds to the north. Both species are often found in mixed species flocks during winter and migration. If you want to get a look at them before they go, here are a few photos from the Academy’s VIREO Collection to help you spot them in your backyard while you have what might be an unusual opportunity for you.

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) of the “Slate-colored” population are our local population. There are at least three other populations including Oregon, Pink-sided and White-winged Juncos. This male was photographed in Cherry Hill, NJ.
© Gerard Bailey/VIREO.

VIREO (Visual Resources for Ornithology) is the foremost global collection of bird photographs taxonomically curated at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. Most photographic field guides and apps utilize photos from VIREO to help connect people to birds around the world. Audubon Guide Apps, the Stokes Guide to Birds of North America and the Fieldstone Guide to Birds of North America use VIREO photos almost exclusively.

You can see Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows Through most of April, and some will start moving out soon. Juncos start leaving earlier and most will be gone by May. White-throated Sparrows will be few weeks behind, with most gone by mid-May.”

by Dan Thomas
VIREO Collection & Intellectual Property Manager


  1. I stepped outside my back door today 7 A. M. In the fog was an Eastern Phoebe. I went back for my camera and did manage to get a photo. I started paying attention to birds in 1985 when I moved to the birdwood section of Haddonfield NJ.

  2. Do u know is there is an App for an IPhone that identity’s what birds are near by just by their songs? I know there is an App for Android phones.
    My husband and I love to sit in our bird/butterfly friendly yard and watch all the migrating birds as well as our resident birds. I had a bird mobile when I was a baby ( I still remember it) and ever since I have always loved birds and nature.
    Happy Birding!!

    1. There is an app called Song Sleuth that identifies by song and a companion app that helps identify by your description or a photo which is called MerlinBirdID. Both were developed by the Cornell Bird Lab.

  3. Thanks for sharing some biological behaviour of sparrow that really necessary to familiarise ourself with them if we’re seeking for some dynamic and interesting birds photos. The best photographers are talented in photographic systems as well as have an inside and out comprehension of winged creatures conduct and living space. Above all, they are all in a profound love with their subjects.

  4. I love the sparrows chirp but never think about their behavior. It’s very common in the morning. I am a photo editor that’s why I have some experience working with sparrows’ photographs. Thank you Dan Thomas for sharing new unknown thing.

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