Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

March is Critical Time for Birds
March 10, 2018
By Steve Grinley

     The past couple of weeks have been challenging for us, but it is especially challenging for the birds. Although many of the robins and bluebirds that we see now have been here all winter, some new spring migrants have come into the area over the past few weeks. Just before these most recent storms flocks of red-winged blackbirds, grackles and cowbirds had been reported from all over the County. 

     Another spring migrant, the killdeer, a plover that prefers fields and gravelly areas, started arriving a couple of weeks ago. There have been several killdeer in the fields on Scotland Road in Newbury, on the grasses at Plum Island Airport, and on Plum Island near the Salt Pannes. It is hard to imagine what they might find to eat this past week.

     It seems to happen every year this way. These early migrants, show up in late February or early March, only to be followed by a snowstorm or other form of extreme weather. These past weeks must have had its effect on these birds. Why don’t they just wait another few weeks before coming to New England? Haven’t they learned by now? After all, most of our winter resident birds are still here. The winter ducks are still on the rivers. Tree sparrows, juncos and white-throated sparrows are still foraging for food at our bird feeders.

     All around our area, I see so many empty feeders in people’s yards. I worry for the birds that could be helped with the supplemental food a filled feeder provides. With the extremes in weather that we are experiencing, it is important to fill your feeders and keep suet out for the remaining winter birds and for the arriving spring birds as well. Fruit and mealworms will benefit bluebirds and robins, as well as the resident Carolina wrens and mockingbirds. A heated bird bath with fresh water draws more activity when natural water supplies freezes up, as was the case so often this winter.

     I would like to share with you once more a past National Wildlife Federation’s newsletter, in which George Harrison wrote: “March is the most difficult month of the year for birds to find adequate food to survive winter in most of North America. That’s because the supplies of natural food … last year’s seeds, fruits, berries and insect eggs and larvae … are at their lowest levels after months of birds feeding on them. March is too early for a new crop of seeds, fruits, berries, and insects to be available. Therefore, birds have to work harder to find sufficient food during a month when it is still very wintry in much of the country.

     “That’s why March is the best time of the year to feed birds in the backyard. They will respond more readily to feeder foods offered in March than at any other time of the year. Isn’t it curious that in fall … October and November … when natural foods are most abundant, people take the greatest interest in feeding birds? It is in fall when there are the greatest number of bird seed sales, bird feeding seminars, bird store sales, and start-up backyard bird feeding efforts. By March, the interest in bird feeding has waned, at a time when the birds need it most.

     “Though birds are not dependent on feeders for their survival (studies have shown that birds glean 75 percent of their daily food from the wild, even when feeder foods are available), feeding them in March will make life a little easier for them, and under severe conditions, may even save them from starvation.”

     George is a leading bird feeding expert publishing many books and articles. What he says about March is so true. So please keep those seed and suet feeders full. Help those wintering birds build up their body fat to survive what’s left of the harsh weather. This will help them travel back north when it is time. It will also help the spring migrants that may stop at your feeders after traveling hundreds or, sometimes, thousands of miles. 

     It certainly helps to lift my spirits to watch the birds at the feeders during this cold, drab and, often, challenging month of the year. It helps them, and it might help you as well!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 23 years of service to the birding community!
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