Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Autumn Bring Change to Backyard Bird Scene
September 02, 2017
By Steve Grinley

     Autumn isn’t here yet, but we hear the meteorologists tell that the beginning of September marks the start of meteorological fall. With the children back to school and the days getting shorter and cooler, we know that changes are on the way. I have talked about the migrating egrets, shorebirds and nighthawks in recent columns and the songbirds, have started to migrate as well. The songbird migration will continue into September and October and will keep things interesting in the field.

     But what is happening in the backyard these days? Most of the orioles have left, and many of the male hummingbirds. A few female and juvenile hummers are lingering, but most will be gone, and the remaining hummer migrants should pass through by the end of September. Occasionally a few strays show up at nectar feeders past October and they should be checked carefully, as they could be a different species from our ruby-throated hummingbird. You may want to keep your nectar feeders up at least another few weeks, or beyond if you are adventurous. If you a hummingbird that looks different, please let us know! 

     The male goldfinches will soon lose their bright yellow and black coloration and will soon be an olive green, like the females. There seem to be more finches around now than there were a month or two ago, with many juvenile birds coming to the feeders now. You will want to offer them thistle seed, finch mix or sunflower seed to keep them around all fall and winter. 

     If you do put out thistle, keep an eye out for migrating indigo buntings the next couple of weeks. Males are a stunning indigo blue, but the females and young are a light brown, and, at quick glance, easily confused with a female house sparrows.

     Speaking of sparrows, it is a good time to carefully check over those sparrows that are at your millet or mixed seed feeders. I know that we think of sparrows as “little brown jobs” and they are challenging to tell apart, but fall is the time when more unusual birds show up with them. We have had both dickcissels and clay-colored sparrows more than once at our feeders here at the store. The clay-colored sparrows are smaller, paler and have a striped head, with a light stripe through the crown. The dickcissel is more similar to a house sparrow, but often has varying amounts of yellow on its chest.

     Also showing up in September will be the more predictable white-throated sparrows and, those early “harbingers of winter,” juncos! They feed on millet and mixed seed on the ground under your feeders, but will often feed on a tray or other mixed seed feeder. Juncos will even occasionally feed on thistle. The wintering tree sparrows will arrive shortly thereafter, and you may catch migrating white-crowned, Lincoln’s, or my favorite fox sparrows at your feeders.

     Red-breasted nuthatches may migrate to our area in the fall. These birds are a bit smaller than our resident white-breasted nuthatch and a bit cuter, or at least I think so. They have a deeper blue back, more red color underneath, and a dark line through the eye. Their call sounds like a “baby” nuthatch. They will come to sunflower feeders and also to suet, doing the same upside down routine as their larger cousins.

     Many folks will be glad to see the grackles leave soon, but many of our summer birds actually stay year round. Cardinals, chickadees, titmice, fiches and woodpeckers will all visit your seed feeders and suet throughout the autumn and winter.

     If you haven’t started your fall bird feeding yet, now, with cooler weather approaching, is a good time to set up your feeding stations. Put out seed and suet for these resident birds, as well for the migrating birds that are already starting to move through. With all the dry weather that we have been having, also be sure to keep fresh water available for the birds. Many migrants will stop for a drink, and you are likely to see birds at your bird baths that don’t come to your feeders. Not all birds eat seed, but most need water.

     As the colder weather approaches, you might also think about a heated bird bath, or a heater for your existing bird bath, as birds especially need fresh water when natural sources become frozen. I know, it isn’t even truly autumn yet, but you know New England weather. Best to be prepared!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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