Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
New Birds Will Be Arriving at Feeders
September 02, 2022
by Steve Grinley
My past few columns have talked about birding in the field and the many migrant birds that were found out in the field. With this great weather that we have been having, it certainly encourages one to get out and enjoy the natural resources around us. But what is happening in the backyard these days?
Most of the orioles have left, though we have one bright male visiting our jelly the past few mornings. Many of the male hummingbirds have left, but a few female and juvenile hummers are lingering. Most will be gone this month and the remaining migrants should pass through by the end of September. Occasionally a few strays show up at nectar feeders past October 1 and they should be checked carefully, as they could be a different species from our ruby-throated hummingbird. You should keep your nectar feeders up at least another few weeks.
The male goldfinches are losing 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, so you’ll want to offer them thistle seed or sunflower seed to keep them around all fall and winter. If you do put out thistle or finch food, 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 the next few weeks will be white-throated sparrows and, those early “harbingers of winter,” juncos! Wintering tree sparrows will soon replace our summer chipping sparrows. Sparrows 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.
A few red-breasted nuthatches are migrating into our area now. 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 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 through 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 moving 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.
Keep your water fresh by changing the water in your bath daily. Alternatively, you can add a dripper, recirculating rock or other device to keep water moving. As the cold weather approaches, you might also think about a heater for the bird bath, as birds especially need fresh water when all natural sources become frozen. I know that it isn’t even autumn yet, but you know New England weather – it is best to be prepared!