Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Songbird Migration Under Way
September 10, 2016
By Steve Grinley

     As the shorebird migration continues wind down in September, the passerines, or songbirds, are now moving through in increasing numbers. Flycatchers and vireos are foraging the trees while and sparrows feed among the fields and grasses. Pockets of warblers are migrating through, and are even showing up at backyard bird baths and water features. Their bright spring colors have given way to their drab, fall plumage and make them a challenge to identify this time of year. 

     There has been a flight of red-breasted nuthatches moving into central and southern New England in the past week or two. Though some nest in Massachusetts, larger numbers of these nuthatches migrate from further north when their northern food supply is not adequate to support their population. They are known as an eruptive species, like the winter finches and snowy owls, which we see more in years when their food sources further north are more scarce. The conifer seed crop is down in Canada and northern New England, most likely due to the lack of water, forcing the nuthatches to head south in search of food. You might look for them at sunflower feeders and suet later in the season.

     Hummingbirds are also lingering in the area, as migrants stop at flowers and feeders on their journey south. Doug Chickering of Groveland had a recent visit from a hummer as he explains:

     “Late this afternoon and evening I was, once again, sitting out on Lois’ deck waiting for the Nighthawks to make their annual appearance. Unsuccessfully I might add. I am beginning to fear that they will not come this year, which will be a disappointment. But while there I witnessed a nice little incident. 

     “One of my regular visitors this summer has been at least one Ruby-throated Hummingbird. For years Lois and I have grown salvia’s in flower boxes which we place upon the deck especially to attract hummers. It works marvelously for these bright red tubular flowers are a reliable draw for Hummingbirds. This evening my eyes caught one flying in as they do; with an unannounced sweep. But this time the Hummingbird didn’t go right to the flowers but instead flew up into the nearby Crab Apple tree and settled briefly down onto an exposed branch. 

     “I followed him up to the branch with my binoculars and was checking him/her out when the hummer characteristically darted out directly towards me and then made a quick move and grabbed a bug in mid air. The Hummingbird was facing me and I could actually see the gape and inside his mouth as he picked off the insect. I was surprised for I have never before seen a hummingbird snatch an insect in mid air. I suppose, upon reflection, I shouldn’t be surprised for they are perfectly adapted to fly catching. Quick and maneuverable they actually seem better equipped to do this than your standard flycatcher. Unusual or not it was something to see.”

     Hummingbirds actually include insects in their diet regularly for the protein. They feed insects to their young in the nest as the protein helps strengthen the young birds. Protein also helps supplement the nectar intake to fuel their long journey to Central and South America. These small birds will continue to travel through our area during September, so you may want to keep the nectar fresh in your hummingbird feeders. Some folks actually keep their hummingbird feeders going into the late fall in the hope of attracting a wayward hummer of a different species, which occasionally find their way to coastal New England in October or November.

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