Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Migrant Birds Keep September Interesting
September 10, 2021
By Steve Grinley
Feeding birds in the fall can be exciting and it helps our summer resident birds buildup their body fat in preparation for their journey south. It also helps migrating birds refuel on their way through. Maintaining sunflower, mixed seed, thistle and suet feeders will provide the necessary fuel for these birds. Early winter visitors might also find your feeders if they are filled and ready for them.
As we move through September and the fall season, it is time to look for the unusual in the bird world. Autumn is the time when birds that show up outside of their normal range, often termed vagrants. Some of these vagrants show up in local neighborhoods and sometimes at bird feeders. Many of these uncommon visitors are first year birds that have migrated off course.
A number of dickcissels have been reported throughout our area. Many of those have been migrating flyovers, but this bird can show up at bird feeders. This bird looks similar to the house sparrows with which it associates but has varying amounts of yellow on its breast, depending on its age and sex. A dickcissel is a grassland bird of the Midwest, and has become a frequent fall visitor to our area. We have had one several times at the store feeders over the years.
The house sparrows at your feeders could be a nuisance, but check them carefully for something different. By month’s end, a variety of sparrows, including white-throated and white-crowned, may be scratching underneath feeders. They like white proso millet, as will the juncos that will arrive shortly thereafter. Later in October, fox and tree sparrows may stop by and the tree sparrows may stay all winter.
Other unusual feeder birds to look for include yellow-headed blackbirds in the mixed flocks of blackbirds that may stop by. Black-headed grosbeaks and western tanagers are rare, but possible at sunflower feeders.
Many of the local orioles have started to migrate, however, you may want to keep your oriole feeder up through September for any orioles migrating through from further north. A little jelly fix, and sometimes suet or mealworms, helps them to continue on their journey. Be sure to check those orioles that stop for another vagrant, Bullock’s oriole. This western counterpart of the Baltimore was considered the same species as a Baltimore oriole under the name northern oriole for a while. It is again considered a different species and does show up occasionally in Essex County
The most frequently asked question this week was “When should I take down my hummingbird feeder?” Now is also an important time to maintain your hummingbird feeders. Our local birds are building up their fat reserves for migration, and many males have already left.
Migrant hummingbirds may be stopping by on their way through, and vagrant hummingbirds are becoming a more frequent occurrence later in the season. Keep your hummingbird feeder up through September, and October if you can. Any hummingbird visiting later in the season should be studied carefully in case it could be something other than our regular ruby-throated hummingbirds. Many western species are showing up at Massachusetts feeders with increasing frequency in the fall.
So do closely check all the birds that do visit your feeders during the fall. You never know what may show up in your yard!