Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Continue Feeding Birds During Migration
September 15, 2012
By Steve Grinley

     It isn’t officially Autumn yet, but the fall migration is in full swing in the bird world. The recent weather fronts that shift the winds around to northwest provide the impetus for birds to capitalize on the tail-wind and head south. In fact, the shorebird migration, which began back in July, is now tapering down as the last waves of sandpipers and plovers depart. Fewer shorebirds can be seen feeding on the mudflats in Newburyport Harbor, along the sandy shores, or in the pans and pools of Plum Island. Many of the egrets have moved south, with only modest numbers still lingering in the marshes.

     The hawk migration is also is full gear as good numbers of broad-winged, Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks are circling overhead. These birds particularly take advantage of prevailing winds to give them the lift to soar with minimal flapping and expending of energy. From mountain top vantage points, one can watch kettles of hawks making their way effortlessly south on northerly winds.

     The passerines, the songbirds and other land birds, are now coming through in good numbers. Sparrows, warblers, vireos, thrushes, flycatchers and cuckoos are all showing up in thickets and berry patches, stopping to refuel on their way south. This is the season when all birds are scrutinized carefully as birders look for rarities among the more common birds.

     In the backyard, keep watch of the birds coming to your feeders. Activity, in general, will slow at the feeders this month, and next, as more natural seed becomes available, and the birds take advantage of that while it is available. Still many birds may continue to supplement their food at your feeders. Keep sunflower, nyger and suet out for migrants, as well as some extra millet in trays or on the ground for the migrating sparrows. We have had white-crowned, white-throated, chipping and clay-colored sparrows, as well as dickcissels and an indigo bunting or two at our millet in past Autumns.

     Most orioles have left our area, except for a few migrants coming through from further north. Our orioles at our store feeders stopped coming for the grape jelly by mid-August. We had a catbird here up until a week or so ago, but I haven’t heard it in a while. So unless you have catbirds lingering, or a mockingbird that has taken a liking to your jelly, you can take down your jelly feeders or use the cups for mealworms or other treats.

     I have had many inquiries about hummingbirds this past week. Many people still have hummers coming to their yard and feeders. Others say that they haven’t seen their hummingbirds in over a week. The fact is that hummingbirds are starting to leave for their wintering grounds, some will travel as far as South America. So the birds that you have been seeing all summer will be departing soon, if they haven’t already. Other hummingbirds will be migrating through from further up north, so you should keep your feeders active at least until the end of September when most will be gone from New England.

     We have but one species of hummingbird here in the East, the ruby-throated. They are typically in New England from late April to late September. However, we are now seeing different species of hummingbirds sometimes showing up from late September on. Several western hummingbird species including rufous, Allen’s, Calliope, and black-chinned have shown up at feeders in late fall on the East Coast.

     Some believe that these are migrants that have the “radar” in their head out of whack and they flew east instead of south. Others believe that these birds are actually scouts, exploring new areas, looking for new territory and may eventually establish a new population of these species. Liken it to settlers heading west to explore the Wild West, or Lewis & Clark exploring the Northwest Territory in the 1800’s.

     As a result of this phenomenon occurring in recent years, many backyard birders maintain and watch their hummingbird feeders well into October in the hope of seeing such a vagrant. If you decide to continue feeding, please be sure to keep feeders clean with fresh nectar, rinsing them thoroughly each time you refill them. If you make your own nectar, please be sure to use just white sugar in a four-to-one or three-to-one ratio. Never use brown or powdered sugar, red food coloring, honey, or any artificial sweeteners. Change the mixture every four to five days, or more often during warm “Indian summer” spells.

     If you should be lucky enough to see a different hummer at your feeder, try to take a picture of it! Please call the store and let us know, as we can arrange to have the species identification verified and, sometimes, have the bird banded. Not only will you have a new yard bird, but you can think of it as hosting a pioneer!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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