Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Prepare Now for Autumn and Winter Visitors
October 04, 2014
By Steve Grinley
The cooler weather is upon us and we are in the midst of the fall songbird migration. Most of the hummingbirds have left, so you can certainly take down your hummingbird feeders without guilt. However, as I have mentioned before, if you leave them up, you may catch a late migrant coming through in October. Those who chose to maintain their hummingbird feeder into the late fall sometimes get a transient hummer from the western part of the U.S.
Ian Nisbet of Falmouth told Massbird readers: “I now keep my feeders up until early December, and I have had three winter hummingbirds in eight years. My downy woodpeckers enjoy them, too.” Of course it is often milder on the Cape, so freezes happen later, and perhaps not as severely.
However, consider bird bander Anthony Hill’s perspective from the Pioneer Valley town of South Hadley, where it certainly gets cold: “I am a crazed person – I leave at least 3 [hummingbird] feeders out until the weather makes me fear that they will shatter from repeated hard freezes. There is no reason to take them in by any given date; it’s entirely up to you depending on your willingness to maintain them. Also, there is no reason to fear delaying migration by leaving a feeder out. Hummingbirds, like all seasonal migrants, depart our region based on their own triggers, most likely activated by decreasing hours of daylight. In many cases I find that the birds that pass through our yard at this time of year are paying more attention to the remaining flowers than to the feeders.”
Regardless of whether or not you chose to continue feeding hummers, you should spend time in the coming weeks preparing to feed the other birds that are moving through our area or those birds that are arriving for a long winter’s stay. A few juncos have already found their way into Massachusetts, along with white-throated and white-crowned sparrows. Out wintering tree sparrows should be arriving soon.
There has been a strong flight of pine siskins into eastern Massachusetts already. These small, striped birds, the size of goldfinch, may join the goldfinches at your thistle feeders. Red-breasted nuthatches are moving down into our area as well, sharing sunflower, peanuts and suet with our resident white-breasted cousin. Purple finches are predicted to move south into our area and may join our house finches and goldfinches at the sunflower feeders.
The annual Winter Finch Forecast by Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Naturalists predicts that we may see a movement of white-winged and red crossbills this year after an absence of crossbills, and most other winter finches, last year. Cone crops are generally poor across eastern Canada and Ron predicts that these birds may visit the Northeast in search of food. Look for them at your sunflower feeders.
Birch seed crops are also poor up north and should bring redpolls to our area in search of food this winter, according to Ron. The size of goldfinch and siskins, redpolls have a black face and small, red cap. They will join the finches and siskins at thistle feeders.
Poor seed crops may also bring small numbers of evening grosbeaks into the northeast. These birds were more numerous, though still irregular, winter visitors to New England prior to the 1980’s. Small numbers still visit, and a few even nest in western Massachusetts. Look for them at your sunflower feeders as well. The Pine Grosbeaks, on the other hand, as well as Bohemian waxwings are berry eaters and they are predicted to stay north this year, though a few often find their way to Massachusetts.
So if you haven’t been feeding all summer, now if the time to dust off those feeders, make any necessary repairs, and start putting them out for the birds. If you need to put them on poles, get the poles in the ground before the ground freezes and position your feeders so that you can watch them from the comfort of your home. Also think about proving water for birds during the colder weather when open fresh water becomes harder to find. A little preparation now will have you enjoying some of our winter visitors in the months ahead.
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