NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 28, 2013

Autumn brings migrants to fields and feeders

WORDS ON BIRDS
By Steve Grinley

---- — With this crisp, cool weather that we have been having, it certainly makes you want to get out and enjoy the nature around us. The shorebird migration is just about over, but the songbirds are moving through on their way south. Warblers, vireos, thrushes, and flycatchers are all moving through our shrubs and trees. Sparrows and pipits are passing through our fields. If you are out enjoying the weather, be sure to look up as the hawks are migrating now as well. You may see a small kettle of hawks circling above, catching the midday thermals to give them lift and, thus, minimizing the effort that they need to expend to make their journey to Central and South America.

Look for an occasional black vulture among the turkey vultures. A few bald eagles will be on the move and even a golden eagle or two later in the season. The swallows are mostly gone. I saw only a couple of tree and barn swallows last weekend. Most of the orioles have left, and many of the hummingbirds as well. A few hummers are lingering, but most will be gone, and the remaining migrants should pass through by the end of September. Occasionally a few strays show up at nectar feeders past October and they should be checked carefully, as they could be a different species from our ruby-throated hummingbird.

The male goldfinches have lost their bright yellow and black coloration and are now 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, keep an eye out for migrating indigo buntings the next couple of weeks. Now 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 dickcissel and clay-colored sparrow more than once at our store. Arriving in the area this past week have been a few white-throated and white-crowned sparrows and, those early “snowbirds,” juncos. They 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. Many folks are glad to see that the grackles are pretty much gone, and if you haven’t started your fall bird feeding yet, now you can’t blame it on the grackles. With cooler weather here, now is a good time to set up your feeding stations. Many of our summer birds actually stay year round.

Cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, finches and woodpeckers will all visit your feeders throughout the autumn and winter. Put out seed and suet for these resident birds, as well for the migrating birds that are moving through in the weeks ahead. If you haven’t put up your feeders yet, now is a good time to dust them off and make sure that they are in good repair. You can always get replacement parts for some feeders, or it may be time to replace that 20-year-old one that is falling apart. If you have been feeding all summer long, it may be a good time to be sure that all your feeders are clean and have fresh seed in them. You may want to reposition your feeders for better visibility from inside the house during the colder months. After all, seeing the birds at the feeder is the enjoyment we gain while helping them through the seasons. If you need to put a pole or shepherd’s hook in the ground, it is best to not wait until the ground freezes. 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. 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, we just got into autumn, but we can’t predict New England weather. Best to be ready for whatever Mother Nature dishes out this year.

If you wish to put off backyard chores for a bit and go in search of some birds afield, please join me for a free bird walk next Saturday, Oct. 5. We will meet at our store on the Route 1 traffic circle at 9 a.m. From there we will go to areas around Newburyport and Plum Island to search for some of these migrants. Beginners are always welcome. No need to sign up, just show up for a fun morning of birding.

Steve Grinley is the owner of Bird Watcher’s Supply and Gift at the Route 1 traffic circle in Newburyport and the Nature Shop at Joppa Flats.