For the Birds Radio Program: Fall Migration Update
Migration is already starting; Laura tells us what to watch for.
(Recording of a Black-capped Chickadee)
It’s only the middle of August, but some birds have been preparing for fall migration for several weeks already. Fall migration is generally much more leisurely than spring migration: changing day-length pushes migrants in both seasons, but in spring, birds are further hastened by the urge to breed. Many small migrating birds take twice as long to fly south in fall as they take to go the same distance north in spring. Most songbirds migrate at night, and spend their days feeding and resting.
Right now blackbirds are among the most conspicuous birds in Duluth. Impressive flocks of grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds can be seen all over the city, especially at dusk. They’re joining migrating groups earlier than normal this year. Warblers, too, are already feeding with chickadees, nuthatches, and Downy Woodpeckers, building up their fat reserves for their flights south. They find security in numbers as they migrate–the many eyes of a large flock make it easy to spot Sharp-shinned Hawks, migrating at the same time as the small songbirds.
As in spring, knowledgeable Duluth birders look forward to the DDDDD’s–those drizzly, dull, dreary, drippy, depressing Duluth days when visiblility is poor and birds are low to the ground. A good storm system followed by heavy fog can make it possible to see seventy or so species in a single day. A cold easterly wind associated with a storm system is especially eagerly awaited by birders, who flock at Park Point for jaeger-watching. Jaegers, also called skuas, are oceanic relatives of gulls, but for some reason are found along the Great Lakes, especially right here in Duluth, during autumn storms from the east. Their name comes from a German word which was applied to wild huntsmen who plundered and robbed along the Rhine. And, true to their name, their eating habits are even more unsavory than those of gulls. Although a skua or jaeger will occasionally pick up dead fish and birds, its preferred method is to harass gulls and terns till they disgorge the semi-digested contents of their stomachs. Along the California coast, where these birds are much more common than here, exotic creatures known as “Val gulls” have been recorded saying: “Well, you could just gag me with a skua.”
(Recording of a Parasitic Jaeger)
It may be the dismal, dreary days that bring Duluth much of the best bird-watching for water- and songbirds. But the MMMM’s–those magnificent, matchless Minnesota mornings, with deep blue skies dotted with cumulus clouds floating on a good northwest wind–are the perfect time for observing the phenomenon for which Duluth is known nationwide– its raptor migration. Hawk Ridge is the best place to observe this. An average season of hawk-watching by the official hawk-counter there tallies some 50,000 raptors, with the biggest concentration in mid- September. If you’re interested in going up to the ridge on days when the hawks are flying, tune in to KUMD’s hawk report every day at noon starting September 2.
(Recording of Rough-legged Hawk)
This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”