For the Birds Radio Program: Autumn Report
Fall migration continues apace. Flickers fly up from every roadside. Yellow-rumped Warblers chip from trees and shrubs. Plovers gather on soccer fields, and White-throated Sparrows call from the woods. Animated kinglets flit through woodland trees like bright little lightning bugs. Virtually all the hummingbirds are gone now, They’re here for little more than four months out of the year, but their enormous presence somehow makes that time seem longer, or at least brighter.
Everywhere, Blue Jays are pigging out at feeders. We recognize the local jays, who will spend the winter with us, from the migrants just passing through. Migrants use our feeders like restaurants, sitting in them and eating the seeds one by one. Jays are big, bright, and tasty—perfect hawk food. But migrants are hungry and don’t know all the safe, secluded spots in the neighborhood anyway, so they accept the risks of sitting in the open to build up their fat supplies. Local jays use the feeders as grocery stores. They stuff the little grocery bags in their throats full of food to carry off where they can eat it safely and to hide against winter shortages.
Birds aren’t the only creatures worthy of our attention in autumn. Bears are visiting many northland feeders, though they’re welcome at far fewer. Squirrels and chipmunks are hoarding food in a comical frenzy. With the first frost, many birds and mammals will disappear until spring, and hardier migrants like sparrows and juncos will grow abundant temporarily. Snow Buntings should soon appear on roadsides in open country, the white patches on their wings twinkling in an October sun. More and more eagles will course along the northland sky, along with fierce goshawks and graceful Rough-legged Hawks.
Some people judge the arrival of winter by the first snows. We won’t believe winter has arrived until we see a redpoll, Pine Grosbeak, or Northern Shrike. Like squirrels, we too are storing up treasures for the long winter. We tuck away memories of warm days, yodeling loons, robins tugging on earthworms, warblers snatching insects in flight over a warm pond, the lovely tinkling songs of Winter Wrens. We have plenty enough memories to warm us no matter what the northern winter sends our way.