For the Birds Radio Program: November Migration

Original Air Date: Nov. 4, 2009 Rerun Dates: Nov. 19, 2010

Migration continues apace. What birds are on the move?

Duration: 3′38″



“At whatever moment you read these words, day or night, there are birds aloft in the skies of the Western Hemisphere, migrating.” These are the words that open Scott Weidensaul’s exquisite book, Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds. By November first, many northern birds are already down in Central and South America, but a great many are still passing through Canada and the northern states. Most of the birds headed to the tropics are “south of the border” already, but a great many birds— Canada Geese, Blue Jays, robins, Pine and Yellow-rumped warblers, White-throated Sparrows, and more—are still on the move.

Robins pigging out on berries are still abundant in northern states. On Halloween, 14,817 robins were counted at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth, Minnesota. They were all working their way south, but throughout the day people were also seeing robins feeding on crabapples, mountain ash berries, and other fruits. Robins have two different lifestyles, depending on the season. When snows melt in spring, they become specialists on earthworms and insects, and grow very territorial. As young grow independent and then as adults stop raising young, they turn into sociable fruit-eaters, roosting at night in large flocks, and feeding together in fruit trees. We’ll keep seeing these sociable flocks until sometime around next March.

Blue Jays remain in far northern areas throughout the winter, but many of them also migrate. No one has been able to figure out exactly how to predict whether an individual Blue Jay will remain for the winter or leave, but we do know that during winter, flocks of jays are most numerous where acorn supplies are richest.

More and more Canada Geese are remaining in the north wherever they can find some open water and snows melt at least enough to allow them to feed on waste grain. These extremely sociable birds often join with brothers and sisters and parents even when they themselves are great-grandparents!

People with feeding stations may be noticing a variety of sparrows feeding on the ground beneath their feeders. Some may be tricky for beginners to identify, but feeder birds at least offer us more time to observe and tease out identifications than most birds in the wild do. During November, we often don’t realize that the birds we’re seeing at our feeders change from day to day. We may have 20 goldfinches one day and 20 the next without ever noticing that they’re completely different individuals.

Birds are mostly quiet in November, so they’re not as obvious and noticeable as in other seasons. But whether they’re robins passing through or chickadees here for the duration, searching them out is fun and rewarding.