For the Birds Radio Program: August 2007 Migration Update
This year’s August bird migration has been one of the most interesting and enjoyable I’ve ever witnessed. Lots of shorebirds have found their way to Duluth, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers have been seen on the grassy areas of Park Point on many days. Red Knots, which are declining dangerously, have been reported here and there, which is encouraging. Warblers have been passing through in great numbers—over 20 species have been reported at Park Point on several days. I’ve seen plenty from my window when I’ve been stuck indoors, have had lots in my backyard, and when I take a walk through my own neighborhood they’ve been impossible to miss. Nighthawk numbers weren’t large, but there were a few nights when I saw flocks pass over.
It’s hard to be sure what September will bring, but I suspect migration will continue to be good. There was a great August migration in 1988, and it continued throughout September and into October. That was the year we counted 96,000 migrating songbirds in a single 5-hour period one morning from the Lakewood Pumping Station.
As birds wend their way through our areas, it’s both a kind gesture and helps our own enjoyment if we put out a welcome mat for them. Keeping bird baths filled with fresh water helps birds and gives us occasional opportunities to get good looks at warblers and other birds that don’t visit feeders. And keeping our feeders filled with clean dry seed attracts a host of sparrow species and other interesting birds, as well as any neighborhood cardinals, chickadees, and other wonderful birds. If you maintain a variety of sunflower seed feeders, including an open platform, hopper, and hanging types, you should attract a variety of species. Sparrows prefer feeding on the ground. Scattering some sunflower seeds and white millet around some trees usually attracts an excellent variety.
During droughts, seed can stay fresh for quite a while, but after even a small rain, soaked seed can quickly provide a medium for fungus growth. And most of the fungus that grows on seeds produces toxins that can be extremely lethal for birds. So during wet periods, or even after a light rain, make sure your seeds are fresh. Throw waste seed and raked shells in a covered or screened compost bin so birds aren’t attracted to their eventual doom.
If you still have hummingbirds, keep those feeders out. Hummingbirds still around after Labor Day tend to be young birds that haven’t put on enough fat to migrate yet. Your feeder will NOT entice these birds to remain too long—they have a powerful instinct to migrate as soon as their bodies are ready. And after our first killing frosts, they simply can’t get ready without feeders. If you keep your feeders out after virtually all the hummingbirds have left, you may even help out young hummers from much farther north. I had a young Ruby-throat show up one year in early October—that poor bird drank and drank for over a minute before moving on, and I felt very happy that I’d helped it get a nice full meal on its travels. And you never know when an odd hummingbird from the west will show up. A Rufous Hummingbird showed up at my feeder on November 16, 2004. If she hadn’t found my feeder, she’d probably have died unless she found a feeder in someone else’s yard. And when she left on December 3, her only chance of survival was to find another feeder somewhere else. If you do keep your feeder out for long periods after hummingbirds have left, make sure you keep the sugar water fresh.
Winter will be here all too soon. Take a moment here and there to enjoy the abundant riches of fall migration—one of the true gifts from above.