Birds

Fall Migration

Birds fly south for migration over a dusky orange fall sunset.

It’s hard to believe summer is almost over! Already birds have been preparing for fall migration, when thousands of birds take to the air for their epic journeys to Mexico, Central and South America.

For weeks before the birds get ready to leave, there is a certain change in their metabolism. Nesting and fledging are over and now the birds begin to eat ravenously, putting on enormous quantities of fat in order to have enough energy to burn throughout their long flight. In addition, birds begin to get an urge to gather in large flocks to make the trip. After all, there is strength in numbers.

Birds use four major flyways in the U.S. Depending upon where the birds depart, they will use four major flyways in the United States. There is the Atlantic Flyway, the Mississippi and Central Flyways as well as the Pacific Flyway. Within these major routes are thousands of smaller routes. It’s believed that birds follow the routes using visual landmarks, known resting locations, the stars and possibly the earth’s magnetic fields.

Some birds, including hummingbirds, actually fly non-stop across areas of the Gulf of Mexico. However these birds do it, migration is an amazing phenomenon! With a fractured landscape, migrating birds have a more and more difficult time during their trip as they search for stopping locations and food. We can help birds in several ways.

Vibrant red choke berries are sitting ripe on a bush and ready to be eaten by migrating birds.

Plant Chokeberries for migrating birds to eat.

Birds love fruit, especially this time of year. For some reason, even seed-eating birds become highly attracted to fruit and berry foods during this time of preparation. It’s thought that the antioxidants in fruit ease the stress of migration and boost the birds’ immune system. Begin feeding fruit at least six weeks before the birds begin to depart, which will ease their foraging and help them build up reserves of important nutrients.

What fruit will they eat? Fruits that can be offered are blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, hackberries, elderberries and raspberries, among many others. Wild Chokecherries and Black Cherries are also welcomed and even grapes cut in half will be accepted. Get the purple varieties–it doesn’t matter if they have seeds or not. Many times you can find berries that are just past ripe at a bargain price.

Planting shrubs and bushes that bear berries will also attract birds to your yard. Local nurseries can help you choose native plants that have good food value for birds.

#3118 Duncraft Eco Fly-Thru Platform Feeder feeds many birds at once, which is especially great for fall migration.

This would be a good platform feeder to use.

You can also offer other fruits such as peaches, bananas, apples, grapes and oranges. Offer these fruits on a wide platform feeder, so all the birds can get their share.

What else can you do? Other ways of helping birds before and during migration include providing an ample supply of water. Birds will frequently stop near water sources. A large shallow pool is best and can be seen better from the air, but if that’s not possible, several bird baths or pans of water placed on the ground may be enough to let the birds bathe and drink. If you do get a lot of visitors, be sure the water is changed frequently.

Robins are quenching their thirst in a heated birdbath.

Fresh water is a good idea.

Bathing during migration is especially important. Clean feathers eliminate drag, allowing the birds to use less energy while flying. They also fluff up better, providing insulation when the birds stop to rest. If you’re lucky enough to have a pond or natural pool on your property, place flat rocks along part of the edge so smaller birds have a place to enter where the water isn’t so deep.

Lifteau Pond 6

The flat rocks around the edge make it easier for birds to bathe and preen.

Now is the time to start feeding the birds. As always, providing seeds with high fat content will help the birds build up fat reserves before migration and will help them maintain their energy and strength while on the flyways. Black oil sunflower seeds are the recommended choice. This seed is accepted by all seed-eating birds and has the greatest amount of oil. It’s also the most economical choice because the shell is so thin, birds will eat the entire seed and leave zero waste.

If you haven’t fed the birds on a regular basis, or maybe not at all during summer, now is the time to start. The birds need all the help they can get and if we all do our part, their trip might be made just a little bit easier!

Happy Birding!

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  • Virginia September 12, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Thanks so much for this informative article it helps me to understand how to help my small feathered friends.

  • Kathy Bloom September 12, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    We had parrots visit our feeds this summer in Chicago. Was it because of the tropical weather we experienced?

  • Maddy Walters September 12, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    This type article so informative and reassuring that during the past summer months I have done the right things for my birds. They offer so much enjoyment and I’ve noticed over the last few years my bird population has greatly increased. Hummingbirds I am especially fond of and do a great deal of “spoiling” them, filling my feeders morning and evening and keeping them super clean. Keep on with these articles as education is something we all prosper from.

  • Ruthe Gilmore September 14, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Thank you so much for all your great information about birds. I love reading the blogs and then putting the information I learned to good use.