Friday, October 7, 2011

It's Fall Migration...Get Out Those Life Lists!

October 7, 2011

As the seasons transition, you may find that the color of the leaves and daily temperatures aren’t the only thing changing.  If you’re a birder, you may notice some new feathered faces in your area as well!  Fall migration is in full swing, giving bird lovers everywhere a chance to see rare and uncommon birds as they make their way south.

Why do birds migrate in the first place?  The most common answer is that birds migrate due to the cold temperatures.  And that is true… in a roundabout way.  Birds don’t migrate because they can’t handle the cold, their feathers act as a great form of insulation which is kind of like putting on a big, poofy sleeping bag when you need it.  Rather it’s the food of the birds that migrate that can’t handle the cold.  Birds that eat things that aren’t available in the winter, such as insects, nectar, fruit, or aquatic vegetation, must fly south in order to find food to eat.  And as they travel south, it’s our backyards that many of these birds choose to fuel up.

In my area of Pennsylvania, fall and spring migration is a great time to see warblers such as the black-throated blue and the black and white.  I can never see or say the name “black-throated blue” without thinking that it’s really the “black and blue warbler.” Imagining a tiny bird with a shiner is kind of a funny mental image.  Today I noticed a female black-throated blue warbler (who is neither black nor blue) making her “refueling” stop at a compost pile, acrobatically catching flies with a snap! of her beak. 

While living in Florida, I didn’t see American robins unless it was migration time.  Then these American icons would arrive en masse to descend upon the local lawns in search of worms and other tasty invertebrates.  Once when I was washing my birds’ cage outside with the hose (I have two cockatiels…they don’t migrate.), ten or so robins came down to drink from the stream of water that was running into the drive of my apartment complex.

Although the fall and spring migrations don’t last very long, they are always a treat.  Across the United States, bird enthusiasts gather to watch hawks, songbirds, and even tiny hummingbirds at favorite stopover locations.  Hopefully you’ll spot a feathered gem this fall too!

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