Lending a Hand to Migratory Birds

We are in the midst of fall migration.  Often unnoticed by us humans are many bird species making their annual trek south, sometimes flying thousands of miles to warmer climes.  Some birds, like the blackpoll warbler, travel between 1800 and 2700 miles in as little as three days.  Those that cross oceans or large bodies of water do so without stopping.  Birds crossing land need to stop along the way to fuel up. 

When the days start getting shorter migratory birds, start a period of frantic eating to put on enough body fat to fuel their journeys.  Hummingbirds will double their weight in preparation. Since much of bird-friendly habitat has vanished from human development it’s crucial that private citizens provide feeders and water sources assist lest these feathered creatures perish on the way to their destinations. Contrary to what many believe, feeders will not stop migratory birds from migrating. Keep them out, including hummingbird feeders. Some hummingbirds will migrate, others like the rufous hummingbirds in my area remain all winter.

Feeders full of black oil sunflower seed, hemp seed, and hanging suet are excellent sources of dense nutrition.  Providing clean water is key as well.  Clean out food and water vessels frequently to remove contaminants that can sicken birds.  Plant bird-friendly shrubs in your landscape that provide berries and seeds naturally.

Keep binoculars handy to notice travelers coming through.  Use a site called EBird to predict who will be coming through your area.  You can chart the travels of hummingbirds here.

For more about feeding wild birds in the autumn go here.

Addendum: A few days after I posted this I became aware of a tragic die off of millions of migratory birds this September/October in the Southwest and Colorado probably due to the massive wildfires in the West. The birds had nowhere to land, rest and refuel. More casualties of climate change and another reason to provide food and water for wild birds.

Below is a poem I wrote about what it might be like for a bird on its first migration…


A sliver of a moon

Shimmered off my left shoulder

As we pumped our wings

Rhythmically, silently

Through the darkness of the frigid night.

The urge unexplained

Tugged on my soul

And led me onward, North

Guided by stars

And the pull of the earth.

Leaving the familiar behind

An unknown destiny awaiting.

I revel in the freedom of flight

Trusting the whispers from deep within

I follow the others to a foreign land

On a course mapped by generations before me.


The Earth Muffin also blogs at byalannapass.com

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