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Fall Migration Part II
October 10, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving (October 10) to our Canadian Friends.

If there were such a thing as a perfect week weather wise, last week was it.

Temperatures ranged from the mid 60's to the low 80's

Almost 100% sunshine and very low humidity and cool nights for sleeping.

I do think last week was the best week of the year weather wise.

Sandwiched in all of the appointments and other chores, Karen and I did manage one day of 'Artprize', with hopes of catching a couple more days this week.

I am sharing a few pictures of 'Artprize' as well.

'Artprize' is something else.

Art in just about every medium imaginable.

Some of the projects send a message like the painting dedicated to women cancer survivors and the Handicapped sign which caught my eyes, is made of thousands of little pictures from people that have been served and helped by certain agencies.

Projects that wont win, however they send a statement.

What we enjoy is the creativity and imagination some of the worldwide artists choose.

3D images made of sticky notes, Bottle trees made of old water bottles, Paint, resin, scrap metal and the list goes on.

A life like statue of 'President Ford looking over "Artprize".

It was a top 10 finisher.

The $250,000 first prize went to a fantastic mosaic title "Crucifixion" pictured at the bottom.

This was massive and very detailed and all made from glass tiles.

I also worked on cutting some things back, lowered the lawn mower one last notch, and put on the winter fertilizer.

This time of year also means apple picking, corn mazes and pumpkin patches.

While you're at it this fall, be sure to take in some Autumn Colors as they slowly spread south.

There isn't a lot of color here just yet, but I am hoping for a
color trip soon.

Bird activity is still special for me.

Geese flocks are growing and flight practice continues.

Fledged American goldfinches fill the air with "Feed Me, Feed Me"

A late batch of fledged Northern cardinals visit the backyard as well with the same chants.

So far, fewer White-crowned sparrows are visiting than in years past.

I missed the 'Sandhill Crane Fest' this year.

The weather would have made for a nice time.

In years past, I've ventured through cold, wind and sometimes rainy conditions.

American robins once again are visiting after their summer vacations.

Sometimes in small open flocks.

I am asked this several times a year,

"Where did all my robins go?'

A good question.

It may seem like a summer vacation for the birds, after a hard spring through mid summer
of nesting (2 to 3 times) and raising families, they deserve a break.

Here is what happens.

Once robins are done caring for their ever relentless babies and fledglings, and nesting is over with, a robin's diet changes.

'Nature' is so cool.

We see them in the early part of the year foraging for worms and possibly a bill full of insects.

Both are high protein sources that are required for the high stress and also for a fast growing baby.

By mid summer, the robin's diet changes.

From mostly worms and insects to fruits and insects.


Nature dictates it.

While our lawns offer up a source of worms (robins have thrived from human development), The worm typically goes deeper into the soil as things warm up and dry up.

Two/three hundred years ago, their weren't so many lawns to attract robins, but fields were still short enough to forage for worms.

(Many worms were brought here from settlers too.)

The Natural World dictates that robins go into woodlands and swampy areas to find food and protection.

Fruits and insects thrive in natural habitats and that is where you will find the now stealthy robins.

Roosting trees will contain hundreds of these birds.


Autumn is here and the cooler weather slows down the insect populations, yet some fruits and berries are hitting their peak.

Cooler and sometimes wet months bring the worms closer to the surface for the American robin to gorge on and gain valued fat.

While most robins do migrate, (anywhere from a 100 miles to 1,000 miles), more and more are staying close to home.

Cedar swamps are a favorite winter hangout for robins.

Does that make sense to you?

I know that newsletters are supposed to be short, but how can they be when so much needs to be said?

Take your time, as migration continues.


We are into October.

Fall colors are slow in coming this year and I still have tomatoes and a few peppers.

Mo matter, one thing you can be sure of every Autumn is Fall Migration.

Almost like a time clock.

When you see flocks of birds flying overhead in the fall, they usually are flying south toward their wintering grounds or to
staging areas.

How far South they go depends on the type, or species of bird.

As you may know, some birds travel farther than others.

And this can be the same species of bird.

For example, in some species females and young birds fly farther south than males.

Like Dark eyed juncos, where the male typically stays closer to home than females and young birds.

Then there is the largest group of birds that we see during migrations.

These are known as or called "neotropical migrants."

They got this name because these species of birds migrate in the fall all the way to Mexico, Central America and South American countries, plus the Caribbean Islands.

Some of these birds will fly thousands of miles every fall and spring.

They include warblers, vireos, orioles, hummingbirds, swallows, swifts, shorebirds, and some birds of prey.

The neotropical migrants make up 50-70 percent of the bird species of deciduous forests and prairies in the central and eastern United States and Canada.

During migration, some birds lose as much as one fourth to one half of their entire body weight, so it is very important that they store up enough fat for energy.

Just think how much weight you would lose if you lost half of your body weight!

How smaller birds ever store enough to make these flights is still a wonder to scientists.

This is why it is so important for birds to gorge, so they can store up reserves and why many take off early to make sure their is food along the way.

Flocks may descend on your feeders, lawns and fields eating
just about everything in sight.

Fats and energy supplies that take weeks to build up are burned up in a matter of days or in some cases, a day and night of non stop flight over a large body of water.

Birds can blacken the sky and become deafening as they flock to staging areas getting ready for the right time.

When the internal time clock says "It's Time" to go, they go.

You may hear a lot about 'flyways' the notion being that birds move in defined corridors, like traffic down a road.

Traditionally, birders talked about four main flyways: Pacific, Central, Mississippi and Atlantic.

Research indicates that this can be a misleading way to think about migration.

Instead, imagine broad bands, like test patterns on a television, or waves rippling down the continent.

Sure, geographic features can funnel birds, narrowing the bands.

Mountain chains like the Cascades and Sierra Nevada, Rockies, and the Appalachians present barriers and also opportunities.

Raptors coast the 'thermals' or (updrafts of warmer air) found along the ranges.

Hawk mountain in Pennsylvania is a prime location to spot kettles of hawks.

A hawk kettle can be any amount of hawks whirling around.

Kettle counts can be a handful or tens of thousands.

South pointing peninsulas funnel birds in the Autumn, just as a North pointing peninsulas funnel them in Spring.

'Whitefish Point' along Lake Superior in Michigan's upper peninsula and Ontario's 'Point Pelee' that extends into Lake Erie are two such points that are a bird watchers magnet.

Birds moving down the coast find the land narrowing beneath them and they become concentrated at the peninsula's tip.

So, how do you find a good spot to observe the fall migration?

Three words: habitat, habitat, and habitat.

Birds will congregate where they can find something to eat and drink, and protection from predators.

If you know your birds even a little bit, you can find habitats where they congregate.

The swamps and marshlands around here offer protection for thousands of Red-winged blackbirds and make an ideal staging area.

Birds tend to commence migration in large numbers only when they have a favorable tail wind (bad weather will also ground them).

In North America the winds blow south in spring and north in autumn and are ideal to assist seasonal migrations.

Once started however, only very bad weather will stop them.

Many birds fly high when migrating because of prevailing winds at higher altitudes and also because the cold at these altitudes helps them disperse all the heat being generated by their flight muscles.

Many species of waterfowl fly at 18,000 feet and some higher.

Some must fly over the Himalayan Mountains, an altitude over 29,000 feet.

Not all birds from a summer breeding site overwinter at the same area.

What happens, come autumn, if a male bird meets a female bird in the breeding grounds who has a different over wintering site?

Whose site do they go to now they are a pair?

In many species the pair bond breaks up at the end of the breeding season, but some like
swans mate for life.

In the case of the Bewick's Swan the male decides where to fly to for the winter and the female follows him.

However, the female decides when it is time to travel back to the tundra for another year's breeding.

The reverse scenario is when birds with different breeding sites overwinter in the same area.

If pairing commences on the over wintering ground, whose breeding ground to they return to.

The answer may be different for different species.

For example, the male Mallard duck follows the female.

Timing of migration is a mix of internal stimulus.

Feeding binges are followed by the aggregate tendency into flocks.

Once the pre-migration flock is gathered, the feeding continues while the birds wait for suitable weather conditions.

Thus while the birds' internal clock probably releases the hormonal triggers at a fairly accurate date each year, the availability of food and the presiding weather conditions can decide when the migration start each year.

As I mentioned last week, length of day triggers migration, but food is the driving force behind it.

Okay, here is an interesting point that you may not realize or understand.

In fall, migratory populations that nest farthest south migrate first to the winter range because they finish nesting first.

For example, the breeding range of the Black-and-white Warbler covers much of the eastern United States and southern Canada northwest through the prairies.

It spends the winter in southern Florida, the West Indies, southern and eastern Mexico, Central America, and northwestern South America.

In the southern part of its breeding range, it nests in April, but those summering in New Brunswick do not reach their nesting grounds before the middle of May.

That means 50 days are required to cross the breeding range, and if 60 days are allowed for reproductive activities and molting, they would not be ready to start southward before the middle of July.

Then with an assumed return 50-day trip South, the earliest migrants from the northern areas would not reach the Gulf Coast until September.

Since adults and young have been observed on the northern coast of South America by August 21, it is very likely that they must have come from the southern part of the nesting area.

Some of you live in the Southern 1/2 of the United States and have mentioned the lack of hummingbirds.

Though my regular hummers departed on their normal times, a stranger may come to visit in the first or second week of October (it happens every so often).

Now, these hummers have to go somewhere.

Your local birds may be gone, but expect our northern hummers within the next few weeks as the bottle neck their way to Texas and the Gulf Coast.

Expect this with several species of migrating birds.

There are many examples of northern birds showing up along the Gulf Coast states as southern breeding birds arrive at their winter homes in South America.

What does that mean you?

It means there is a lot of migration going on and you have a good month or two of watching birds.

More so than us northern folk.

Characteristically, one will observe a few early individuals come into an area followed by a much larger volume of migrants.

This peak will then gradually taper off to a few lingering stragglers.

(Titled "Through Our Eyes" over 700 pictures taken over the course of a year. I didn't notice the eye until I focused my camera on it. I thought it was pretty neat.)

How do scientists know where birds go in winter?

Traditionally, the only way to find out where an individual bird went was to capture and mark it, then wait for someone to find it again by chance.

Though the odds are small, sometimes birds are recovered far from where they were originally captured.

For example, over a period of 40 years, biologists at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario, Canada, placed aluminum bands on the legs of 39,044 Swainson’s Thrushes.

Only two of these thrushes were recovered on their wintering grounds, by members of the Asheninka native community in northern Peru!

In recent years, satellite transmitters have given scientists an unprecedented opportunity to track birds around the globe.

The transmitters emit signals that are picked up by space satellites and reported to a computer back on earth.

Using this technique, scientists have documented a Peregrine Falcon migrating from Alberta, Canada, to Mazatlán, Mexico.

They have tracked Swallow-tailed Kites from Florida and Georgia to previously unknown wintering grounds in Brazil, some 5,000 miles away.

A Swainson’s Hawk traveled from California to the pampas of Argentina, where it revealed a gathering of thousands of other Swainson’s Hawks, including hawks that had been banded in California, Colorado, and Saskatchewan, Canada.

In most cases, ornithologists know little about exactly where birds from particular regions spend the winter.

Often the best information they have is based on where the species is found at different times of the year.

North American birds vary widely in their travels.

Some birds simply cross a state line or fly from the mountains to the valley.

(3d made with stick notes.)

Some birds travel from the Arctic, they may winter in your backyard or half a world away.

Still other birds pack the speedos and suntan lotion and head for the tropics.

Your homework assignment is to find out where your birds go for the winter and where your winter migrants come from.

No matter where you live, you can build a list of migrants that fly through your area.

Where do they come from and where do they go.

No grade, just satisfaction on your part.

Education is Paramount, if you really want to enjoy your birds and understand the migration trails.

The more we can learn and understand about 'Creation' and the life around us, the better off we all will be.

Well,, it is time to fly for now.

Now for your positive thought for the week.

Until next time,

God Bless.

"Attitude is Altitude."

Nick Vujicic

If you have never seen or heard Nick's story, this is a must.

"Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it (the heart) are found the issues of life.

For as a man thinks in his heart so is he."

Proverbs 4:23, Proverbs 23:7

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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