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Gardening For Wildlife, #31 As summer comes to an end/why birds migrate.
September 09, 2007

What beautiful weather we have had the past couple of days.

It is still warm enough here, with temperatures in the mid 70's yet you can feel the change.

Just in time for allergies took kick in.

I didn't have allergy issues until the past few years and each year they seem to get worse.

Is that how it usually goes?

Annuals in the gardens are at their peek until a killing frost eventually takes care of them.

I try to look for up beat things about fall, but it is difficult for me when things die off and the days grow short.

Oh well, there is next spring to look forward to.

Earlier this year I mentioned the Botox treatments for Yolanda's legs and braces to hopefully aid in straightening and strengthening her legs.

Well, it didn't seem to do a bit of good.

In fact, we think the legs have become weaker.

It is an ongoing battle with brain injured people.

Still, she is our joy.

Keet's newest thing is killing the newspaper.

She goes nuts when it is dropped off. Karen threw it on the floor once and she did a number on it.

It was funny the first few times and I know we should not have allowed it in the first place.

It's our fault for really spoiling her after Pockie died this spring.

The hot summer has provided a bumper crop of tomatoes and peppers.

A nice thing about bumper crops......... You get to share it with others. Boy have we been sharing and sharing and ..................

The goldfinches are still everywhere and their cheeps constantly fill the air.

The hummers are so busy porking up for their eventual migration. Around here, that will be in about two to three weeks.

If you read the migration web page, you know they must double their weight and they don't flock but are sole migratory birds.

Yes, they are individuals that stop here and there to tank up and mosey on again.

Hummers will tolerate each other, they aren't social birds at all.

I do see a juvenile hawk from time to time.

Most red-tails migrate, but some do stick around here as the food sources are plentiful. There is an abundance of rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks and other critters.

Chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers are more noticeable now.

Blue jays are regulars once again, even a bald headed one.

It is common to see bald headed jays, cardinals, grackles and a few other species.

Mites can be a problem for birds and the head area is one place they can't reach to preen and groom.

So, the next best option is to shed all the feathers.

The feathers drop and hopefully the feather mites drop with them.

It looks funny, but new feathers will come in.

American robins are noticeably lacking right now in my yard.

I hear a few in the wooded areas when I go for my walks though.

Fewer cardinals are visiting right now and the ones that do are rough looking.

The articles I wrote on feathers explain that cardinals seem to disappear for a time while they molt.

Still, I have my Hummers and Goldies to supply me with entertainment and relaxation.

Why do certain birds migrate while others stay put?

A very good question.

Some birds migrate because they can't survive the cold like hummingbirds.

Hummers lack down feathers to help keep them warm and they wouldn't be able to eat enough to sustain heat and energy.

The main reason is supply and demand.

The demand for certain food sources and the supplies.

"Nature" has provided each species of bird some unique qualities and one of those qualities is what they feed on or choice of food.

Some birds are nectar and insect eaters.

Some feed on insects and fruits.

Certain birds rely on insects as a main source.

Others feed on worms, fruits and bugs.

Yet others add salamanders and other small critters to the menu.

Still some species are well rounded and feed on what is available. That could be insects, fruits or seeds.

Then there is the American goldfinch that keeps it simple by feeding almost exclusively on seeds.

Are you starting to see the picture now?

Without nectar, insects and fruits to feed on, birds must follow the supply to meet demands.

The best way to do this is when the supply is still plentiful.

Migration south may start as early as July and continue through November and into December here in Southwest Michigan.

Neo-tropicals are the long distance birds and need a head start.

Some species of birds migrate only as far as needed to find food. That may be 100 miles or less.

Robins and Eastern bluebirds often migrate only when needed and in recent years as winters have become more mild, many birds are staying here.

Purple martins and certain swallows are known for their long migration to South America.

Some warblers will winter in the islands, Central or South America. Still other warblers stay in the Southern United States.

As long as there is a supply of insects.

Fruit eaters follow the food as well.

Before supplies are stripped here, they start moving South, following the food trail.

Certain woodpeckers like the Red-headed woodpecker will migrate to some extent.

Here in the North country, we get Juncos, tree sparrows and red polls.

Yes, some birds settle here for the winter as food becomes scarce and buried.

Not to mention it is a bit warmer here than North of the border.

Seed eaters like the goldfinch have it made.

By keeping things simple, there is no real need to migrate, though some do.

Goldfinches may migrate short distances, but records show a banded Goldfinch from New York showing up in Louisiana.

Birds that are well adapted and feed on the food of the day are the one's that stay put.

Chickadees, nuthatches, some woodpeckers, certain sparrows, Northern cardinals and other birds change dietary needs.

In summer, there is a feast on fruits, insects and seeds. When the wether cools down, insects become scarce so they feed on berries and seeds while finding the occasional insect eggs or hibernating bug.

When raising a family, protein is a premium.

Supply and Demand.

A bird's biological clock dictates when it is time to move.

It can be length of day and night and for some birds, it also is the temperatures.

Studies are showing that more birds are migrating later in the fall and earlier in the winter.

This past winter was rather mild and bird counts showed several species of birds still hanging around.

As long as water ways were open, there was no real need for Great Blue herons and Belted kingfishers to migrate.

When water ways freeze, the move on.

Supply and Demand.

American robins feed mostly on worms in the early spring and their needs change throughout the year. As fruits become available, they change diets.

Ever have a cherry tree or strawberry patch?

Yes, there is the odd bird out that doesn't migrate or ends up somewhere totally off the beaten path.

Scientists figure birds can get blown off course or that a wire gets crossed and a bird stays put, or ends up half way around the world.

Most species of bird migrate at a leisurely pace.

For some birds like the Rufous Hummingbird, migration is taking more and more of them to Florida and the Atlantic coast.

These birds are often called vagrants.

However, are they still vagrants if it is happening more and more?

I believe they are finding new winter homes as native habitats are being destroyed.

Stopping here and there to rest and feed and get a drink.

If food is scarce, they move on.

If food is plentiful, they may stay several days before the urge hits to move again.

Some species have staging areas where the congregate by the tens of thousands.

We are still learning about migration.

There are so many why's and what's to answer.

For now, enjoy God's gifts as they come and go.

Neo-tropical or native birds, enjoy the migration season.

Keep feeders and water sources filled and your eyes and ears open.

Three or so weeks ago I mentioned to keep your eyes open for nursery and garden supply sales.

Well, that still holds true.

For me, I am always looking for a new or different plant.

One that will attract birds, butterflies or other desired wildlife.

As you start thinking about next spring, you start planning in the fall.

Are you planning a new bed or re-arranging things?

Take a look at the list of hummingbird flowers.

Is there something you may want? Now look for sales to see what is available.

The same holds true for butterfly plants.

Remember, butterflies also need host plants so this opens up your options of what to have in your gardens.

Regionally, butterfly's host plants vary, be sure to know your butterflies and their needs.


It's time to fly for now.

Remember, your attitude is the most important thing you wear everyday.

So smile and be sure to share it with others.

You know, just like those surplus veggies.

Until next time,

"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

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Gardening For Wildlife.

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