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Gardening For Wildlife #34 Hello October/More on migration
October 01, 2007

Welcome to October.

The weather still is quite pleasant here in SW. Michigan.

Daytime temperatures are running in the mid 70's and Sunday reached 80 degrees.

That is warm for Michigan this time of year.

There has been very little rain so far, we sure could use some.

Some trees are beginning to show a change of color.

No killing frost yet, but it is time to get started on some fall yard maintenance.

I like to prolong the colors as long as possible.

Us Northern folk have to get stuff planted soon so it can get established enough to survive winter.

Zones 7 and higher have more time to enjoy gardens and still have plenty of time to plant and transplant.

Only one hummingbird sighting this past week, Karen saw one on Wednesday.

It seems as though they took off right after last weeks letter.

The feeders will remain up for another week or so.

Oh well,the 23rd or 24th is the average date for my last sightings most years.

Canada geese continue to practice flight formation and strengthen the wings of this years young.

This past week, I've noticed a Belted Kingfisher visiting the pond. I have no clue as to how long its been hanging around, but it is a welcome surprise.

I saw my first Junco this past Wednesday in the back 40 of the nursery.

Way to soon for juncos.

Killdeer are making themselves known mostly at night this time of year. Usually in parking lots and less traveled roads. I enjoy the sounds of Killdeer.

Goldfinches still dominate the feeders and flowers.

It is a good idea to leave seed heads intact this time of year just for your birds and the migratory birds that stop for a good feed and drink.

Besides seed heads, be sure to leave some leaf litter.

Leaf litter can insulate your plants and hide insects for ground feeding birds to scratch for.

Leaf litter decomposes into organic matter and next spring can also offer nesting material for many of your feathered friends.

Remember, a wildlife garden is a bit untidy and wildlife does notice.

Including migrating birds.

While we sleep

songbirds by the billions are winging across the sky on their way to warmer regions.

These birds aren't flying blind, they follow detailed routes held in their brains.

Yep, "Nature's" very own GPS.

And the numbers are staggering.

According to the "American Bird Conservancy," as many as 20 billion birds are now preparing to and are hitting the sky.

Birds pack on weight before they head out.

The tiny hummingbird doubles its weight before heading South.

The average weight of a ruby-throated-hummingbird is 1/10 of an ounce. That weight doubles to 1/5 of an ounce.

Instead of mailing off 10 hummers for the price of a single postage stamp, you now mail 5 hummers with that same 41 cent stamp.

Hummers look as though they've swallowed a small golf or very pregnant.

Other birds must increase fat and body weight too.

The trip South is at a leisurely pace.

Most song birds fly at night and hopefully find food during the day.

They risk little or no food days, as they drop down into unfamiliar areas as they compete with local and other migrating birds (your feeders and gardens can make a difference).

Fattening up isn't the only change birds make.

Most birds molt a nice new feather coat, often one that is drabber than their bright springtime plumage.

Birds respond to shorter days by becoming more and more restless.

About two-thirds of North American birds leave their summer homes each fall for more clement quarters.

Food Scarcity

Was it the cold snap in September that hustled them out of our gardens?

Cold weather isn't the major driver of migration.

It's the impending lack of food.

There may still be plenty of bird groceries when they leave, but what about next week?

Many more birds would remain year round if they could find insects, berries or plant nectar.

Some birds only migrate a 100 miles or what ever is required to find a food source.

A birds life is like a finely tuned clock, with wheels turning against wheels and length of day is the driving force that sets a birds hormones into action.

What is really amazing, is the miraculous accomplishments made by this years babies.

Most of these youngsters make the journey on their own, without parental guidance. Running the Gauntlet

Migration is extremely dangerous for our birds, and the sad truth is that the majority that depart in the fall won't survive the next several months to return next spring.

Night time flyers avoid birds of prey by flying at night (birds of prey migrate during the day to take advantage of the favorable air thermals), but risk starvation if they can't find food.

Millions are killed every year in building collisions and running into TV, radio towers and guide wires.

Than there is competition for shelter as well.

Where there is prey, you will find predators (including people).

Weather plays a huge part in food supplies.

Dry weather like this past summer and there is less in the way of fruits and seeds.

A cold snap will keep insects hidden and many birds starve.

How about the increasing destruction of habitat?

We don't really understand the trials in the daily life of a bird.

Seasonal Cycles

Even though most migrants have left by November, migration never truly ends.

Birds are coming and going every month of the year.

As ducks, geese and the last hawks head south in December, Horned larks begin to arrive in January.

Next June when many of our song birds are on their nests, the first shore birds begin to head south once again.

Though Spring migration gets the headlines, fall migration is no less a miracle.

Autumn's birds are more quiet and less conspicuous, but there are billions more that pass through our backyards and wildlife gardens.

We need to be more observant to spot most of them.

There are still several questions without answers, but we continue to learn.

Here is an interesting tidbit, Ancient civilizations thought that birds hibernated in the ground or under the sea throughout the winter.

Keep your feeders filled and remember fresh water.

Plants offer food and shelter.

I am always amazed by our Creator's handy work, aren't you?


Once again I have been long winded, so it's time to fly for now.

Have a blessed week and enjoy the miracles around you.

Be sure to smile and share them freely.

After all, they are free and you just might make someone's day.

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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