Days are getting shorter, shadows are getting longer and evening temperatures are cooling. All signs of the approaching season of fall. The birds are also noticing these changes as they prepare for the journey back to their wintering grounds. Natural food sources will also become less readily available which affects the migration schedule. Fall migration can begin as early as June for birds in the far north, but generally begins in Ontario during late August through mid November.
Spring and fall migration are quite different for the birds. In the spring birds are on a strict schedule to get to their breeding grounds, mark territories, molt into their bright plumage, attract a mate, sing their best songs and raise a family. Lots of work. Fall is a little more laid back. If they find a place with an abundant food supply, they can stay for a few days or even weeks to refuel. Weather also plays a role as birds can wait out storms for more favorable tail winds to continue on their journey.
Most of our songbirds will migrate at night to avoid predators such as hawks who migrate during the day. Some species will flock together such as Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds. Robins also flock together in large groups. It isn’t unusual to see up to 60 congregating and landing on your front yard! Starlings also form in groups of over 100 and show us a spectacular demonstration called murmuration. They will put on an air show displaying beautiful shapes in the early evening sky before roosting for the night. It always reminds me of watching large groups of small fish swimming in an aquarium. Blue Jays may also migrate. Last year I watched flocks of 30-40 Jays flying overhead. Their migrations are sporadic, some years they migrate and other years they don’t.
You will also want to watch for the return of birds that migrate further north. Two of my favourites are the White-crowned Sparrow and the White-throated Sparrow. They were feeding in my yard during the month of May. I look forward to seeing them again in the weeks to come.
We can help birds during this time by ensuring our feeders are full of high quality seed, fresh nectar for the hummingbirds and grape jelly for our orioles. Brush piles are also great for birds foraging for insects. If you have plants that need to be trimmed back, try to wait until later in the fall. Bushes containing berries are also good for the birds. Don’t forget to keep your bird baths filled too!
By keeping a birding journal you will be able to keep track of the different birds you see during spring and fall migration. I always find it interesting to compare their comings and goings year after year.
Author – Jane Paradis