Fall Bird Migration

Millions of migratory birds are passing through Florida in October and November on their way to South and Central America.  Go outside and listen for the chips, chirps, warbles and other funny sounds that they make. The leaders of the fall migration passed through in September. These included the blue-gray gnatcatcher which could be heard in the trees with its high pitched “speee” call.

Hummingbirds, painted buntings, wood warblers, wrens, vireos, thrushes, hawks and eagles can be seen now.  Many painted buntings, hummingbirds and some of the wood warblers and hawks will stay until May when they head north for the summer.  You must have a planting of at least ten native firebush in your yard to supply enough nectar for the hummingbirds.  The exotic “Compact” firebush from Central America has yellow-orange flowers and offers little to our wildlife. You will find this imposter in most box stores. The leaves come off of the stem in whorles of four and five and feel rubbery. The native has three to occasionally four leaves, with fine hairs, to a whorl. Native red salvia will provide nectar to hummers and seed for painted buntings and other birds. 

Male painted buntings: a combination of red, orange, blue and green, always make my day when using our feeder.  Go to BestNest.com and check out their “caged bird feeders.” These are feeders surrounded with wire that the buntings can get through yet squirrels and larger birds can’t.  Make sure that there are plenty of shrubs nearby for the birds to hide in.

To make your own feeder, buy a 12 inch wide roll of one inch by two inch welded wire for building cages and cut a length four feet long. It doesn’t matter which way the rectangles are oriented. Now fold the piece in half and then fold the open ends toward the center so that you have four equal 12 by 12 sections. Unfold them into a square and clip the two free ends together. I like the clips that you can get at feed stores for making rabbit cages. Now make the 12 by 12 pieces for the bottom and top and clip together so that you have a perfect 12x12x12 cube.

Make sure that you place a piece of fine screening on the bottom so the millet won’t go through. Cut out a six by six square in the middle of one side and make a door from another piece of cage wire and clip together at the top. Not too tight, so that the door will open. I make a small hook at the bottom to secure the door to keep out squirrels . Hang this from a branch in a protected, shrubby location and pour some white millet (available online) onto the screen. You may want to pour in just enough millet for the day so that rats don’t start showing up. You can also make this as an 18 inch cube feeder. You may need to pinch every other square of wire in order to make the holes big enough for the buntings to get in more easily.

Add a little millet each morning or bring the feeder in at night to discourage rats until the buntings find you.  This may take the whole season from October to May the first year, yet each year more will show up. Eventually you will have indigo buntings visiting too. Don’t forget to plant many species of fruit and nut bearing native trees and shrubs so that other migrants like catbirds, vireos and brown thrashers will have berries and insects to eat. A bird bath is needed to help birds keep their feathers clean for better insulation during the coldest months.

With the first cold front in October comes a wave of migrating raptors which congregate at Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon. They stay briefly before flying across the ocean to South and Central America. Call 305-289-2690 before going to make sure the park is open. Just skip work and drive down for an unbelievable day of watching hawks, eagles and peregrine falcons so numerous that you may end up yawning by the hundredth one you see.

If you can’t get away, a simple walk around the yard before 9 a.m. can often provide more bird sightings than driving somewhere. If your property is the only one in the neighborhood with native plants- which provide food and cover- and a water source, the birds will crowd there. On clear nights you can even hear the occasional chirps of birds flying overhead. These are often bobolinks.

“Birds of Florida” by Lone Pine Publishing International is an easy to use book for Florida birds only.  It takes time to learn the warblers especially, yet each year you will get better at it.  You will be amazed by the variety of birds that you notice in your own back yard and neighborhood.

Remember that insects provide a large portion of the calories and protein that birds need. Many insects are specific in what they eat and have not evolved to get around the chemical defenses of non native plants. Although pretty, these plants offer nothing to local wildlife and might as well be plastic. If you have native wildflowers, the seeds are often eaten by a variety of insects which in turn are eaten by small spiders. Many songbirds eat these insects and spiders, so don’t tidy up until after November.

Get up early and walk around with your binoculars; the oaks are a good place to start looking. Try making a phish, phish, phish sound and see who comes over to investigate, hopefully not your annoyed neighbor or her cat.