Migratory Bird Fallout

Changes in the weather can cause large numbers of migrating birds to land in our yards. This is called a “Fallout.” Cold, rainy weather systems in the fall create winds that blow from the south to the north and force birds that are flying south to land. Birds need a tail wind to migrate and will wait for several days for the winds to change direction.

This is when we see many species of birds that are not here during the rest of the year and in some cases, ones that have been blown off course. These may not be seen until blown off course again in several years.

The cool, windy days of October may bring many migrating birds into our area. Look for a nice variety of wood-warblers, vireos, painted buntings, fly catchers and the hawks that follow and prey on them. The female buntings are green and the males are red, blue and green. Many of these beautiful birds will remain until they migrate north in May.

I keep a feeder full of white millet near some bushes where the buntings can hide from predators and are protected from the wind. You can now find these feeders at Target for only around twenty dollars. The wire squares keep out larger birds, hawks and squirrels, yet let the buntings through to feed.

It is also necessary to provide water for your local and fallout birds so that they can wash and preen their feathers which then provide better insulation from the cold. This should also be near brush for protection, yet raised out of the easy reach of cats. Leave about a three foot area of cleared space around the bird bath that cats can’t hide in. I connect quarter inch plastic tubing to a timer at the faucet, run it underground to the bird bath and then up a nearby shrub. Let it drip into the bath for a half hour each day to replenish the water and rinse away the detritus. Or you can add a mist head to the end so that birds can take a shower.

When I look at large areas of lawn, I just can’t help think of the berry and nut producing native shrubs and trees that could be planted there instead. These would provide habitat and food for many migrating and local birds. Less lawn would reduce the use of fossil fuels by mowers, blowers and weed whackers and of course water use. I strongly feel that our yards should be places that catch carbon and add water to the aquifer rather than the opposite.

Many migrating birds are exhausted after hours of flight and often die simply because there is not enough food available for them to build up their fat reserves and continue on. Yet, there are many bird species that are increasing in numbers due to our efforts to provide feeders, nest boxes and better habitat. It is exciting to think of what is possible.

Watch the weather in the spring and fall and be on the lookout for large numbers of migrating birds that may be forced to land when a change in wind direction or foul weather forces them down. This is a great time to get out your camera and take pictures. These pictures make nice Christmas cards too.