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Potting

Welcome Migrating Birds

By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART

In the past week or so, I’ve heard more birdsong than I have in the last few months. Is it my imagination, or is the approaching spring bringing more birds to my area, and energizing the ones that stayed the winter? Or were they always singing, and in my winter funk, I didn’t notice?

Probably all of the above. February and early March begin the return of migrating birds to North America. Red-winged blackbirds and tree swallows are two of the earliest spring arrivals. I’m always excited to see my first robin of the season hopping around looking for worms. Robins are also some of the first birds to arrive, though in some places they never actually migrate at all. 

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Each species has its own migration clock. Waterfowl – geese, ducks, swans – are usually the first to take to the skies, and can arrive in their home grounds as early as February. Eagles and some hawks follow. Sparrows start showing up in southern states in March, as do purple martins. Songbirds – the warblers, orioles, buntings, tanagers, and thrushes – come up from the tropics in April and May.

When they arrive the migrators will be hungry, and by late winter most seeds and berries will have been eaten by local birds, who are still hungry, too. So keep feeding the birds, even as the weather is warming and plants are starting to poke their heads above ground. Fresh, cut up, unspoiled fruit will be appreciated by newly arriving songbirds, as well as many of the permanent residents. Nuts and seeds, too.

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Bird food spoils more quickly once the weather warms, especially suet. Birds won’t usually eat spoiled food. If you see that birds aren’t eating the food at your feeders it may be because it’s turned rancid, so check it more frequently than you did when temps were lower. And if you live in an area with bears, take your feeders down before they come out of hibernation.

Remember that birds mostly rely on insects to feed their young. If you didn’t clean out your perennial and other ornamental beds in fall (good for you!), then those leaves, stalks and other detritus hide insects (especially pollinators) waiting for warmer weather in a sort of suspended animation. Instead of raking out these beds when it’s still cold, which may expose or kill the bugs, try waiting until daytime temperatures stay in the 50s for seven days straight before cleaning out debris. At that point most insects will be up and active.

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Birds migrate at night, and use the stars to navigate. Artificial light sources can disorient them, so help them by turning off all unnecessary lights outside your house from March 1 to June 15. To learn more about birds and light pollution, here’s an article: Save the Birds. Turn Off Your Lights.

If you’d like to follow the migration of specific species of birds, birds that are regulars to your region, or just migration patterns overall, check out the Cornell Lab’s BirdCast.


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