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South to North and Back Again – Fall Migration

Photo courtesy of Doug Clarke

It has happened again this year. Migrating birds have begun to return from their time up north where they raised this year’s crop of young birds. The fall bird migration has begun. As described in the first “South to North and Back Again” story back in March, this annual cycle is celebrated by dedicated birders and backyard bird watchers alike. We all look forward to seeing transient migrant birds that fly through twice a year on their trips between areas of the U.S. and Canada where they nest, and their overwintering homes in South America.

The first sign is usually that one hummingbird that shows up at the feeder that we have left out in the yard. My wife, Mary, spotted the first of them about a week ago, flitting about and staring through the window with that indignant look that says “OK, I have arrived, where is my fresh nectar that should be in this overgrown flower?”

With the passage of the recent hurricane, it reminded me of the big one that came through at this same time in 2005. As Mary and I took a break from the cleanup in the early days of September, a hummingbird flew up as we sat on our front porch. It flew up to a red bag that was draped over the railing, hovered for a few seconds, flew towards us, and gave us the stare. We both jumped up – me to find the feeder that I had spotted in the front lawn amongst the debris and Mary to find that jar of sugar in the undamaged cabinet.

Of course, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are one of many migrants that begin to arrive this time of year. As I am writing this story, a female American Redstart is snatching small flying insects in my wooded backyard. I am beginning to hear bird calls that I have not heard since spring and am awaiting the return of the species of migrants I featured in the March story, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks being my favorite. Whether you feed birds in your backyard or not, our woodlands will soon be filled with their fall song.

So, before that grumpy hummingbird shows up to stare you down, clean up that nectar feeder, and fill it with fresh sugar water. Same with your seed feeders that have probably gotten a bit nasty over the summer. They do need to be thoroughly cleaned on occasion to sterilize them – that helps prevent them from becoming havens for bird diseases. A good scrubbing and a dip in a bit of chlorine will do the trick. It is a bit early for suet cakes (still too hot) – better to wait for cooler weather and our winter birds.

Then stand back and watch your yard come alive with some of the best colors of fall.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!


Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.


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