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As days grow shorter, hummingbirds hit the road

Northwoods Notebook

A young red-eyed vireo peeks out from the foliage. Red-eyed vireos don’t get the distinctive red eyes until after their first winter. Though small songbirds such as the vireos and warblers are migrating through the region, this one’s clumsy flying raised the possibility it was hatched in the area — red-eyed vireos are a common nesting species in the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

Reports from around the area seem to indicate most, if not all, of the summer’s resident hummingbirds have bid the region adieu.

Activity at our home seemed to go overnight from a host of the tiny, buzzing birds having aerial duels for a turn at the feeders to nothing. A couple turned up Sunday, including an adult male — unusual in that they normally are the first ones to depart — but it’s clear the majority have moved on.

Like many migrating birds, hummingbirds take their cues that it’s time to travel not from changes in temperature but daylight. With the days definitely growing shorter — Monday will mark the last time in 2019 that sunset will come after 7 p.m. in the Iron Mountain area — the pull south must become difficult to ignore.

Still, it’s worth keeping those feeders up, if not as filled, to provide a way station for hummingbirds that might be coming through from farther north. The ruby-throated hummingbird — the only species the eastern United States usually gets to see — ranges well into Canada, and any late migrants likely could use the energy boost before continuing their journey.

As mentioned before, this also is the time to watch for the stray rufous hummingbird, a western and mountain species that nests as far north as Alaska and regularly turns up in the eastern states during fall migration. As the name implies, the adult males are the color of a red fox with flame-bronze throats; females and juveniles are duller green and white but still show more rust than the ruby-throated.

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The bulk of the migration, though well underway, appears to have slowed last week due to the widespread wet weather and unfavorable wind patterns, Ryan Brady, the Natural Heritage Conservation Program biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, wrote in his weekly birding report.

He predicts, however, a shift to southward winds today through the early part of next week should spark another wave of movement — so if outdoors, keep watch for new songbirds coming through.

For hunters, waterfowl numbers are beginning to rise as well but most of those birds “are weeks, if not months, away yet,” Brady said in his report.

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A more disturbing bird-related report came from Michigan DNR wildlife biologist Monica Joseph. The Crystal Falls office this summer has dealt with a number of bald eagles struck by vehicles, usually related to the raptors feeding on roadkill deer, she said.

While the DNR or law enforcement often will try to pull deer carcasses well off the road, eagles still can be at risk as they try to rise after stuffing themselves on venison.

Motorists should be aware that if they see crows, ravens or vultures congregating, it’s a fair bet a deceased deer is nearby and an eagle or two will be in the mix as well. Best to keep watch and pass cautiously.

If an eagle is struck and injured, call the local sheriff’s office, which can in turn contact wildlife authorities to deal with the bird.

Any eagle killed must be reported for collection — while accidental fatal eagle collisions are rarely prosecuted, it remains illegal for all but authorized Native Americans to possess eagle parts. Again, the easiest contact would be the local sheriff’s office.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 40, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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