Fully stocked feeders help resident birds, migrants
Bird migrations often seem to go that the first ones back in the spring are the last to leave in the fall.
This year is proving to be no exception. Long gone are the flashy orioles, tanagers, warblers and other species that normally won’t return until May, at the earliest.
Now, the final avian push is reaching the area, spurred by the growing shift in light and temperatures. Some lingering in the region include short-distance migrants, such as robins and blackbirds, that can still stick it out by feeding on fruit or berry trees or from backyard feeders. But birds that rely heavily on insects know the pickings now will be slim, given the persistant freezing temperatures and, this week, snow.
Already returned to the region are dark-eyed juncos, red-breasted nuthatches, purple finches and several sparrow species: fox, white-throated and American tree. While the first two probably are just passing through, the hardy tree sparrows, which nests in the far north, will spend the winter here.
Snow usually drives the resident birds to the feeders, so it’s time to make sure the black oil sunflower seeds are in good supply, along with cracked corn and niger or thistle seed for the smaller finches such as goldfinch and pine siskens. Suet will draw in the four main resident woodpeckers — downy, hairy, pileated and, more recently, red-bellied — along with the red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches. In some parts of the region, gray jays may take a turn on the suet as well along with the more common blue jays, now gathering in number. The nuthatches, woodpeckers and jays enjoy peanuts, too.
The various sparrows usually don’t come to feeders but can be spotted scratching like chickens in the leaves underneath, along with potentially some foraging rarities like rusty blackbirds.
In Wisconsin, a homeowner in the north reported a hummingbird still using the nectar feeder, and several homes in the still-relatively warm southern counties had some latecomers as well. While highly unlikely here, it does point up that it’s worth keeping those feeders up as late as possible, especially if winter systems seem to be sweeping in from the west. Rufous hummingbirds occur in the west into Alaska, so can be cold-tolerant and have a distance to go when migrating. If forced off course by an early weather system, they can turn up to the east, which is why Ryan Brady, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Natural Heritage Conservation Program biologist, says any hummingbird seen this late in the season should be scrutinized and photographed is possible rather than assumed to be the usual ruby-throated.
As long as lakes remain open, waterfowl likely will continue to move through the region, Brady said in his weekly birding report. Some recent Fumee Lake Natural Area photos submitted by a reader showed a string of common mergansers along with at least one male red-breasted merganser — again, these are among the earliest to be back in the region, often while area lakes still have more ice than water. They, along with the common loons, eventually will end up in large rafts on Lake Michigan for the winter, spending time with other cold-water ducks from the north such as the scoters, long-tailed ducks and goldeneyes.
It remains to be seen how soon local lakes begin icing up, so enjoy the avian parade while still possible.
Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 240, or email@example.com.