It seems like only yesterday we were enjoying the arrival of our summer resident birds. We had the Oriole feeders out by the end of April and the hummingbird feeders up by Mother’s Day. Nesting boxes were cleaned out and readied, gardens planted, and new flowers and shrubs were tenderly spaded in. The thoughts of winter were well behind us. But the avian calendar moves swiftly as already by August our summer resident birds were becoming restless and we found ourselves greeting the hummingbirds on their return trip south. Many birds that hatched early on have grown to the size of their parents and many of them will soon have molted into their adult plumage.
As we look at the calendar we see this time of year as late summer. But for many of our birds it is a time to move on. September is the official start of the annual fall migration. This will be the month during which we will start bidding farewell to our summer feathered friends who will begin drifting south. By months end The Orioles, Tanagers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, along with others, will have moved on towards warmer climates in Central and South America where they will spend the winter. Many of our other summer resident birds that do not leave the continent will be headed toward the warmer southern U.S. states.
One bird species that will begin heading for the Gulf States this month which will hardly be missed is the Common Grackle. As these boisterous black birds depart it will lead us to change our bird feeding habits for the fall and winter months. But just as our summer resident birds depart there will be the excitement of watching and waiting for the many fall migrants that will be passing through along with the return of our winter resident birds such as the Juncos, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Pine Siskin just to name a few.
This biennial migration of birds in the spring and fall is an exciting period for those who enjoy watching birds. Approximately 26 species of warblers migrate through Nebraska, many in the eastern third of the state. Often times there are a few rare birds that have strayed off course and show up in our area. Shorebirds will begin to arrive at area lakes and wetlands on their way south scouring shallow waters and mudflats for a variety of aquatic food. Nebraska has a premier shorebird migration with as many as 36 species that pass our way. Last spring a large number of American Avocets were spotted at Wagon Train lake just south of Lincoln, and many Wilson’s Phalaropes spent a several weeks on the ponds at the Pioneers Park Nature Center. With Nebraska having more shoreline than the state of Minnesota, you are never far from the waters edge.
With all the birds that will be on the move through September into early November it is a good time to get out and do some bird watching. Wild Bird Habitat has all the information on where to go bird watching in Nebraska no matter if you’re looking for an easily accessible location or a primitive walk in the wild.
Now is also the time to become vigilant watching for new visitors appearing in your backyard. While some migratory birds may stop by and take advantage of the food you’ve provided in your bird feeders, others may be seen foraging for insects in the trees and shrubs in your yard, or taking a quick bath if you have a water source available. A small water feature on the ground with a bubbler or waterfall can attract dozens of birds that may otherwise be easily missed.
Look to the skies for hawks that will also be swirling southward, soaring on thermals in “kettles” and thrilling everyone who has the opportunity to see them. The hawks will be following the songbirds that are on the move. After all, this is how they make a living.
September will conclude the molting period as birds prepare for winter. Those birds that appeared a little bedraggled toward the end of summer will be returning to their normal plumage. Any bald Cardinals or Blue Jays you may have noticed in your yard will again be carrying a full head of feathers by months end. During the fall molt many birds become quiet and may not appear at the feeders as often, especially if those feeders are in wide open spaces. During their molt birds can become susceptible to predators as old worn feathers are systematically replaced by new feathers. Once they have completed the molt these birds will regain their flying ability, quickness and dexterity. The male Goldfinch will exchange their bright canary-yellow colors for a more subtle olive drab. This is when many birds lose their bright breeding colors and will become dressed in their basic plumage. It may make some birds, especially warblers, a little be more difficult to identify. And you will finally be able to tell which first year Cardinals are male and which are female. These new feathers will carry migratory birds on their trek south and prepare others for the upcoming winter season.
Our late nesters, the Goldfinches, Waxwings, and Mourning Doves, will be winding down the nesting season. The first two birds always wait until late June and July to start nesting. The Doves on the other hand, just seem to keep on nesting almost into the fall months. They only lay two eggs at a time, but they seem to be keeping their numbers up in spite of the hunting seasons in several northern states.
September is the beginning of a very active time for our birds as they begin preparing for winter. And with the cooler days it is a great time for us to get out and watch this flurry of activity.