As we start the turn towards fall, birds in the northern hemisphere are busy preparing to migrate south.  For many birds, they have nested, raised their offspring and have started to gather into flocks.  Their metabolism shifts and they begin eating large quantities of food in order to build up the energy reserves needed for their upcoming journey.

How do these birds know when it's time to go?  What signals do they look for? Experts believe there are several factors that trigger the migration instinct:

  • the change in daylight hours and the overall angle of the sun
  • dropping temperatures
  • dying out of summer crops and plantings
  • the ability of their offspring to live on their own or migrate

Birds in the northern hemisphere use four major flyways on their way to Mexico, Central or South America, the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific flyways.  Within these major routes are thousands of smaller routes.  Along with known resting sites from previous trips, birds follow these routes guided by the stars, the earth's magnetic field and visual landmarks. What can we do to help our feathered friends find their way during their flight?  According to there are several ways we can help including:

  • create low lying-landscapes
  • clean out feeders and keep them filled
  • provide a variety of foods such as black oil sunflower seeds, suet, peanuts, hempseed and fresh fruit
  • provide a water source
  • use protective decals on your windows to prevent bird strikes

What about the birds that don't migrate?  There are many types of birds that have acclimated to the colder weather and don't make the journey such as house finches, house sparrows, blue jays, robins, starlings, northern cardinals, american goldfinches, tufted titmice, black-capped chickadees, dark-eyed juncos, downy woodpeckers, northern mockingbirds, birds of prey, owls, game birds and more!  We can also make our yards and gardens a little more hospitable to those birds that brave the elements by doing the following:

  • keep feeders clean, full and reposition them to a more sheltered location such as closer to trees, houses or other structures
  • provide winter foods that are high in fat such as suet, mealworms and peanuts
  • install a cover over the feeder to keep snow and the elements off the feeder
  • keep a fresh source of water available
  • install a roosting box allowing several birds to huddle together for warmth

Fall migration is considered a dangerous journey for birds as they expend a huge amount of energy to fly hundreds or even thousands of miles to their destination.  Loss of habitat, weather systems, harsh terrain and even urban areas with tall buildings all are risk factors for migrating birds.  By utilizing some of the pointers listed above we can help make their trip a little easier while also making the winter a bit more bearable for those birds that stay closer to home.