October is going by about as fast as all the other months seem to. What a great month it has been with nice weather and brilliant foliage everywhere.
But we all know how fast the weather can change as November approaches.
We are due for a really nice November, with winter starting way too early the last couple of years. During these nice October days, we have plenty of winter-preparation chores to do which include raking leaves, putting away gardening equipment, neatening up gardens and flower beds, and the list goes on. If it’s not on your list, preparing your bird feeding station for the winter is a good idea.
Bird feeding is as simple as you want to make it. And it can be a bit more involved for those of you who like to offer several types of feeders and feeds. As I see the nuthatches, woodpeckers, chickadees, and several others already patronizing the feeders it sends a message that winter is really not very far away!
Many ground feeding birds will remain busy rummaging around in hedgerows and thickets before eventually partaking of your feeding station. These include the juncos, the white-crowned and white-throated sparrows, and the American tree sparrows – all of which have been migrating back into our area after spending their nesting season in higher elevations or places far north of here. It is remarkable how well they do finding food on their own searching for insects and gleaning tiny seeds from the large variety of native plants.The bird feeder is not their first choice when naturally occurring food is readily available.
Every fall we wonder what type of bird migration that we might experience for the coming winter. Last winter was very devoid of interesting winter visitors from Canada. Sure, we had the typical snow buntings and native sparrows, but we didn’t have the number and variety of others that often do come our way.
One species that I never saw last fall and winter was the pine siskin which is a close relative of the goldfinch. They stayed north. There were few, if any, local reports. Most years they migrate through here in October and November on their way further south. And often, many stay right here for the winter, enjoying natural seeds from conifers and patronizing feeders that have nyjer and sunflower seeds.
Well, this fall, starting in mid-September, I have seen or heard these pine siskins in several locations almost every day that I have been outside. They have occasionally been visiting our feeding station. The pine siskin has a distinct very high-pitched call that isn’t very noticeable unless your ears are tuned to listen for them. The fact that the pine siskin migration seems to be in full swing already this fall, could indicate that we will see some other migrating winter finches from the north. It’s just too early to know.
Some other possibilities could include the common redpolls, crossbills, pine grosbeaks, and maybe even a few evening grosbeaks. Evening grosbeaks used to be a regular winter visitor to this region, however, the cone-seed supply up north has been much improved over the last couple of decades. You may remember these birds coming in flocks of 20 to 100 birds raiding your sunflower feeders in winter and well into May before returning to their northern breeding grounds.
We will be watching for other northern winter visitors as well – ones that are not feeder birds but birds of open country. These could include the short-eared owls, rough-winged hawks, snowy owls, and northern shrikes.
If you are planning on feeding the birds this winter, preparing now could make a difference in the success of your feeding station. Most any scenario works if you are feeding the right feed and are able to keep the feed dry. You can feed one general mix with sunflower being the primary ingredient or you can feed a variety of seeds in separate feeders like peanuts, nyjer, safflower, white millet, and suet.
If you use a tube feeder, sunflower is the best feed to put in. An open feeder or ground feeding board would do well for feeding a variety of seeds – especially white millet and maybe some cracked corn. Stay away from any feeds that have milo or red millet or wheat – not desirable feeds for the desirable birds that you want at your feeding station.
Keeping your feed dry and outsmarting the squirrels is a topic for another day. Raccoon interference is an issue in spring and early summer and sometimes all summer. Dealing with raccoons and squirrels and wet weather can make bird feeding a bit more challenging. But no matter what the challenges are, the fun of feeding the birds is worth it. Birds bring so much joy to us humans and brighten up those cold winter days.
So, enjoy every nice autumn day and be prepared for the season ahead. See if you can identify those pine siskins and see if you notice some other returning winter birds. Happy autumn birding!
Hans Kunze is an avid birder and nature enthusiast who has been writing about birds and nature for more than 30 years. He writes for The Daily News twice each month. Write him at 6340 LaGrange Rd Wyoming, NY 14591 or call/text to (585) 813-2676.