Different Birds Are Passing Through Now
As the saying goes, 'if you don't like the weather, wait until tomorrow'. So it is with birds in much of the country during the fall and early winter as they come and go, changing every day. During the many weeks of fall migration, every day brings new birds that saturate the trees and shrubs, fields and forest, filling the sky with big and little bodies in our neighborhoods. As the shorter days and colder weather of November arrive, gone are our hummingbirds and neotropical birds, only to be replaced by wintering songbirds, raptors, waterfowl, and shorebirds.
Raptors Are on the Move
While some birds may have already flown south, raptors gather a lot of attention in the fall as they as form large kettles drifting southward. Migrating Peregrine Falcons (shown in photo) pass through the southeast and wintering Northern Harriers appear soaring low over marshes and fields. Red-tailed Hawks increase their population as northern birds join residents and perch in leafless trees or along the interstates waiting for a potential meal.
Photo: Peregrine Falcon, courtesy of Georgann Schmalz
Strays and Lateral Migrators
It's also a great time of year for western birds to stray into our southeastern states. Perhaps no birds are better known for this than hummingbirds. Eastern Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have made their trans-gulf migration to Mexico and Central America. In early November, a few western species travel east, unlike the majority of North American hummingbirds that overwinter in Mexico. One of the most common is the Rufous Hummingbird, a breeder from Oregon to Alaska, often returning to the same southeastern feeder winter after winter. Leaving a sugar-water feeder out all winter greatly increases the likelihood of attracting a western bird.
Photo: Rufous Hummingbrid, courtesy of Darlene Moore
Find out more about attracting hummingbirds and butterflies
It's Easy to See Cranes
Nothing attracts more attention this time of year than the noisy flights of Sandhill Cranes. Migrant flocks of thousands of birds are most commonly heard and seen in a wide corridor through central Georgia on their way to Florida.
Photo: Sandhill Cranes, courtesy of Georgann Schmalz
Running Amuck with Ducks
By early November, nearly every body of water is covered in waterfowl. Open freshwater ponds across the southeast hold anywhere from a couple birds to hundreds of Redheads, Canvasbacks, Ring-necked Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Ducks, Northern Pintail, Gadwalls and American Wigeon. More wooded swampy ponds are a great refuge for resident Wood Ducks and arriving Hooded Mergansers. Along the coastal waters, gently rolling in the ocean swells are rafts of Lesser Scaup and Black, White-winged, and Surf Scoters; far too many birds to count sometimes. A good eye won't overlook the drab Common Loons in winter plumage or the bobbing Buffleheads and scattered Red-breasted Mergansers.
Photo: Redhead Ducks, courtesy of Georgann Schmalz
Viewing the rafts of ocean ducks is assuming one can see past the beach teeming with an assortment of shorebirds some that nested as far away as the Arctic tundra. Poking, probing, running, and nervously searching for tiny morsels of food, the Atlantic and Gulf beaches offer either stop-over sites for the migrants or winter foraging for short-distance travelers.
Can You Tell Your Sparrows Apart?
What would late fall and winter be in the southeast without the sparrows? Those feared 'little brown jobs' are chipping and squeaking in all sorts of weedy fields. They may not look very different from the more common resident Song and Chipping Sparrows, so winter sparrows like Henslow's, Clay-colored, White-crowned, White-throated, Lincoln's, Vesper, Le Conte's and Swamp Sparrows can test even the most discerning eye.
Find out more about feeding birds in the fall