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Evidence is all around us that Fall is on the way – gardens are browning, plants are seeding, the sun has begun to shift positions and is setting earlier, and wildlife throughout Dubuque is on the move. From squirrels to deer and butterflies/bees to birds, there is excitement in the ever-cooling air as animals, birds, and insects rummage, flutter, and scurry about readying themselves for winter.

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This morning, our annual visit from migrating Brewer’s Blackbirds flew through our neighborhood, resting atop trees throughout. I have several recordings of their roosting calls from the past four years and I love to listen to them throughout the winter. Recently, Grackles have been visiting our yard as well – they are not regular visitors here. This past spring, I planted several different varieties of sunflowers in our garden and for the past few weeks, our backyard as been flooded with feathered visitors of all sorts. As I try to convince my husband to leave the dying vegetation alone for just a little longer, I have also been looking for other ways I can aid birds as some begin their migration to warmer lands and some rummage about looking for food and shelter as temperatures begin to drop. Below are just a few ways you might be able to help as well.

  • Begin refilling feeders near the end of August if you usually do not feed throughout the summer. Migrations throughout the United States typically begin the second week of September.
  • Leave hummingbird feeders out into September and even through October when temperatures are mild – don’t worry, hummingbirds know when it’s time to leave, no matter how good and full that feeder is!
  • Keep water in your birdbaths and keep it fresh for visitors (which will include other wildlife!).
  • Avoid pesticides and allow your yard to “go wild.” This will aid in nesting, fledging, and providing natural shelter from weather and predators as birds begin their journeys and also as they prepare for winter.
  • Turn off outdoor lighting – many species of birds travel at night to avoid predators. Artificial lighting can disrupt their navigation.
  • Try keeping your cat inside – they pose a particular threat to fledglings.
  • Prevent window collisions by keeping curtains closed, creating a visible pattern on the outside of windows (streamers, decals, lights, anything to alert the birds), and placing feeders at least two feet away from windows.
  • Plant fruit bearing trees and seed producing flowers native to your area.
  • Provide birdhouses along your property – avoid cleaning them out until after the birds have left.

Sept 2014 Migration

Photo Credit: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, BirdCast.  This image indicates the migration movements over the U.S. in mid-September.  The lighter blue coloring indicates initial migratory patterns while the darker blue, green, yellow, orange and red areas indicate increasing migrations.

Did you know…

  • Hummingbirds have been recorded as traveling nonstop over 24 hours across the Caribbean Sea to reach southern destinations!
  • The Rufous Hummingbird travels over 3000 miles from Alaska to Mexico each year (and back again!).
  • Migrating birds need to build up a fat reserve before beginning their journey – some birds will use up to 90% of their body fat along their journey. Many birds will double their weight within the last few weeks before migration.
  • Many birds will migrate during the night to avoid predators – on a clear night look up towards the moon, you just might catch sight of a flock of migrating songbirds!
  • Migrating birds use the stars, sun, and wind to aid in navigation – as well as earth’s magnetic field!
  • Many birds will travel 100 hours or more when flying across oceans or seas!
  • Birds face many obstacles along their journeys – predators, hunters, light disruption, severe weather, window collisions, habitat loss and many other natural and manmade threats.
  • Birds will not become dependent on birdfeeders – they may become accustomed to a reliable food source, but they will search elsewhere for food sources.

ia audubon

Visit the Iowa Audubon website for an interactive map that details Important Bird Areas of Iowa.

iowa young birders

Visit the Iowa Young Birders website for an exciting and educational program for youths aged 8-18. This non-profit group schedules regular field trips providing young bird enthusiasts the opportunity to explore and engage Iowa’s natural treasures.