Migration

I saw a small flock of mountain bluebirds this morning.  They are generally the first insect eaters to arrive in February and the last to leave in October.  I know there are still plenty of bugs to eat, but with cooler, windy weather the pickin’s have to be getting slim.

Migration is simply movement related to food resources.  It can be an epic journey of thousands of miles north and south, or simply an elevational change.  Some birds migrate from their summer, high mountain or alpine habitat down to the plains for the winter.  These birds are usually seed eaters whose food sources get covered with snow come winter.  They don’t have to migrate long distances to find seeds, they simply move to a lower elevation where there is less snow to bury their food sources.

A great food source

Although I miss the birds of summer, like the yellow warblers and house wrens, I still enjoy the birds which grace the yard in winter.  House finches, and pine siskins frequent my feeders, with sporadic visits from chickadees and juncos.  Hardy robins who migrate here from nesting areas in Canada look like puffy persimmons on the tree branches.

Activity:  Fall and spring are the best times to add new species to the list of birds you’ve been keeping for your area.  Be on the lookout for new warblers, flycatchers, wrens and even hummingbirds.Hummingbirds are one of the first birds to migrate as their food source of flower nectar and associated insects dwindles as summer draws to a close.  Birds are often hard to identify in fall as they’ve molted their summer plumage, but it’s a good exercise in observation of key characteristics.

Be sure to date when you see new species so you know when to expect them next year. I always have Wilson’s warblers spend about a week in my yard about the third week of September.

Engleman ivy is very sensitive to cool weather and the first plant to turn colors in the fall.

You can help children understand why animals migrate by discussing how our food changes seasonally.  Talk about why we don’t eat watermelon or peaches in winter.  When you go to the grocery store, make a list of fruits and where they originate.  Plot those locations on a map and discuss why those places can still grow fruit in the winter.  Then look up the winter range of several common summer birds and plot those locations on the same map.  There should be a correlation between where fruit can grow in the winter and where your summer bird friends are hanging out.

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