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Birds of El Paso County

Migrating Birds


Last updated 4/7/2021 at 9:04am | View PDF

Doug Harling

Female Broad Tailed Hummingbird

It is time to get ready for the migration. The peak of the migration is still a few weeks away, but I learned a few years ago that "the early bird catches the migration!" I used to wait and not put specialty foods out until I heard about migrating birds in the area. I would get some migrating birds, but it seemed I never got as many as I hoped for. A few years ago, I read an article about the biggest thing that attracts birds to your yard. Turns out, other birds are the main thing that attract a new bird to your yard.

Think about it! When goose hunters want to attract geese to a hunting blind, they don't put out goose food; they put out fake geese. As birds fly over your yard, they don't look for the bird feeders; they look for other bird activity. One, it tells them that it is a safe place to be. Two, they assume the other birds are there for food. I have said this in several of my past columns: You want to keep an active yard full of birds throughout the winter. Even though bird activity gets slow during the winter and the colder weather makes it harder to want to get out and mess with feeders, keeping an active habitat throughout the winter is the best thing you can do to assure a yard full of birds in the summer. Most birds go into a winter plumage and the bright-colored and migrating bird are gone for the winter, so a backyard habitat can seem a bit drab in the winter and it is easy to lose motivation to keep feeders and bird baths full. I promise that if you keep your habitat active in the winter, it will pay off!

When new birds show up for the first time, they aren't sure which feeder has their favorite food in it. It may take them several days to find their favorite. Once they do, they seldom go to the other feeders. Now that I know this, I have a better understanding as to why I never seemed to get many migrating birds. When I would hear reports of migration sightings, I would start getting my specialty foods out. Even my regular birds wouldn't go near those feeders for a while, so migrating birds were not seeing activity at those feeders. Once I started putting out the specialty foods way early, the migrating birds have become plentiful. For example, I used to get a few Bullock's orioles showing up during the migration. They would be around for a week or so and then they were gone. The last couple of years, I have had as many as 30 Bullock's orioles coming every day, all day and staying around for six to eight weeks. Last year for the first time, I had two mating pairs that stayed the entire summer until it was time to migrate south for the winter.

How much and how long you will see migrating birds will depend a lot on the final destination of their migration. For example, Bullock's orioles, hummingbirds (different species will vary), Say's Phoebes and robins are just a few migrators that will make our region their final summer destination. So these birds can and will stick around your yard all summer if you provide the proper food and cover. Other migrating birds are heading further north for their summer destination. These kinds of migrators you will only see briefly. With plenty of food and bird activity, you may get them to stay a day or two but not much longer before they move on.

Just as southern migrators are moving in, some of the birds you have been enjoying for the winter will be moving north for the summer. We are the southern migration point for some birds like the Dark-Eyed Juncos and Bushtits. By the time this column comes out, many of those birds will have started their northern migration. You can follow some migrations online by checking some of the bird migration apps. They are very accurate for the masses but some smaller flocks may be ahead or behind what those apps show. This is why I like to prepare several weeks ahead of the expected arrival.

The last week in March, I put out a couple of my hummingbird feeders. I have seen hummingbirds by the last week in March even though their expected arrival time isn't until mid April or later. Since hummingbird food can only last a few days outside, I start with a very small amount in a couple of feeders so I don't waste too much. Once I spot the first hummingbird at the feeder, I put out all of my feeders. We don't have many flowers that bloom this early in Colorado so it helps to put out some hanging annual flower blooms.

Doug Harling

Say's Phoebe with breakfast

I put out my Oriole feeders two weeks ago. Grape jelly and orange halves (they will also eat nectar and you may see them come to the hummingbird feeders) You can buy feeders that are specific to Orioles, but even putting oranges on a fence post or on the end of a shepherd's hook and a small cup of jelly will work fine. Many feeders specific to Orioles will have the color orange on them and they will often have a place to put jelly, oranges and nectar in one feeder. I realized a couple of years ago that the robins and Finches love the oranges and grape jelly so these feeders are getting plenty of activity by the time the Orioles start coming in. Once the Orioles show up, they will take over those feeders and put on amazing acrobatic shows for you all day long. They can get very protective. You will see one of my photos this week has many Orioles bickering at one feeder. This is one of my favorite shows to watch. Most of your other migrating birds don't require any specialty food but it doesn't hurt to put out some extra black oil sunflower seeds and maybe some dried meal worms and some Nyjer seed for the Gold and Lesser Gold finches. Other migrating birds you may see are Black-Headed Grosbeaks, Rose Breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, Lazuli Buntings and different hummingbird species that are headed north of here for the winter.

So, be the early bird and be a step ahead of the migration. Get all this specialty food out now. Be patient and wait. If you see any birds and you are not sure what they are or what to feed them, then please reach out to me. My contact info is always included in every column.

I would love to get feedback on the birds you see this summer for the first time. I also want to say thank you to the people who have reached out to me for advice and thanked me for the columns. That is why I do this! Happy spring birding!

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