Category Archives: Bird Migration

Monthly Journal – May, 2017

May’s journal focuses on activity in and around backyard feeders one afternoon on the north end of the neighborhood.  We were invited over to see Rose-breasted Grosbeaks who had been showing up to recharge on good food in a wonderful wooded setting before continuing on their migration.  For one hour we sat quietly with our friends and watched.  This is some of what we saw.

Sandhills Overhead!

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes headed north

At 3:30 this afternoon 200+ Sandhill Cranes flew directly over Peachtree Park, calling all the while.  Although it was overcast, they were low enough for clear viewing.

It’s very early, but birders think they are already migrating north.  Such a treat to see them!

 

Small Post, Big News

Wilson's Warbler - Cardellina pusilla - Peachtree Park, Atlanta, GA - January 10, 2017

Wilson’s Warbler – Cardellina pusilla

On Tuesday afternoon this week a very small bright yellow bird showed up and was foraging for insects on and near our deck.  We grabbed a camera just in case he was somebody cool; turns out, he was indeed very cool.  The bird is a Wilson’s Warbler and is a migrant rarely seen in Georgia.  The sighting is even more unusual because this little bird should have been in his Central American winter home a couple of months ago.

Unsure of ourselves, we asked our trusted bird-savvy friends to confirm the ID.  On Thursday we posted a note on UGA’s Ornithological list-serve announcing our find.  On Friday, Atlanta Audubon sent a very knowledgeable person over to see if he could see the bird – and he did!

This is just one of many reasons why urban neighborhoods like ours are so important.  This migrant lost his way or his timing and has been able to survive here in spite of the cold. Probably because food, water and shelter are all available.  We’re still on the lookout hoping to catch another glimpse.

References and Additional Information

[1]  Cornell – All About Birds:  Wilson’s Warbler

Headed South from Jekyll

One week ago we were on Jekyll Island and took the opportunity to visit The Jekyll Island Banding Station – JIBS. This was a great treat, and the folks who volunteer to collect data on birds migrating south were very gracious with their time and information.

White-eyed Vireo - Vireo griseus Jekyll Island, GA - October, 2016

White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus – Banding Station on Jekyll Island, GA – October, 2016

We talked with Evan Pitman, a third-generation bander, who is heading the effort this year. He told us that they have been banding birds in this location since 1978 – 38 years.   From 1978 until 2000 it was run by Don and Doris Coors, and then it was picked up by his father.

Blackpoll Warbler - Steophaga striata Jekyll Island, GA - October, 2016

Blackpoll Warbler – Steophaga striata

Evan and the JIBS volunteers catch migratory songbirds in mist nets and then place very light-weight identification tags on them.  This enables them to monitor specific species, track individual birds, and collect health information as birds gain mass and fat for migration further south. Some birds are coming to stay, and some birds are just passing through.

Evan told us that in previous years with more people and nets (as many as 27), they banded 2,700 birds one season.  This year they have 17 nets and expect to band about 1,500 birds.  They’re trying to expand the season from 3 weeks to 4 weeks in order to collect more data.

This location is in the critical path for many of our migrants so JIBS is able to monitor the long-term health of specific species as well as overall numbers.  Audubon lists Jekyll Island as an Important Bird Area and says that since 1978, over 40,000 birds have been banded.

We’re lucky to have many of these same birds pass through our area, including Summer Tanagers, vireos, grosbeaks, and many species of warbler.

References and Additional Information

[1]  Coastal Birding Georgia blog: Banding on Jekyll Island
[2]  Audubon:  Important Bird Areas – Jekyll Island Georgia

Heading South

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at a feeder in Peachtree Park on September 21, 2016

Do the hummers that you are seeing now seem to be a bit more skittish than the ones that you’ve been seeing all summer?  Maybe it’s because the migrants are here, and they aren’t as familiar with their surroundings as the locals.  [1]

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

adult male Ruby-throat 9/21/16

Hummingbirds overwinter in Central and South America. [2]  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds return to most parts of Georgia in March (in Atlanta, around March 15 – April 1) [2] and usually stay with us until the first week in October. [10]  So it’s a great time to enjoy the last days of the locals before they head south, as well migrants passing through from points north.

Black-chinned Hummingbird - Archilochus alexandri Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin TX - April 7, 2015

Black-chinned Hummingbird – Archilochus alexandri
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin TX

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only species of hummingbird known to nest to Georgia. [4]  In fact, it is the only hummingbird known to breed east of the Mississippi River. [11]  Our female Ruby- throated hummers produce up to two broods per year.  Nests are typically built on a small branch, sometimes rebuilding the nest from the previous year. [4]

However, Ruby-throats are not the only hummingbirds in Georgia.  There are 10 others that spend time here in the summer: Black-chinned, Rufous, Calliope, Magnificent, Allen’s, Anna’s, Broad-billed, Green Violet-ear, Green-breasted Mango and Broad-tailed hummingbird. [4]

Anna's Hummingbird - Calypte anna Desert Museum, Tuscon, AZ - March 2010

Anna’s Hummingbird – Calypte anna
Desert Museum, Tuscon, AZ

Some hummingbirds do overwinter in Georgia [6] and there are periodic sightings in Atlanta. So, it’s a good idea to keep one feeder up in the winter.  Even better, make sure you have pollinator-friendly plants blooming year-round. Witch Hazel, Lenten Roses, and winter bulbs such as Crocus are some examples.

Despite what you may have heard, you cannot keep hummingbirds from migrating by leaving feeders up during the fall and winter seasons.  Hummingbirds migrate in response to a decline in day length, not food availability. [5]

We’ve included some links below with additional information on migration, feeding, and overwintering.  The first link from Lerner.org will direct you to a dynamic hummingbird migration map and the second link from the University of Georgia has good information on feeding.  Also, If you haven’t visited the State Botanical Garden of Georgia’s Hummingbird Trail, you should consider a drive over to Athens.

Hummmmm.  Zoom!  Zip!    We’re outta here.

References and Additional Information

[1]  Learner.org – Journey North: Hummingbird: Pushing Southward
[2]  UGA: Make Your Backyard a Favorite for Hummingbirds
[3]  GA Department of Agriculture: – Plant a Garden for Hummingbirds
[4]  Georgia DNR: Hummingbirds in Your Backyard – Interesting Facts
[5]  Georgia DNR: Hummingbirds in Your Backyard – Feeding Hummingbirds
[6]  Georgia DNR: Out My Backdoor – Creating Hummingbird Havens
[7]  UGA: Creating Native Plant Hummingbird Habitat in Georgia
[9]  Georgia DNR: Georgia’s Wintering Hummingbirds
[9]  UGA: Extension: Attracting Birds to Your Backyard
[10]  The State Botanical garden of Georgia: Hummingbird Trail
[11]  The Breeding Bird Atlas of Georgia – UGA Press: Schneider, Beaton, Keyes and Klaus, Eds.

Monthly Journal – August, 2016

August has passed, and birds are beginning to head south.  Groups of migrating American Robins are beginning to appear on lawns.  There was another report of the groundhog from the north end of the neighborhood and twice we’ve caught a glimpse of a groundhog-size critter disappearing into the grass on the Nature Trail.   Also, we were lucky a few days ago to have a rare daylight visit from one of our resident possums.

A newsletter from the South Fork Conservancy reports that Atlanta Audubon has documented over 75 species of birds on the South Fork of Peachtree Creek!  It’s just off Lindbergh, very close to us, and you can go on a guided bird tour of the trail this Saturday, September 3.  Atlanta Audubon has more information on their Field Trips page.  You’ll need to scroll down to the calendar and click on the “The Confluence” under September 3rd.  If you want to join them, they ask that you RSVP.

Even More Hummer Activity Now

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Phlox

In our April 23 blog we talked about the first of the season hummingbirds.  Then it seemed as if hummingbird activity dwindled with not many sightings until about a week or so ago. We wondered why.

Fortunately someone posed exactly this question about the drop in hummingbird activity in June followed be a late July spike on GABO, the forum for Georgia Birders Online.  The answers were great and helped us understand.  We thought you might like to know too.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched on fig limb

During the early spring the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds return from their southern overwintering locations.  They come in pairs, both males and females.  But beginning in June, you don’t see many females – they are nesting.  Another reason that you are less likely to see females at feeders and flowers, as suggested by one of the GABO contributors, is because the females are in search of protein to feed their young.  The hummer perched on the fig limb has her tongue out and we speculate that it maybe to round up ants.

Then, at the end of June and into July the relative dearth of hummers is replaced with an abundance as the newly fledged birds begin joining their parents in search of food.