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Bird Feeding Tips

Tips on attracting and feeding backyard birds.

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What are they up to down there? Part 1 of 2

Posted by on in Attracting and feeding wild birds
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What are they up to down there? Part 1 of 2

It’s easy to assume that we know all about them. We watch for them as they arrive and study them while they are courting, breeding, parenting, and even molting. But the truth is, most migrating songbirds spend only four or five months here before they head back to Central America, South America or the West Indies, where they live the rest of the year. What are they up to while they’re down there?

Male Scarlet Tanager

For starters, they eat. That’s one of the things these birds can’t do up here in winter and a major reason they don’t stay. Most long-distance migrants are insectivores and/or nectar eaters. Temperate climates don’t support enough insects or flowers in winter to sustain birds through the colder season. The migrants seem to have a better chance of surviving a round trip of 3,000 to 5,000 miles than sitting out a winter in North America.


Another thing birds do is hide. Well, maybe not exactly hide, but they don’t stand out the way they do in breeding season either. Although they are not silent by any means, their best songs are saved for defending a territory and for attracting a mate. And some species look completely different in their alternate plumage. Not all warblers, for instance, put on drab winter feathers, but enough do to earn several pages of “confusing fall warblers” in many field guides. In winter plumage, warblers, tanagers, and buntings disappear in the leaves and shadows of tropical forests.

They also socialize down there. Warblers that are strictly territorial on summer breeding grounds, such as the Northern Parula and Blue-winged Warblers, can be found in loose, mixed-species flocks in winter. This probably reflects a lack of space in this more crowded winter habitat.

Next time: Feeding, protection and habitat needs “down there”.

I am delighted to join the Birdzilla team through this blog, sharing ideas and topics related to feeding and attracting wild birds in your backyard. Bird feeding is my life-long passion,  instilled by bird-feeding parents who raised me on an 80-acre farm in central Michigan.  After college, my wife and I served as U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer high-school teachers in Africa and then as staff members over an eight-year period.
Those wonderful times led to 30-years of bird-feeding leadership as founder of the Wild Bird Centers, franchising and supporting wild bird specialty stores across the country. I helped found the Bird Education Network and was a key financial supporter of PROJECT WILDBIRD, I currently serve as Executive Director of the National Bird-Feeding Society. Several years ago, I was asked to join “The Birder’s Team”, a working group of birding leaders selected by the National Wildlife Refuge System to recommend ways to better serve birders. millions of whom visit our extraordinary network of more than 500 Refuges. These “conservation jewels” actively protect critical habitat and conserve bird populations of all kinds. Most recently, I served as a judge to select the winning artist for the NWRS’ 2015 Duck Stamp Contest.

I now look forward to helping our readers experience the best our wonderful hobby offers. As I often say “The closer we live to each other, the closer we want to be to Nature.”

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