This post is from Ben Jones, director of education for Audubon Texas. Look for more of Ben’s blog posts in future months…
Gaze up into the dark sky tonight and wrap your mind around this: you’re standing beneath a super-highway of flying birds. Tonight and for spring nights to come, birds by the millions are flying 500-2000 feet above you, pouring back into North America. It’s SPRING MIGRATION, an incredible spectacle featuring some of the most amazing animal athletes in all of nature. Hummingbirds, only 3.5 inches long, fly 18-hour non-stop flights over the Gulf of Mexico. Warblers, weighing in at 20 grams, can fly non-stop for four days over the Atlantic Ocean. Other birds will fly thousands and thousands of miles soaring north across the Pacific Flyway to homes in Alaska and the arctic. Over 65 percent of our songbirds migrate and when they’re over the oceans, it’s fly or die.
What do you need on a long road trip or after a long run or flight? Shelter, space, water and if you’re like me, you need food and lots of it. (I need donuts, corn nuts and peppermint patties). Birds need food as fuel for migration as it demands serious energy and can result in big-time weight loss – between one fourth and one half of a bird’s total weight. An ample food supply helps birds migrate successfully and since reproductive rates are linked to body mass; plentiful food helps birds be in the best shape possible to raise a family.
Audubon identifies Important Bird Areas (IBAs)across the United States as critical areas for birds, but the most important area for an exhausted migrating bird near you could very well be your yard or balcony. One easy and enjoyable way to help birds is to help them rest, recover and refuel.
Around 15 bird species visit the average yard. Offer a bird buffet with different foods and feeders and you could expand your assistance to nearly 50 different bird species. Place feeders at different levels and try quality seed mixes to help birds such as grosbeaks, jays, sparrows, chickadees, and doves. Offer peanuts, a power-packed food source, to help woodpeckers and nuthatch. Thistle feeds finches. Nectar refuels tired hummingbirds and orioles. Suet provides extra energy during cold months.
Most birds find their food by sight so make sure your feeder is easily seen. Birds like to eat at the same level where they would find food in the wild. Chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, and woodpeckers feed at elevated levels; they’ll enjoy eating from raised feeders. Doves, sparrows, and junco feed on the ground; you’ll see them eating beneath an elevated feeder. Cardinals and jays feed at different levels; they’ll eat just about anywhere.
Get out and enjoy this spring evening, marvel at migration and put yourself “in the corner” of birds. Install your first bird feeder or add a new one to your yard or balcony with new and different foods. Then watch and enjoy the birds and be proud; you’re supporting the most amazing avian athletes on Earth.