I’ve mentioned before that I have been watching birds almost as long as I’ve been gardening. And I’m by no means a terribly serious bird watcher–I don’t take bird watching trips and I don’t keep a serious life list or anything like that. But at some point, I did realize that there are 3 distinct bird populations–the one that lives in a place year round, called the resident bird population (I think of this, interestingly enough, as my “winter” bird population–I’m not sure why); the “migratory” bird population that passes through on its way to and from somewhere usually in the spring and fall, and the summer bird population.
This is certainly true for North America. I don’t know how true it would be for the rest of the world. I suspect it’s true for a good portion of the rest of the world, knowing what I do about migratory birds. Even the rain forests have neo-tropical migrants, for example.
Why do I bring this up? Well, because in most places, the seasons are in transition. And this is when nature sends signals to birds who migrate that they need to “get a move on,” so to speak. There are all sorts of misconceptions among folks who feed birds that somehow doing so will disrupt this natural migration–this seems to be particularly true among those that feed hummingbirds, for some reason. Never fear.
The birds are somehow sent signals–scientists are not quite sure what triggers this but lengthening daylight is believed to play a role–that it is time to leave their wintering place and to return to their summering place (to do the reverse in the autumn). Scientists again are not quite sure how the birds are guided along their journey, which can be thousands or even tens of thousands of miles.
Why do I tell you all of this? Because if you have some of these migrating birds in your yard–and we all do–they can be some of the most spectacular birds you’ll ever see. And some of the best ways to entice them is to feed them, either with feeders or with plants that offer them food at their stop over.
As for me, I’m always a little sorry to see one of my favorite little birds, the dark-eyed junco, return to his summer home in the forests of Canada. I’m never quite sure when he leaves me–usually sometime around the end of April. But I know he’ll be back the next October. And in the meantime, I have one of my favorite summer birds, the grey catbird, to keep me company.