For the last month or so, backyard birdwatchers have been caught up in a flurry of excitement as their backyard birds begin fall migration. As the traffic around feeders quiets down, it seems like there may not be much to see once the cool weather begins. However, there are many species of birds that don’t migrate.
Migration in Search of Food
While most people think birds migrate due to the drop in temperatures, migration is mainly about food sources. For birds whose source of food is insects and nectar, migration is necessary for survival. Insect and nectar sources dwindle as the weather begins to change. However, birds that eat seeds and other foods can find an abundance of food during the winter months.
Birds That Stay Put During Fall Migration
There is a surprisingly diverse number of birds that will stay put in your backyard habitat while other birds begin fall migration. Birds that do not migrate include:
- Birds of prey like the vulture
- Woodpeckers such as the red-bellied, downy, and pileated woodpecker
- Owls such as the great horned owl, barred owl, and screech owl
- Game birds such as the quail, wild turkey, and sage-grouse
- Titmice, black capped chickadee, and Carolina chickadee
- Blue jays, ravens, and magpies, dark-eyed juncos, starlings, and robins
- Songbirds like the northern mockingbirds and northern cardinals
- One bird in the hummingbird family, the Anna hummingbird
Winter Food Sources and Adaptation
For birds that don’t migrate, adapting to changes in their environment is key to their survival when staying put year-round. The adaptations a bird must make depends on the species, but there are several vital to all birds who do not migrate such as:
Making Different Food Choices– While the foods of choice during spring and summer tend to be insects, berries, and nectar, birds that do not migrate will eat nuts and seeds in fall and winter. Bird feeders will be a big part of their diet, but they will also feed on grain and sap in trees before it freezes.
See also: 10 Best Foods for Bird Feeding
Building a Pantry – Most people have spotted a squirrel burying nuts in late summer. You might be surprised to find out that birds do a similar thing. Starting in late summer, birds begin to hide extra supplies of food. Seeds and nuts will be tucked into tree crevices and other safe areas. Some birds will even bury their food. Just as squirrels burying nuts helps replenish the earth with trees, seeds not eaten will often sprout into grasses or plants.
Molting – Birds that do not migrate also adapt by molting later—in early fall. This extra layer of protective feathers insulates them, keeping body heat in, and protecting them from extreme cold.
Learn about molting: Why Your Backyard Birds Look Different in Late Summer
Becoming Fearless – Birds that do not migrate are often more aggressive. Their survival depends on their becoming more dominant and curious. This personality adaptation helps them explore objects that may potentially be a source of food or shelter. It also helps them defend territories from intruders.
Mingling Flocks – We have all heard the phrase ‘safety in numbers’ and it’s just as true for birds. Birds that do not migrate will often join forces with other non-migrating birds, regardless of species. Coming together as a flock means better chances of finding food, which benefits the whole flock. It’s common for small bird species to mingle together as they help one another find additional food sources.
Huddling for Heat – When the cold comes in, small birds like nuthatches and chickadees will gather in tree cavities together, sharing shelter and generating body heat to keep one another warm.
Give Non-Migratory Birds a Helping Hand
While birds that do not migrate are able to adapt to their changing environment, backyard birdwatchers can help these year-round residents survive the cold winter months.
Despite their ability to find sources of winter foods, you can help ensure they find food by hanging extra bird feeders in your yard. Consider placing them strategically throughout your yard so birds can find seeds no matter where in your yard they may congregate.
Until temperatures hit freezing, you can hang fruit feeders around your yard. Fruit is an excellent source of sugar which gives birds the energy they need during inclement and changing weather. Birds enjoy several types of fruits, including oranges, apples, and grapes. Slice the fruit and offer it to birds on a platform feeder or a fruit feeder.
Lastly, don’t forget that like humans, birds need a source of clean drinking water year-round. Maintain your birdbath, keeping it clean and mold/algae free. Once temperatures hit freezing, consider using a bird bath heater so that they will continue to have drinking water.
Enjoy your Winter Residents
As the last of your backyard birds leave your yard for fall migration, it’s not the end of your birdwatching days. It’s the beginning of a new season and an opportunity to welcome birds that you haven’t seen in a long time—or ever before.
Roll out the welcome mat with plenty of food sources and you’re sure to enjoy a flurry of feathered activity throughout the coming fall and winter months.