Some birds begin their migration work in August – Courier & Press


Turning the calendar to the first of August does little to turn unrelenting summer into fall.
The so-called “summer doldrums,” continuing in full swing, seem to offer little or no enthusiasm for bird watching, and dried out dying blooms would seem to offer little for birds themselves.
For many birds, however, August marks the end of breeding season, the beginning of migration, and a return to their wintering grounds.
Their fledglings are out of the nest, mostly fending for themselves, with no access to any avian version of unemployment and no option to return home. For them, it’s do or die. So, are parent birds suffering from empty-nest syndrome? They have no more twigs and grasses to gather and weave into nests, no eggs to incubate or babies to feed or teach to fly. Life must be a cruise down  Easy Street, right?
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Wrong. Between the end of breeding season and the beginning of migration (or the onset of winter for those birds that remain), birds molt, replacing most, if not all, of their feathers. Regenerating feathers zaps major energy,  so birds, less agile during molt because of missing feathers, tend to hide out, tucked within dense vegetation, eating and resting.
Some birds, however, are already moving. Typically first to sail south, shorebirds now scurry in ones and twos along area mudflats wherever some of that scarce rain has fallen. While these earliest arrivals may be birds that suffered nest failures and thus left their Arctic breeding grounds prematurely, by mid-August, many shorebird species arrive in waves.
During the summer doldrums, certain birds that generally don’t breed here, disperse from their usual breeding grounds to explore. So birders add rare species to their local bird lists during these not-so-dull-after-all doldrums. Already this season, birders have spotted flocks of great egrets and little blue herons with two remarkable first-ever sightings in the state: limpkin and anhinga.
But the wanderers aren’t here long, disappearing southward well ahead of any chilly weather.
For now, though, purple martins, chimney swifts, and barn and tree swallows have begun massing. They gather the troops, including extended families, before they head south, perhaps catching up on news and neighborhood gossip, meeting all the new kids and grandkids. They fill trees, line area utility wires, and feed in flocks of sometimes thousands.
Aside from migrating birds targeting winter getaways, other end-of-summer activities abound. Young birds sample backyard habitats, measuring them for available food , water, and shelter to survive the upcoming winter. Fledgling indigo buntings disappear into the crowd of house finches and other little brown jobs. Unlike the rest of their feathered cohabitants, however, goldfinches have been gorging, picking through extra pounds of seed, stoking energy for their very late nesting.
Blue jays, in their usual Jekyll-and-Hyde manner, grew silently stealthy during nesting; so their reappearance sparks watching and listening treats for backyard birders.
For birds that came here for the summer to mate, nest, and raise young, they are preparing to do what to us mere humans is unimaginable: Take their one- or two-ounce bodies to the air and fly a couple thousand miles, mostly at night, relying on genetic imprinting to find the way to wherever they’re supposed to go and know when they get there.
Maybe summer doldrums should be called summer delights.
For more information about birds and bird habitat, see Sharon Sorenson’s books How Birds Behave, Birds in the Yard Month by Month, and Planting Native to Attract Birds to Your Yard. Check her website at birdsintheyard.com, follow daily bird activity on Facebook at SharonSorensonBirdLady, or email her at chshsoren@gmail.com.

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