Local Birding News

Fall Migration is Underway

Fall Migration is underway and while your birdfeeders will slow down in October birdwatching in the area will be more interesting. Have your binoculars with you and ready because Warblers, Tanagers, Orioles, Grosbeaks, and Flycatchers are pouring through middle Tennessee stopping to feed in the early mornings on insects and berries. Mornings are the best time to see lots of different species, and mornings after a storm tend to be even better. Mornings are better because many of the migrants are moving at night. They settle down to rest and feed in the morning. Make time to visit one of the many great local birdwatching areas this fall to see some birds you may not have seen before. The usual hot spots include:

Radnor Lake, Warner Parks, Bells Bend, Harpeth River Greenway,

Hidden Lakes State Park, Gossett State Park, Shelby Bottoms, Montgomery Bell.

Common Nighthawk

Chimney Swift

One of the more interesting things to see in the fall is the migration of Chimney Swifts and Common Nighthawks. In the evenings, particularly in areas where there is outdoor lighting, like high school football games and downtown, these birds gather and feed on insects in impressive flocks.

For information about great places to birdwatch this fall click on the links below…

Tennessee Birding Trails

Tennessee Birding on Facebook

TOS Nashville Chapter-Radnor Lake Wed morning walks

As for birdfeeders October is a good month to do maintenance on bird feeders, cleaning and repairing. We often have, or can get, parts for birdfeeders. It’s a good time to clean out nest boxes, too, or move them to a potentially better location if they were not successful.

Why are feeders slow in October? During the spring and summer birds take great advantage of feeders while they are raising young. Now that the breeding season is over and youngsters are mostly independent a bird’s life is a little more leisurely. And natures harvest is beginning. Weeds, wildflowers, shrubs, vines, and trees are producing seeds, nuts, and fruit. Birds will gravitate to these natural offerings for a while before finding our feeders interesting again. While we miss seeing our bird visitors for a while many of you will get some relief from squirrels, chipmunks, and raccoons, as they too take advantage of natural food sources.

Keep the hummingbird feeders clean and nectar fresh. The hummers are really feeding heavily now. Go out and see some birds!

Open Garden Tour


Saturday, June 15th from 9am to 12pm.

Join John Douglas and Leslie Matthews at their home.

148 Cheek Rd.

Nashville, Tn 37205

Windsong Garden is a retreat where we have created an environment focused on reflection, serenity and relaxation. We have combined over 350 varieties of hosta and over 400 varieties of daylilies with perennials and hydrangeas, as well as our new introduction of native azaleas for spring color and summer texture. Our garden has been featured 4 different times on ‘Volunteer Gardener’.

This year we have completely fenced the backyard and added two more gardens. The first one is at the lower end of the garden with mostly interesting shrubbery. The Second one is a small one on the far side of the house with perennials in deep shade.

          We offer water and food for the birds that reward us with the gift of beauty and entertainment all year long. We provide flowers for the pollinators, especially the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. One of our favorite gardens, the "secret garden", is tucked away in the upper corner providing deep shade for ferns, hosta and spring woodland wildflowers.

Wind and song are present anytime in these gardens. Come and enjoy with us.

If you have questions please email: matthews@harpethhall.org

Spring Feeder Birds

Rose-breasted Gosbeaks

Every spring we are fortunate to see Rose-breasted grosbeaks visit our feeders for an all too brief time as they make their way north to breeding areas. The male is very handsome, sporting black and white plumage, with a v-shaped splash of vibrant red on the chest. The female’s plumage is primarily brown and white, with its underparts heavily streaked. On females you may also see the yellow wing linings. Both males and females have a large, triangular shaped bill. Some years they are scarce at the feeders but others we see small flocks of these birds settle in to feeding areas and seemingly remain for as much as three or four weeks. It’s very likely that you are seeing a daily exchange of at least some of those grosbeaks, though. Birds you saw yesterday may already have moved on to be replaced by new arrivals. They readily accept a variety of seeds, mostly sunflower and safflower, and most tube, hopper, and platform feeders accommodate them nicely. Let us know when and how many you see.

Indigo Bunting

Another very nice bird, although not as common in numbers at feeders as the RB Grosbeak, is the Indigo Bunting. A breeding male Indigo Bunting is blue all over, with slightly richer blue on his head and a shiny, silver-gray bill. Females are basically brown, with faint streaking on the breast, a whitish throat, and sometimes a touch of blue on the wings, tail, or rump. Immature males are patchy blue and brown. One may see them feeding on sunflower, safflower, millet, and finch feed. They are apt to visit hanging feeders as well as forage on the ground.

This small bright blue bird spends its winters in central and southern parts of South America, and can been seen across eastern North America in the spring and summer months. Indigo Buntings eat small seeds, berries, buds, and insects. They are common on the edges of woods and fields; along roads, streams, rivers, and power line cuts; in logged forest plots, brushy, and abandoned fields where shrubby growth is returning. A great local spot to see Indigo Buntings is along the Harpeth greenway that runs behind Ensworth high school and Warner parks where the field hits the tree line along the Harpeth River. They can be seen darting in and out of the tree line foraging for insects and small seeds in the fields and trees.

Like all other blue birds, Indigo Buntings lack blue pigment. Their jewel-like color comes instead from microscopic structures in the feathers that refract and reflect blue light, much like the airborne particles that cause the sky to look blue.

Baltimore and Orchard Oriole

The Baltimore and Orchard Oriole are not really common spring feeder birds but worth mentioning. They migrate through TN on the way to their breeding destinations, which tend to be north of TN. Some of my bird store associates in Iowa and Ohio do a very strong “Oriole” business because they are in the heart of Oriole breeding territory. Both species of Oriole are insect, fruit and nectar feeders.

We often encounter a customer that reports a Baltimore at their seed feeder which would be extremely unusual, but not impossible. After a few questions and shared pictures it is usually determined to be a male Eastern Towhee. There are similarities but when seen side by side very distinct differences.

The Baltimore is the more familiar of the two and is known for its bold orange and black plumage. Females are olive to brown above and burnt orange-yellow below. White wing bars are very noticeable. Baltimore’s are about 8” in length, long tailed, and have sharply pointed beaks.

The Orchard Oriole is slightly smaller. The male is a rich chestnut color on its underparts and black above. Females are an olive-green above and yellowish below, much like female Tanagers, but have distinguishable white wing bars.

Over the course of 25 years I have tried various proven methods of attracting Orioles to my yard with little success. Available information about Orioles suggests orange halves and jelly are the two most common food choices to grab an Orioles attention. None of my attempts with these offerings ever produced results.

The years I did attract them I did nothing specific to make it happen. A few times I had multiple male Orioles visiting hummingbird feeders, and other years it has been the moving water source (fountain) that is very popular with all birds. The times they decided to come to hummingbird feeders were likely a result of a lack of natural food sources they would normally be drawn to during their spring travel. Over the course of the few days Orioles were visiting my hummingbird feeders I also presented orange halves in plain view, because that’s what you always see pictures of them feeding on, but they showed no interest and seemed to be content with the sugar water nectar.

Winter bird activity

We hope everyone had a great holiday season and many thanks to all of you who shopped with us and brought us baked goods. We greatly appreciate all of you. During the holidays we get so busy running the store our weekly blog takes a vacation. Many of you give us favorable feedback on our blogs, which is nice to hear, but if there is a subject you think we should touch on please let us know.

So far this has been a fairly uninteresting winter for bird feeding enthusiasts. Although people have seen Red-breasted Nuthatches at feeders sightings have slowed. If you live where there is a presence of pine or cedar trees keep a close eye on your feeders this cold weekend. Red-breasted Nuthatches show a preference for areas with pine and/or cedar. Since I have no pine trees I recently ventured out to Montgomery Bell State Park and only had to step out of my truck in the visitor parking area to see a group of 5 or 6 in the cedar tree I had parked near. By the way if you really want to see Red-headed Woodpeckers you will see them at Montgomery Bell. They, too, seem to prefer open areas adjacent to forest along with lots of pine trees. I enjoy golfing and birding at MB and marvel at the great numbers of “Red-heads “present.

Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Red-headed Woodpecker.

Red-headed Woodpecker.

With the fluctuations in temperature come fluctuations in feeder consistency. On warm days, anything in the 50’s or more, insects become active and your feeder birds may gravitate to the sudden availability of protein. Birds do not live on seed and suet alone and never will. Customers sometimes make the comment “the birds must be confused”. Not likely. They simply adapt to changing weather patterns and take advantage of whatever food sources become available. Although, on Tuesday when it reached nearly 70 degrees I heard some birds singing which is usually reserved for spring and summer. So maybe they are a little confused, or perhaps eager.

Some notable sightings around Nashville include numerous reports of Sandhill Crane flocks flying over, a Bald Eagle regularly seen around Hillwood Golf Course, and a Snow Goose at Radnor Lake. One sighting of an Evening Grosbeak in east TN got me a bit excited because it’s been 30 years since notable numbers of them have been seen in this area. And they like to visit bird feeders. But more sightings were not reported and the chance to see them here fizzled.

Sandhill Crane.

Sandhill Crane.

Evening Grosbeak.

Evening Grosbeak.

Fall Migration Notes

Fall Migration is underway and while your birdfeeders will slow down as we approach October birdwatching will only get more interesting.  Have your binoculars with you and ready because warblers are pouring through middle Tennessee stopping to feed in the early mornings on insects and berries.  Mornings are the best time to see lots of different species of warblers.  And mornings after a storm tend to be even better.  Make time to visit one of the many great local birdwatching areas this fall to see some of them.  For information about great places to birdwatch click on the links below…

  • Tennessee Birding Trails is a great website for locating trails for specific types of birding.

  • Tennessee Birding Facebook group has an active community of birders who post often.

  • Tennessee Ornithological Society (TOS) Nashville Chapter is having their Radnor Lake Wed morning bird walks September 19th and continue each Wednesday through October 10th. Please meet in the west Parking lot outside the Visitor’s Center at 7:30am. Come rain or shine. With the exception of ongoing downpours or thunderstorms.

  • TN-BIRD email list is a free list that allows you to get updates of bird sighting from other birders in the area. to receive emails simply click on “find and join” at the top right of the tn-bird page, search for list name tn-bird, and follow the instructions on signing up your email.

One of the more interesting, easy, and fun things to see in the fall is the migration of Chimney Swifts and Common Nighthawks. In the evenings, particularly in areas where there is outdoor lighting, like high school football games and shopping malls, Common Nighthawks gather and feed on insects. Downtown areas tend to be very productive areas to see both.

The Common Nighthawk, a member of the Goatsuckers family, measures around 9 1/2 “in length. They are gray-brown with slim, long wings that have a distinctive white bar near the tips. They are most active at night but can be seen midday as well. They fly with long easy strokes but can quickly change direction and appear erratic as they catch flying insects. Male Nighthawks have a white throat and white band across a notched tail. Listen for the unusual “peent” call of the Nighthawk.

The Chimney Swift is a short swallowlike bird with long, slightly curved wings. Peterson’s field guide to Eastern Birds describes it as a “cigar with wings”. Always in motion, Swifts appear to continually fly never landing to rest and constantly “twitter”. They measure about 5 ½” in length and are uniformly grayish to brown. During migration Swifts have been known to roost together by the thousands in a single chimney. On more than a few occasions I have witnessed a “funnel” of swifts descending into the chimney of a downtown building while on my way to a Predators game. It is a fascinating sight.

And About Hummingbirds

We may see Ruby-throated hummingbirds well into October so keep your feeders out with fresh nectar as there may be several waves of hummingbirds still coming through TN on their return to Central and South America. The belief that feeders should be taken down to cause the birds to migrate is incorrect.  They will leave when they are ready whether there is a feeder present or not.