fall migration

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.  

Bird Bio: Winter Wren

During the month of October several of our winter birds will be arriving.  One of the less common is the Winter Wren.  This is our smallest wren and can be found across the state October through April.  I have seen them most often along the Harpeth River, making their way through dense underbrush in search of food; insects and berries.  Don’t expect to see this 4” bird (Carolina wrens are 5 ½”) at your feeders, although it is possible.  I have only seen this bird at a suet feeder a few times and only during the most bitter and snowy weather. You are more likely to attract them with brushpiles.

The Winter Wren is described as a very small, round, dark wren and has a much stubbier tail than the other wrens.  It has an indistinct buffy eyebrow and a heavily barred belly.  It is a busy little bird, bobbing and flicking its wings and tends to stay near the ground. It has a beautiful, complex song, however, around hear one is more likely to hear its “yip” “yip” call.

A few good places to see a Winter Wren are the Harpeth River Greenway, Hidden Lakes Park, Gossett Tract, and Narrows of the Harpeth.

The Fall Slowdown

Have you noticed a lack of bird activity at your feeders in the last few weeks? It’s not anything you’ve done wrong and there is nothing wrong with the seed, it’s the seasonal transition that makes birds scarce at feeders. 
This time of year many of you will notice an abrupt and sometimes dramatic slowdown at your feeders.  You may even notice some species become practically non-existent.  Bird feeders in September and October are typically very quiet. This is normal and understandable.  With thebreeding season well behind them birds are now in less need of a quick, easy food source like your feeders.  While raising their young during the months March through July birds expend great energy and will take full advantage of backyard feeders.  We sell far more seed and suet during those months than we do even in winter.
Let’s not forget that the food birds get at your feeders is really only a supplement to their natural diet.  They do not become dependent on feeders.  Their frequency of visits to feeders is based largely on what is going on at that time in their life-cycle, seasonally and environmentally.  Your feeders are slow at this time of year because the breeding season is over and adults are not raising and feeding young, and practically all plants; weeds, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees, are producing seeds, nuts, and fruit.  Birds are taking advantage of the bounty nature is providing them.  Nature provides all this food in the fall to help wildlife get through the winter.  They are busily feeding and storing food for the months to come.  Will this be a tough winter? The birds likely know.
So don’t worry that you are not seeing many birds around the feeders right now.  It is totally normal. About the time we get the first frost or two you will begin to see a return of your favorite birds to feeders.  And be on the lookout for our winter birds like Purple finch, Pine siskin, Red-breasted nuthatch, and White-throated sparrow.
Although there are fewer everyday hummingbirds are still being seen.  Keep at least one feeder going and keep the nectar fresh.