Help birds prepare for the journey south

BluebirdMost of us may be busy unpacking from our summer holiday, but for many of the birds currently roaming the Quebec skies, the travel season is just about to start.

As fall approaches, many songbirds and insectivorous species, like hummingbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, swifts and swallows, begin the process of preparing for migration to the southern United States, Mexico, the Caribbean or even further into Central and South America. The preparation process, which starts as early as August and can last up to three weeks, is crucial for helping birds to survive the long journey south.

Help birds get in top-feather condition for migration by following these simple steps.

Put out the right foods
To store up enough energy for migration, some birds change their diets starting in the last days of summer. They stop chasing worms and insects and increase their intake of more-readily available fruits and grains that are high in fat and sugar. During this period, birds gain a substantial amount of weight.

What you can do: Clean your feeder on a regular basis, and stock it with fruits and grains. Orioles, for example, will feast on grapes and oranges. Suet and sunflower seeds are good too, as are peanut butter, dried mealworms and crickets.

Clean out the bird bath once a week and fill it with water no more than two inches deep.

Remember to keep the cats indoors!

Ease night-time flying
Much bird migration occurs at night, and soon you’ll see songbirds flocking from tree to tree after sundown. This form of exercise helps them to build muscle mass and adjust to nocturnal flight.

What you can do: Mark up your windows with small x’s using a yellow highlighter or light-coloured stickers. This will prevent birds from accidentally knocking into the glass, since they can see ultraviolet light.

Put waste in the garbage bin so birds don’t get caught in plastic bags and other material that can cause injury.

Prepare for next year
As you think ahead to the next planting season, consider plants that will bear fruits in the fall for migrating birds and provide them with shelter.

What you can do: Choose shrubs from the Cornus species (dogwoods), which bear fruit with a high-fat content; other good options include berry plants like the Saskatoon berry (Amelanchier), crab apples, and the mountain ash tree, which bears clumps of red berries in the fall.

Sources: Lynn Miller, co-founder of Le Nichoir; Nature Canada website; Cornell Lab of Ornithology; California Academy of Sciences magazine.

Image: Rick Tomalty