Parker County Today September 2016 - Page 59

Nuthatch PA R K E R C O U N T Y T O D AY that you can trust their amazing navigational prowess on their return flight. Remember, feeding birds year ‘round can make your backyard a valued rest stop on their lengthy journey. Offer these travelers a variety of food: seed, suet and seed cakes. Keep your feeders full, maintain fresh water in a bird bath, and keep an eye on the skies in anticipation of the flight home for the spring season. SEPTEMBER 2016 Hundreds of thousands of birds, sometimes millions, migrate across North America: warblers, nuthatches, wrens, vireos, orioles, tanagers, owls, swallows and many others. In fact, most of the birds that we look for as harbingers of spring all travel under the relative safety of darkness on any given night during both the spring and fall seasons. In the spring, migrating birds make their way from warmer summer climates where they’ve spent the winter, heading ever northward to breeding territories across the United States and Canada with the intention of staking out a good territory and finding a mate. Ornithologists estimate 5 billion birds migrate in North America alone. Likewise in the fall, the inverse is true. With the onset of colder weather many of the birds we enjoyed during the warm weather will be moving out of the area to enjoy the warm weather further south. Our hummingbirds, Painted Buntings, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Summer Tanagers, and Barn Swallows are some we will miss seeing during the colder winter months. However, we will gain the American Goldfinch, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Red Breasted Nuthatch, Ruby Crowned Kinglet and even the Gold and Bald Eagle just to name a few, during these cold winter months. Keep on the lookout and you may see Baltimore Orioles, Blue Grosbeaks, Yellow Headed Blackbirds, and Ospreys who fly through our area on their way further south. Night flight is good Barn Swallow for ‘powered’ fliers, birds that flap rather than glide, and the majority of land birds migrate this way. Traveling at night is easier and safer . . . The air is generally smoother. Less turbulent skies when the sun is down makes flying easier, thereby helping birds maintain their course. The cooler temperatures conserve birds’ energy. A migrating bird produces quite a lot of excess heat that needs to be released from its body, and it does so through its un-feathered legs. The cooler the air around the bird, the quicker that heat can be released. Airborne predators are less likely to be hunting at night. Food is easier to find during daylight hours. Night migrating birds will load up on calories during the day to help regain weight lost during their night flight. While this night migration is largely unseen, it is not unheard. Each migrant bird species gives a unique flight call while flying, some as brief as 20 milliseconds. Scientists call these chirps and tweets Night Flight Calls, or NFCs, and while barely discernible by humans, scientists have been monitoring and analyzing this overhead communication to help identify the species and their migration patterns. It’s thought that NFCs help flocks of birds stay together while they navigate through the darkness. Clearly, birds do not journey forth ‘on a wing and a prayer.’ They take clues from geographical landmarks, sunlight, night stars, environmental sounds and even wind direction. Most birds use more than one navigational system, and they almost always reach their intended destinations. For migratory birds, especially long distance migrants, timing is everything. They know to time their travels to get them to their destination after severe weather has passed, and when a reasonable supply of food is assured. When colder weather arrives and you realize the lovely birdcalls have left your area, be consoled in knowing 57