As summer winds down and the temperatures begin to drop, bird activity across the country begins to heat up. All different species of birds begin their journeys back south where they will spend the winter months. Waterfowl, song birds, and even raptors all make the trek each year. Common winter sights in Iowa, like the Bald Eagle, are due to migration patterns. As the rivers and lakes up north freeze, Bald Eagles start flying down to warmer climates where there is open water. Here in Iowa we host Bald Eagles year round but see an influx of them during the winter months. Song birds also migrate, which is why many luck folks in Iowa spend the spring and summer watching birds like the Scarlet Tanager or Ruby Throated Hummingbirds. Only to find them absent in the winter months while other birds, like Juncos, take their place.
If you’re like me, you keep your bird feeders well stocked year round. Over the years I have learned when to switch my feed to more protein based, when the females need calcium, or how soon I should put out my oranges and jelly for the Orioles. One thing I have learned that is so important, especially during migration periods, is to keep your feeders clean. Larger numbers of birds gathering at backyard feeders leads to larger numbers of bacteria. When birds pick up bacteria at these feeders and continue along the migration path they can infect others and affect populations. Regular cleaning can help control this, once a month is suggested. To clean your bird feeders you can wipe down with a mild soap and water solution, ensuring to clean off any droppings or other waste. Removing old seed and covering your feeders during rain showers can prevent mold and mildew growth as well.
It is also important to keep your clean bird feeders full! Migrating birds can rely on backyard feeders for food so that they have the energy to make their journey south. Species like humming birds will almost double their weight before beginning their migration. Keeping these feeders full through September is important in ensuring they are able to find the food needed while they make their way to Florida and Mexico.
Overall birds are accustomed to making their migration journey twice a year but we, as humans, can help out our feathered friends. Making sure you keep clean and safe feeders full will make it easier for them to raise young, stay nourished, and travel along their migration paths.