The Birds that migrate in September and early October

By Benjamin P. Burtt

TOPICS: The Birds that migrate in September and early October.

The Feeder Survey Begins in Two Weeks. Discussion of what it is, how you can help and Complete Instructions for you to follow.

This column is divided into two sections here
Section 1 contains a copy of the column as it appeared in the newspaper on the date above.
Section 2 contains additional information on the Feeder Survey that starts October 3, what it is is and how you can help me with this scientific project. Detailed instructions are provided for your participation.


BIRD COLUMN FOR September 19, 2004
By Benjamin P. BurttMIGRATION NEWS
Many birds that are just here during the summer have gone south already. They slip away and we do not notice. These include chimney swifts, nighthawks and hummingbirds.

During September, warblers are going through from their nesting grounds further north and we will not see them again until spring.

Migrating thrushes will be conspicuous in the coming weeks. The veery, which breeds here as well as to the north, left in mid-September. All the other thrushes, however, will now gradually pass through in numbers. Each individual will be here for a day or two and will be replaced by others as it moves southward a bit each day. Wood thrushes are next, but by mid-October all of them will have passed through our yards.

Also coming through from the north are the grey-cheeked thrush and the Swainson's thrush. They will be seen for about three more weeks.
The bluebird, hermit thrush and the robin continue their migration until mid-November.

As for flycatchers, all will be in gone in a few days except the phoebe. By the end of October it too will be gone.

Some birds feed on the ground during migration and stop off in our yards where we can easily see them. The dark-eyed juncos and the white-throated and white-crowned sparrows are for many of us the most exciting migrants in the fall season.

These species are just beginning to show up. Flocks in the back yard brighten the October days, but they will all be gone by the end of that month.


While most white throated sparrows and juncos go further south, a few remain in Central New York through the winter. Another sparrow that spends the winter here is the tree sparrow. It breeds farther north than does the white-throat or junco. It nests in the Arctic beyond the trees, but spends the winter in the Northern United States. It will be along in a few weeks.

CAPTION: Migrating Sparrows. The two most conspicuous sparrows that will be moving through are the white-throated sparrow, top, and the white-crowned sparrow, bottom, shown in this painting from Roger Tory Petersons "Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America." Both birds have stripes on the crown, an unstreaked breast as adults, but the white-crowned sparrow is a grayer bird. The white-crowned has a pink bill instead of a dark one and it lacks the white throat patch. The white-throated sparrow also has a yellow spot in front on the eye.(Courtesy of the Houghton Mifflin Co. )


The October feeder survey starts two weeks from today on Sunday October 3 and continues through the following Saturday. I hope that you can help me with this.

This is a scientific project that I have been operating since 1959 that utilizes readers of this column who observe the birds in their yard and report the numbers and species to me. It is a lot of fun and if you haven't participated before, the following paragraphs describe what it is and how you can help out.

Your observations will help me find out what birds are visiting our yards and feeders throughout the winter. When the results are printed, you can compare the number and types of birds at your feeder with other feeders in the area. I will be able to compare this years results to earlier years.

Participation in this fun project is open to all readers of this column who live in Central and Upstate New York State. Here is how I define the limits of that area.

The northern boundary is the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario west to Rochester.

From there the boundary goes south to Elmira and Binghamton. From Binghamton the line goes north east along Interstate 88 to Albany and then north on Interstate 87 to the border with Canada.

Thus it includes all of the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes regions.
For those of you familiar with the reporting regions of the former Federation of NY State Bird clubs, it includes all of Regions 2 through 7 and part of 8 ( The Federation has a new name, The New York State Ornithological Association ).

History of this projectThis feeder survey was started in the winter of 1958-59, and data have been gathered every year since then. The idea was suggested by the late Dr. Francis Scheider. So this is the start of the 45th year of this project.

In 1970, a feeder survey was initiated in England. In 1976, one was started in Ontario, Canada, by the Long Point Observatory. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology began a survey for the whole United States in 1987.

This is what you do.
Starting on the first Sunday of the designated month and continuing through Saturday, when you have a few minutes, look out the window at the feeders in the yard, and record the number and species of all birds that you can see from the house at that moment. These birds can be at the feeder or anywhere in sight.

Those flying by can be counted if you are sure of the identification. You can record birds that you see when you are outside as long as you are looking from a point right near the house. Birds seen on hikes nearby are not to be included in the list.

To avoid counting the same bird more than once, write down the maximum number of a given species that you see at one time. This way, you know that there are at least that many birds visiting your yard.

Later that day or on another day during the week, check the yard again and write down the number of each species that is visible at one time during that period. Watch as often as you like and keep these lists until the end of the week. You don't have to watch every day, but any day Sunday through Saturday can be included.

Then, summarize your observations by preparing a single list for me that shows the name of each species seen and the largest number of birds of that species sighted at any one time during the week. For example, if you see a total of 42 house sparrows this week, but never more than nine at a time, nine is what you put on the list that you send in.

There may be more than nine house sparrows around your yard, but we are certain that there are at least nine.

We conduct a survey for a week starting the first Sunday of the month from October through May. Through these surveys we see how the population of different species changes throughout the winter. We can also pick out long-term changes in the population of some species over the years.

Preparing the list.
There are several things you can do to make the tabulation easier for me. First, it is a big help if each list has the birds in the same order. If you can, please use what is called "check-list" order. It is the order the birds are listed in your field guide and the order I use when I publish the list of birds seen on a survey.

The second way you can help is to put each species on a separate line with the number of birds first and followed by the name of the species.

Please write the total number of species at the top of your list.

Unusual birds. If you list a bird that is unusual in this part of the country or should not be here at the time of the survey, or closely resembles a species common in our area, please write a note describing the field marks you observed and how you made your decision.

Sending in the ReportsAt the end of the week, put your final list on a postcard or in a letter and send it to the address below. You can use EMAIL if you wish. If you do use Email, please give your name and address so I will know where your observations were made.

PLEASE send your report by Monday right after the survey so that I can get the tabulation done in time to write up the results by the following Saturday.

Send your feeder survey report to either of the following addressesBy Regular Mail: Ben Burtt, PO Box 4915, Stars Magazine, Syracuse, NY 13221.

By E-Mail: Send to Be sure to put "For Ben Burtt" in the Subject Line.
How you can read the Summary Report of the results.

About 3 weeks after a particular survey week ends, when the next survey starts, I will make available on this web site a detailed discussion of "The Feeder Survey Results" It will include the complete list of species, a discussion of all the trends and unusual birds reported, as well as the longest and shortest lists, etc. Click on COLUMNS and then the date of that column.

A brief discussion and summary of the observations is published in the newspaper on that same date, but there is not enough space there for all of the details that are in the summary of the survey on this web site.