WORDS ON BIRDS
March is a Critical Month for Birds
March 18, 2017
By Steve Grinley
weather this time of year is challenging for us but it is especially
challenging for the birds. Although many of the robins and bluebirds
that we see now have been here all winter, some true spring migrants
have come into the area over the past few weeks. Just before this
most recent cold snap, flocks of red-winged blackbirds, grackles and
cowbirds had been reported from all over the area. Complaints of
blackbirds over-taking feeders are already pouring in.
Another spring migrant, the killdeer, a plover that prefers fields
and gravelly areas, started arriving a couple of weeks ago. I heard
killdeer calling from the farm across Route 1 from the store and we
had several killdeer on Plum Island in the grasses around the Salt
Pannes. It is hard to imagine what they might find to eat this past
A few phoebes have shown up in
Massachusetts, mostly on the south shore and cape. This member of
the flycatcher family hawks flying insects in mid-air for food.
Those birds have been hard pressed to find any flying insects this
It seems to happen every
year this way. These early migrants, show up in late February or
early March, only to be followed by a snowstorm or other form of
extreme weather. This past week of below-zero wind chills must have
had its effect on these birds. Why don't they just wait another few
weeks before coming to New England? Haven't they learned by now?
After all, most of our winter resident birds are still here. The
winter ducks are still on the rivers. Tree sparrows, juncos and
white-throated sparrows are still foraging for food at our bird
As I drive around and see
so many empty feeders in people’s yards, I worry for the birds that
could be helped with the supplemental food a filled feeder provides.
With the extremes in weather that we are experiencing, it is
important to fill your feeders and keep suet out for the winter
birds and for the returning spring birds as well. Put fruit and
mealworms out for the wintering bluebirds and robins, as it will
also be appreciated by the resident Carolina wrens and mockingbirds.
A heated bird bath with fresh water draws more activity when natural
water supplies freezes up, as was the case so often this month.
In a past National Wildlife
Federation's newsletter, George Harrison wrote: "March is the most
difficult month of the year for birds to find adequate food to
survive winter in most of North America. That's because the supplies
of natural food ... last year's seeds, fruits, berries and insect
eggs and larvae ... are at their lowest levels after months of birds
feeding on them. March is too early for a new crop of seeds, fruits,
berries, and insects to be available. Therefore, birds have to work
harder to find sufficient food during a month when it is still very
wintry in much of the country.
"That's why March is the best time of the year to feed birds in the
backyard. They will respond more readily to feeder foods offered in
March than at any other time of the year. Isn't it curious that in
fall ... October and November ... when natural foods are most
abundant, people take the greatest interest in feeding birds? It is
in fall when there are the greatest number of bird seed sales, bird
feeding seminars, bird store sales, and start-up backyard bird
feeding efforts. By March, the interest in bird feeding has waned,
at a time when the birds need it most.
“Though birds are not dependent on feeders for their survival
(studies have shown that birds glean 75 percent of their daily food
from the wild, even when feeder foods are available), feeding them
in March will make life a little easier for them, and under severe
conditions, may even save them from starvation.”
So please keep those seed and suet feeders full. Help those
wintering birds build up their body fat to survive what's left of
the cold weather and help enable them to travel north when it is
time. It will also help those spring migrants which may stop at your
feeders after traveling hundreds or, sometimes, thousands of miles.
It will certainly lift your spirits to watch the birds at the
feeders during this cold and, often, challenging month of the year.
Bird Watcher's Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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