Birding: Light jacket weather means more food for the birds

Weather-wise, I think October is my favorite month of the year. Daytime temperatures are nearly perfect and nighttime temperatures are still pleasant. As the days continue to get shorter, our early morning temperatures are a bit cool for this desert rat, so I have already started wearing a light jacket when I leave the house.

I personally do not like to be cold—at all. When I was working at the Flagstaff store earlier this week, I couldn’t help but think how when we get cold, we simply put on another layer of clothing. For wild birds it is not that simple. What do birds do when they get cold? They eat more!

Wild birds are warm-blooded and need to maintain a high body temperature. Depending upon the species, the temperature for wild birds ranges anywhere from 100 to about 104 degrees. To maintain their body temperature, they need more fuel—which means more food to stay warm when temperatures drop.

While this is not the reasoning behind our October fall seed sale each year, we certainly hear the familiar phrase, “The birds are eating me out of house and home,” a lot this time of year.

Migration is still in process—many of our winter residents are still arriving. I already have white-crowned sparrows and yellow-rumped warblers in my yard, but I have yet to see any dark-eyed juncos or ruby-crowned kinglets. It is only a matter of time before they show up.

This is the perfect time of year to put up suet feeders. Before long, we will begin to experience hard frosts that will kill off the summer insects. Insect-eating varieties of birds feed heavily at suet feeders from now until spring as suet is an excellent insect-replacement food source.

I was on the road every day this past week including a three-day trip to Mexico, Missouri to attend a trade show. I always take my binoculars with me on this annual trip, and make an effort to squeeze in some birdwatching when I am at the show.

I had some good success finding a variety of birds, including six different woodpecker species: pileated, downy, red-headed, red-bellied, northern flicker and yellow-bellied sapsucker. I also saw a variety of migratory birds that were still headed south. I enjoyed observing chimney swifts, common nighthawk, eastern wood-pewee, blue-headed vireo, American redstart, scarlet tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak and indigo buntings to name a few.

Of course, many of the species I saw are year-round residents and will winter in Missouri such as blue jay, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, gray catbird, brown thrasher and northern cardinal.

The same day I got home from Missouri I left for Nevada to attend the “Get Outdoors Nevada Day” event in Henderson. On Saturday, we staffed a vendor booth promoting optics for wildlife observation as we rolled out our new business entity called “Arizona Field Optics.” I have a passion for good optical equipment for birdwatching — what a difference good glass makes when viewing wildlife.

It is always nice to attend outdoor venues where we can aim spotting scopes on real birds. There were numerous double-crested cormorants drying their wings nearby, which allowed participants the opportunity to see nature up close and personal. Participants also used the binoculars we had on display to look at belted kingfisher, black phoebe, and other birds that were hanging around the park.

One fun discovery for me was a busy verdin building its winter nest. Even though it is October, the verdin was gathering nesting material and positioning it in its winter home.

Until next week, Happy Birding!

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with three locations in northern Arizona – Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.