Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Fall Brings New Birds to the Backyard

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Credit: Marie Longo

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Credit: Marie Longo

Autumn is a wonderful time of year in the Meadowlands, a time when the hectic days of summer slowdown in favor of the cool season’s winds and the beautiful golds, scarlets and crimsons of fall colors.

I don’t think I could live in a part of the country that didn’t have a real change of season like we have here in New Jersey. Every season brings many changes to the natural world, and none more dramatic and diverse than autumn.

Just as our lifestyle changes in the fall, it also changes in many ways not only for the birds of the Meadowlands, but also for our backyard birds.

Purple Finch Credit: Joe Koscielny

Purple Finch
Credit: Joe Koscielny

The Catbirds that we enjoyed watching flitting around our gardens are starting to move south, the Blue Jays that spent the summer with us now travel on only to be replaced by other Blue Jays from the north. The Orioles, House Wrens and Hummingbirds by mid-October are for the most part just a fond memory of the summer gone by.

When it was nesting time birds became more territorial, but now as fall presses on many birds will form flocks for the winter to be better protected from predators and to make it easier to find food. Although the harsh New Jersey winter winds will soon begin to blow, most of our well known backyard birds such as Cardinals and Chickadees are not migratory and will stay around to face the freezing temperatures along with us.

But just as other birds say goodbye to us till next spring, many other wonderful bird species will call our backyards home for the winter.

As we find ourselves breaking out the warm coats and hats, turning off the air conditioners and crawling under the blankets at night, many birds species will be making the journey from the far north to your New Jersey backyard to spend the winter. Compared to the harsh northern winters of Canada and New England many birds will find our climate and food availability much more agreeable, the equivalent of us spending the winter in Boca Raton.

The winter diversity of birds sometimes depends on the natural food production from trees such as birches and Spruce. For raptors such as the Rough-legged Hawk and the Snowy Owl, the low populations of some rodent species could be the driving force that brings them down to New Jersey.

Backyard birds to Look for this Fall

 *Dark-Eyed Junco

I remember when my two boys were small they loved watching out the window for the first Junco of the year. This tiny member of the Sparrow family breeds as far north as the coniferous forests across Canada .You can find them scurrying under your shrubs and trees and especially under you bird feeders searching for small seeds such as white millet

 *Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yes, this is a real woodpecker that migrates here from the forests of the north. Male and Female Sapsuckers have red foreheads, and males also have red throats.  They feed at sapwells, which are rows of dime sized holes they borer in tree bark. Sapsuckers lap up the sweet sap along with any insects that may get caught there. They also will occasionally visit a suet feeder.

White-throated sparrow  Credit: Alice Leurck

White-throated sparrow
Credit: Alice Leurck

 *White-Throated Sparrow

When you hear the sound of “Oh-sweet-Canada” in your backyard you will know the White-throated Sparrow is back to spend another winter. White-throated Sparrows stay near the ground, scratching through leaves in search of seeds that have fallen to the ground, and are especially attracted to the backyard bird feeder. They most often are found in flocks and can be heard singing their characteristic songs throughout the winter. White-throated Sparrows are already being heard in our area so keep a sharp eye out for these beautiful little birds.

*Red-breasted Nuthatch

Smaller than our year round White-breasted Nuthatch this little bird has already been reported in our area. The Red-breasted Nuthatch can be attracted to your feeder by putting out large seeds such as sunflower and peanuts. Listen for their nasal, yammering call and watch your flocks of Chickadees. One may be a Red-breasted Nuthatch!

*Winter Finches

Some years the natural food sources such as birch tree catkins to the north do not produce well. That is when we get something called a bird “irruption.” this can be a very exciting time for birders as we may get Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins and Purple Finch . By keeping your Goldfinch feeder filled with nyjer seed you may be lucky to see one of these rare visitors to your backyard.

*Sharp-Shinned and Coopers Hawks

Our backyards would not be complete without the birds of prey. Although at times it may be a little hard to watch a Sharpie or Coopers hawk dining on your favorite Cardinal, it is all part of the natural cycle of life and a good indicator that the ecosystem of your backyard habitat is as it should be. Both Sharp-shinned and Coopers Hawks are both accipiters , which means they specialize in preying upon other birds and are the most likely hawk to take up residence around your birdfeeder this fall. Watching these magnificent birds of prey in action is an incredible experience that you can witness right outside your window first hand rather than on a Sunday TV PBS special.

The wonderful thing about nature is that no season is ever the same. Nature always brings us wonderful new discoveries and new birds to the backyard. So break out your field guides and clean off your binoculars. Fall is a very exciting time for bird lovers!

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