Wild Things…
Spring Bird Migration
By Karen Vizzi
    The peak of spring bird migration is almost upon us! It’s a very exciting time for us bird lovers because it’s a chance to see different species pass through our gardens on their way to summer nesting grounds…species we would not normally see there at any other time of year. I find I have my very best sightings during the first and second weeks in May. Last May 6th I had visits from 3 different warbler species - a yellow, a yellow-rumped and a magnolia - all within the time span of one hour.
     What makes the spring migration so special is that many songbirds have already molted to colorful breeding plumage and are easier to identify. In fall when they make their way south, songbirds have usually molted to drabber winter plumage and are not as easy to spot. I like to make my wild garden as bird-friendly as possible all year round but especially during migration periods. 
     This is the time when you want to be sure all your birdbaths and feeders are kept clean and filled. Keep a careful eye on hummingbird feeders, which can develop bacteria quickly. To feed hummingbirds, I use a standard formula of 1 cup white sugar to 4 cups water, which I boil and allow to cool before filling. Adding red dye or food color to this mixture is not a good idea! Instead, select feeders that have red parts (like fake flowers) as your attractant. If the hummers don’t drink it all, this mixture should be changed every few days to keep it from spoiling. As the days grow hotter, check it daily. I wash hummingbird feeders out with a solution of vinegar and water, never soap.
     In addition to seed, other treats to offer at this time of year can include orange halves and a few dollops of grape jelly. Orioles will be especially grateful. If you are not squeamish, try putting out some mealworms or dehydrated grubs (available at specialty bird shops). As birds begin the breeding process, they will be looking for the extra protein they find in insects. I also mix eggshells that have been baked and crushed into my feeder seed. Breeding females need the extra calcium.
     Another way to help your feathered friends during this important time is to offer nesting materials. I take an old mesh onion bag and fill it with dryer lint, dog hair (which is never in short supply at my house) and small pieces of raffia and straw. Never include long strands of anything, as this may be harmful to hatchlings. Then I hang the bag where I can see which birds might use my junk to build their nest.
     Although no one wants to think about fall right now, keep in mind that the same birds we now see heading north will eventually head south. So when you are selecting shrubs and plants this spring, choose those that will have some kind of value in the wild garden. Shrubs and plants that bear fruit, seeds and berries will be the most likely to attract attention during the journey south.
     The funny truth is that I know that my avian visitors will most certainly go about the cycles of their life without any help from me.  But participating even just a little bit brings it closer to my eyes and closer to my heart.
    Bird Brainers: Watch carefully now and you will see many birds selecting materials for their nests.
    Butterfly Bullets: This week’s predicted warm temperatures may bring a lot of butters out of hiding early. I spotted quite a few red admirals this past week.
     Plant Pointers: It’s a good time to plant the seeds of lettuces. Be sure to do successive sowings every two weeks to keep fresh salad on the table all summer.

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