Many WNC birds head south in August
It has been a good summer for wildlife. There has been plenty to eat for birds and the four-legged wild critters.
Many gray squirrels have naked tails now. It hampers their ability to jump and stay balanced. By September they will have bushy gray tails to serve as umbrellas and to wrap them in warmth during winter.
Swallows lined up on telephone wires mark the turn of the year and signal that autumn is closer than we may like to think. These birds gather in large flocks and start fall migration to Brazil by mid-August. It isn’t a hurried migration like spring, which is a race to see who can be first on the breeding grounds.
Summer matures in August. Shadows begin to fall in new directions, and the sun shifts in its eternal course. It is a leisurely glide toward fall.
The urgency of time begins to push the insect world. Summer is a lifetime for cicadas, katydids and crickets. Insect time is in a mad rush now.
Green acorns hang heavily in the oaks, ripening by October. The katydids make August nights the loudest of the year. The grasshopper-like insect makes the whole night vibrate with its unique rasping songs. The main chorus doesn’t begin until the hot, humid nights of mid-August. Nights will not be silent again until the heavy frosts arrive.
Orioles are finishing nesting season and preparing for fall migration. The male and fledglings are still around in the treetops. The female leaves the territory immediately after the last fledgling flies from the nest. The male stays around for a couple of weeks trying to keep up with the youngsters and teach them the ways of the bird world.
The female spends at least a couple of weeks in solitude, and begins to molt her tail and wing feathers. The body feathers continue to molt into September. Her fall feathers are an olive color on the back and breast, with yellow under feathers. There must be all new feathers to sustain her during fall migration. The fledglings look like her.
These beautiful splashes of black and orange in the summer trees are members of the blackbird family. The bird gets its name from the resemblance of the male’s colors to those on the coat of arms of Lord Baltimore. Their musical whistles signal that they are high in the trees, making them more often heard and not seen.
The Orioles will sip from hummingbird feeders and will enjoy grape jelly and orange slices. They prefer dark-colored fruit and will pass up ripe green grapes for the deep wine-colored ones. They also enjoy tent caterpillars, hairy type caterpillars and web worms. The gypsy moths do not escape the sharp bill of the Orioles.
The Orchard Oriole swapped the orange of the Baltimore Oriole for a deep burnished russet breast. The female is a yellowish-green bird. She has two white wing bars that make her a little easier to spot. Both the Baltimore and the Orchard Orioles enjoy nectar, fruits and insects.
Baltimore and Orchard Orioles migrate to southern Florida to rest and feed and then move on to Central America winter grounds. The male Baltimore and Orchard Orioles spend a couple of years before they get their vivid colors. Both manage to attract females and mate successfully before they grow the beautiful feathers of a breeding male.
The Baltimore and Orchard Orioles have only one clutch of babies per season. The female builds the nest which can take up to 15 or more days. It is an engineering marvel. She is usually willing to take choice pieces from last year’s nest and incorporate them into her new nest.
Both the Baltimore and Orchard Orioles reach their winter grounds by November,and are back in N.C. backyards the following May. A lot of time is spent migrating, which takes its toll on the birds.
Adult Purple Martins are beginning fall migration, and the juveniles will follow by mid-August. Broad-winged hawks are beginning fall migration also.
Goldfinches are nesting, and the fledglings will be out of the nest by the end of the month. Migration is underway for Ospreys and other raptors. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are into fall migration by mid-August. Northern hummingbirds will visit the mountains on their way south. Keep the hummingbird feeders up through September and even into early October to accommodate stragglers.
Black Bear appetites increase by the day. They are food-driven from now until cold weather. Ground squirrels being to gorge. It is mating season for bats through October.
Keep out plenty of water for drinking and bathing. Take in the birdfeeders, including the hummingbird feeders, by late afternoon to prevent a black bear emptying them.
May you always hear the whisper of wings.