Tricky fall migration

Photo by Chris Bosak A female Common Yellowthroat perches in a tree in West Norwalk late this summer.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female Common Yellowthroat perches in a tree in West Norwalk late this summer.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, CT) and The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.)

I’ve mentioned before that the fall migration, for the most part, is less ballyhooed by the birding community.

There are many reasons for this. The spring migration is so eagerly anticipated because it follows winter (usually a harsh one in New England) and birders are itching to see signs of rejuvenation in the natural world. The early flowers do a good job of heightening our spirits, but there’s nothing like the birds’ returning to really get us out of the winter doldrums.

The spring migration is also marked with a wide variety of colorful birds, most notably the warblers and other songbirds that pass through in April and May. The males are in their bright breeding plumage and singing their hearts out. The females are not as brightly colored and not as vocal, but are still a sight for sore eyes in the spring. The birds have a real sense of urgency in the spring migration, too. They need to get to their breeding grounds to get a good nesting spot and get down to the business of keeping the species going.

In the fall, however, we are coming out of summer, a time of vacations, relaxing and much more pleasing weather than winter (at least to most people). We don’t need our spirits to be lifted because they are already up there. We are not dying to get outdoors because we’ve been outside for months.

The birds themselves lack the sense of urgency they had in the spring. The breeding and raising of young part is over. They need to get to their winter grounds, but they are not necessarily on a tight schedule. They are less colorful and much less vocal. The males of many species have lost their bright breeding plumage and look much more subdued. They have little reason to sing, so we scarcely hear them in the fall.

There are also first-year birds flying through (thankfully) and they are yet to establish the bright plumage they will sport when we see them again (hopefully) in the spring.

Photo by Chris Bosak A male Common Yellowthroat lurks in the branches in West Norwalk late this summer.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A male Common Yellowthroat lurks in the branches in West Norwalk late this summer.

Yes, for many birders, the fall migration just sort of happens. It lacks the oomph and fanfare of the spring migration. Of course, the fall hawk migration is a big deal and, especially for people like me, the southward waterfowl migration is greatly anticipated. The songbird migration, on the other hand, is scarcely mentioned in the fall.

But it still happens whether we are paying close attention or not. A walk in the woods or fields these days will likely yield some good birds. Warblers are passing through in great numbers. Sparrows are fun to spot in the fall. Birds such as Bobolinks, tanagers and grosbeaks are heading south. Even hummingbirds, nearly weightless tiny birds, have a long, epic trip ahead of them and pass through our area on their way.

I often see Common Yellowthroats in the fall. The males still have their black-mask plumage, but it’s a bit worn out from the long summer. Females, to me, represent the fall migration in many ways. They are seen fairly often but are so nondescript it is easy to overlook them. They are largely brownish tan, but the yellow parts of the plumage let you know it’s a bird species of note.

Other warblers are seen often in the fall migration, too. I’ve seen several American Redstarts, but mostly young ones and females. In the spring, male American Redstarts are one of the more attractive birds with its black and orange plumage. In the fall, it’s most sightings of pale brown birds with a few flashes of yellow. Yellow-rumped Warblers will also be seen in large numbers as the season wears on.

Identifying warblers in the spring is tough enough when they have bright, very unique plumage and sing almost constantly. Identifying warblers in the fall is a much tougher task. But still fun, of course.

The fall is a great time to be outdoors. The weather starts to get cooler, the colors of the season slowly build to a peak, nature is busy preparing for the cold months ahead. And there are birds. Thankfully, there are always birds.

1 thought on “Tricky fall migration

  1. “Hi, I love the Yellowthroat bird. Yellow is my favorite color. This Yellowthroat is so cute. Great article. I will take in the beauty of fall and look for the beautiful birds like the Yellowthroat that grace the season.” Lisa, via Facebook


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