Migration, Local Movements, and Residential Habitats

Migration, Local Movements, and Residential Habitats

i Oct 31, 2023 No Comments by

Authored by Phil Doerr

November! It’s midway past the time of year when fall migration is really exciting! Every day (well actually night-time!!) holds the promise of delivering  another delightful arrival of amazing numbers of birds, and the potential for some of our favorite woodlands to host a new group of warblers and thrushes. We closely monitor the fruiting dogwoods, tupelos, hackberries and persimmons or oaks for activity.  Almost any oak species supports bocoos of the wee invertebrates sought by the famished hordes! October 7, 2023 “Birdcast.info” radar reported 1.2 billion birds were in flight across North America and Wake County recorded passage of more than a million birds that same night! Most of these birds are passing through to Central or South America, but recently we’re seeing the arrival from the north of a number of species of sparrows that will spend the winter with us and brighten our outings at least until April next year! The list includes Song, Chipping, Savannah, White-throated, Swamp, Field, Vesper, and occasionally White crowned sparrows. The brushy areas these birds frequent are often shared with American Goldfinches, our locally nesting birds, most of whom stay with us all year. However, our winter visitors from the north include some goldfinches fleeing northern regions where the cold is more intense. Consequently, American Goldfinches are often considered to be short distance migrants, or largely non-migratory in the south. Collectively there’s a moderate southerly shift to the continental goldfinch population.

November Goldfinch photo by Bob Oberfelder.

November Goldfinch photo by Bob Oberfelder.

Above photograph is of a post breeding season, likely male, goldfinch w/buffy wing bars, yellow shoulders and throat with a rich almost rusty back. Some of these have been around us recently, this one was “captured” by Bob Oberfelder. Most goldfinches will seem a bit dull soon as they acquire winter plumage via the fall molt.

For the long distance migrants we’re by now all aware of the extreme dangers the night fliers face from glass towers and artificial lights, especially during heavy migration flights. To prevent thousands of  bird deaths on such nights we turn the lights off from 11pm to 6am. It’s very simple and easy! But what about our more local bird movements? Is there danger here?

If we are indeed making our yards bird friendly, with native plants, replacing all or part of the ecological deserts represented by the “lawn” then it’s important we make our yards bird SAFE!

Lights, and glass in neighborhood parks and nearby residences with good habitat can be a death trap for migrating birds and even our winter residents or visitors. Lights may confuse birds and while the habitat may seem otherwise suitable, even single-story structures with windows will reflect habitat and kill birds.

Recent research from Oklahoma State University biologists that examined how bird population abundance reflected mortality revealed that some species were disproportionately vulnerable. These included Black-throated Blue Warbler, Ovenbird, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, Common Yellowthroat, Brown Thrasher, White-breasted Nuthatch, and American Goldfinch. Of special concern to us is that the first several birds in that list are long distance migrants, but there’s continuum to the last three species (including our BOTY!) that are largely short distance migrants or even non-migratory. The long-distance migrants often travel at night in large flocks and are especially vulnerable to the lighted  glass expanses in large cities. The non-migratory birds, (read goldfinches!) seem more vulnerable to local hazards where they live, and thus residential and business structures may be a frequent problem. This underscores the need to eliminate or reduce lighting in or near our homes, and to use bird safe glass so that our feeder citizens (nuthatches, goldfinches, titmice and chickadees) are less vulnerable to window strikes.

For this end of fall migration season month please:

1)Turn out the Lights 11pm-6am!

2) Leave your leaves (the creeply crawlies need’em) and

3) Leave last year’s flowering stems as well-at least until spring greenup. is starts! (there’s lots of eggs and overwintering bugs in there.

 As always thanks for all ya’ll do for the birds-keep it going!

Phil Doerr,  Wake Audubon Board Member & Volunteer

To see all of the posts on the American Goldfinch, go the our Bird of the Year site

Partnerships Help the Lights Out Program Expand

i Oct 16, 2023 No Comments by

Article by Connie Sanchez, Bird-friendly Buildings Program Manager, National Audubon

The night sky looks darker–and the future looks brighter–for birds flying through Raleigh, North Carolina. Starting this fall, Kane Realty Corporation, one of Raleigh’s biggest building managers, has committed to participating in the Wake Audubon chapter’s Lights Out Wake initiative. Going forward, during spring and fall migration Kane Realty will turn off unnecessary lights at its commercial buildings and ask its tenants to do the same. This will be crucial for the Wake Audubon chapter’s ongoing work making the city’s night skies safer for migrating birds, and the new collaboration shows how the Lights Out program is growing locally through national partnerships that create new connections on the ground.

“It is really significant that a commercial entity like Kane Realty recognizes that Lights Out will save birds’ lives and save money,” says Wake Audubon Society board member Phil Doerr. “This influence can help us bring more awareness and persuade more commercial interests to join the initiative.”

For volunteer Lena Gallitano, the partnership with Kane Realty is the biggest thing that’s happened to Lights Out Wake since the group launched the program about ten years ago. She says the inspiration for Lights Out Wake came during a walk with a colleague in 2014, when she saw a Common Yellowthroat trapped in a corner and disoriented by artificial light, and placed the tiny masked bird in a safe place to rest before releasing it in her backyard.

“I opened the container and the bird flew out, landed on a branch on one of my flowers, and turned around and looked at me like, ‘Thank you so much for helping me,’” she says.

Soon after, volunteers started surveying buildings during spring and fall migration to track the number of birds killed or injured by collisions. The data helped them determine buildings of concern in order to work with those building managers.

Volunteer Lena Gallitano holds a Common Yellowthroat killed by window collision in Raleigh. Photo:Kim Brand

The new collaboration with Kane Realty was made possible through Audubon’s ongoing work with KPMG LLP, a multinational company that provides audit, tax, and advisory services. Since 2021, KPMG has been promoting Lights Out to owners and managers across their U.S. offices. Audubon’s Lights Out program has been connecting those offices with Audubon chapter leaders and staff engaged in Lights Out efforts. This is already leading to more sustainable and meaningful partnerships that help KPMG offices save energy while saving birds at the same time.

“At KPMG, we believe in protecting our natural environment,” says KPMG Senior Director of Corporate Sustainability Darren McGann. “By engaging our building property managers in the Lights Out program, we’re taking concrete steps to reduce light pollution and protect migratory birds that play a vital role in our ecosystem. We’re proud to be part of this important initiative by the National Audubon Society, and we hope that our example can inspire others to join us in building a more sustainable and responsible future.”

Billions of night-flying migratory birds make their way through cities during spring and fall migration–and many of them are vulnerable to window collisions. Research indicates that in the United States alone, up to one billion birds die from collisions each year after becoming disoriented by bright artificial lights and skyglow. This month, Chicago saw a mass collision event where 1,000 songbirds collided with a single building in one night. To reduce bird-building collisions, the Audubon network has been working with property owners, building managers, and local governments to shut off, shield, or dim all unnecessary lighting during migration seasons.

Lights Out is gaining momentum, with more than 45 cities involved, programs in 18 of the top 20 most-dangerous metropolitan areas for migratory birds, and several state and regional efforts underway. In North Carolina, the city of Raleigh was the first to join the cause, and, with support from Audubon North Carolina, chapters have established programs with other towns and cities, including Matthews, Greensboro, Asheville, Cary, Winston-Salem, and Chapel Hill.

“Lights Out Wake underscores just how much power chapters have to make change in their communities,” says Ben Graham, engagement director at Audubon North Carolina. “They are on the ground, showing up year after year to reach out to local officials and building managers. We’re seeing the momentum really take off.”

The Lights Out Wake team in 2015. Photo: Courtesy of Lena Gallitano

For Doerr, Audubon chapters are “where residents and constituents can speak directly to local leaders and media to educate and advocate for Lights Out.” And according to Gallitano, the group has learned to be persistent with their message each migration season, build relationships with local elected officials, and communicate the value of Lights Out from many perspectives—from conservation to urban nature and energy savings.

“Every city around is trying to save energy,” she says.

Looking to make your home a more bird-friendly space? Wherever possible, you can help reduce collisions by:

  • Turning off exterior decorative lighting
  • Extinguishing pot and flood-lights
  • Turning off interior lighting, especially on higher stories
  • Down-shielding exterior lighting
  • Installing automatic motion sensors and controls
  • Assessing the quality and quantity of light needed, and avoiding over-lighting with newer, brighter technology

Original article posted on the National Audubon web site

Autumn Garden Activities for a Wildlife-Friendly Yard

i Oct 8, 2023 No Comments by

By Alison Hoover

Autumn is often busy with back-to-school, new schedules, and the rapidly approaching holidays, but fall in North Carolina is an ideal time to be out in the yard and garden. Fall is the perfect time to plant vegetables and bulbs in preparation for spring or prep your lawn for a healthy return in warmer weather. There’s also a lot you can do now to help ensure your yard is wildlife-friendly and help support local ecology. Here are 5 autumn garden activities to foster a wildlife-friendly yard:

  1. Focus on native plants which require less additional water and nutrients, meaning less overall maintenance and impact on the environment. Native plants also support the needs of local wildlife including birds, bugs, insects, and four-legged critters. If your goal is to create a wildlife sanctuary, aim for upward of 70% of all plants in your yard to be native. As the temperatures drop in the fall, you will need less water to help the roots get established. This makes autumn –– particularly September –– the ideal time to install native plants.
  2. Provide food sources with perennials and annuals that bloom throughout the entire growing season. Now is the time to plant bulbs and rip out shrubs or plants you plan to replace come spring. Native plants are best because they are key for encouraging the presence of insects and pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. You want to include nectar plants and host plants, giving these important creatures space to eat and breed.

    Shrubs and trees are also important food sources which double as shelter. You can also consider bird and hummingbird feeders. However, you want to be sure to offer quality seeds and sugar water as opposed to synthetic mixtures. You should also be aware that feeders can attract all sorts of wildlife, not just your intended audience. Be sure to change the food regularly, even on those chilly autumn mornings when you might rather stay inside.

  3. Create habitats and safe spaces for animals to sleep, eat, breed, and protect their young. To support a variety of animals, you want to incorporate layers of vegetation. This means including clusters of shrubs, small trees, tall trees, and evergreens. Evergreens are particularly important during the colder months as they provide shelter from winter winds. Trees are important for nesting animals as they provide protection from predators. Finally, large rocks offer a safe space for butterflies and other insects to sun themselves, which is an important part of their lifecycle.

    As you clean up your yard for winter, consider leaving the leaves under and around trees as they provide shelter and warmth for animals over the long winter. If you plan to do any trimming of trees or hedging of bushes, consider the impact you might have on nesting and burrowing animals. Look before you cut in case there is a shelter or nest already established.

  4. Provide water by incorporating at least one water source, be it a bird bath or a puddling dish. You won’t want to fill the container with water once winter approaches, but you should keep fresh water available as long as it’s safe to do so. If you don’t currently have a water source for animals, now is the time to determine where you’ll place it come spring. This is also the time to find fixtures on sale at the local home supply store.

    In the meantime, you can create a puddling dish by filling a saucer or shallow bowl with fresh water. As soon as the temperatures begin to rise again, you will want to provide water at all times. If your yard is large, try to offer multiple water sources. Throughout spring and summer, remember to change the water frequently so it stays clean and safe, and doesn’t become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

  5. Practice sustainable gardening to ensure a safe and healthy environment today and into the future. Native plants are part of this as they require less additional water, but you also should consider the materials and additives you use. While Americans are pretty enamored by our lawns, all of the fertilizers and chemicals used to make them thrive are terrible for other plants and animal life. Additionally, lawns offer little food or shelter, making them ornamental and not at all useful.

    Instead of adding chemicals, leave the cut grass and fallen leaves on the surface of your lawn. This will add adequate nitrogen and organic matter without introducing dangerous additives. While it isn’t necessary to rip out your lawn altogether, consider how your maintenance practices may impact or support the other efforts you’ve made to create a wildlife-friendly yard. Perhaps you can take autumn as an opportunity to tear out some grass and build a new flower bed for spring.

For a long time, we thought of our yards as simply outdoor spaces that needed to be maintained. With the looming effects of climate change and other results of human activity, we are beginning to see our yards as spaces where we can support wildlife and ecology. Each step toward welcoming and supporting nature is important, no matter how small it may seem.


The Future of American Goldfinches (and all other life forms) is in our hands!

i Oct 1, 2023 No Comments by

Authored by Phil Doerr

This photo of an American Goldfinch by Bob Oberfelder is a reminder that we must pull out all the stops to stem climate warming! July and August 2023 were the hottest months ever recorded on earth, and 2023 is on track to be hottest year ever. In a few years this stunning male American Goldfinch may no longer be able to nest successfully in North Carolina! The Summers may soon be too hot and dry to allow goldfinch chicks to survive, let alone thrive, as they should!

Male American Goldfinch photo by Bob Oberfelder.

To help out we should consider everything we do in the context of how much fossil fuel we use and what activities we engage in contribute to our carbon footprint, because if the climate change problem is not effectively resolved then all other problems become insignificant. Worried about drinking water and air quality, and the future of our retirement accounts, war and immigration pressures, extremes of heat waves, hurricanes, typhoons, floods, locust plagues, and every other catastrophe? We should be, because each of these and many other events will intensify and become more frequent as the planet warms.

As we do all we can to eliminate fossil fuels from the global economy there are meaningful steps to reduce our short term impacts on wildlife, including all things wild. We’ve looked at some of these options during our year with the American Goldfinch so we know how to provide for local goldfinches, and other wildlife!

But now what? –

We can personally commit to using less of everything, joining “buy Nothing” groups, recycling with purpose, and putting lots of pressure on our leaders, and the large corporations that profit from excess production and marketing of all things plastic.

But Wait, there’s more!

We can convert all or part of our lawn areas to native plant meadows and pollinator gardens (via Doug Tallamy’s Home Grown National Park!) and encourage neighbors to do the same.

We can preserve, (not cut down!) and advocate for every large oak tree in the landscape as they are migrating songbird magnets that support over 600 species of invertebrates birds need!

We can work with public parks (and other lands) managers to help control invasive exotics, be they plants or other life forms and to plant native species, always!

But Wait! – there’s still more!

We can refuse to buy or use bottled water, (carry a personal coffee/water mug/cup)

Encourage fast food outlets to switch to paper service for food/drinks, including straws.

Encourage travel and tourism hoteliers to stop providing single use toiletry containers.

And yes, there’s still more!!

We can convert to all things electric, and insist local utilities provide and encourage energy produced from renewables. And we’ve just scratched surface with our to do lists!

The Elephant in the room is us! We can change this trajectory with lots of work, but we can do it! I expect my 13 year old Australian born granddaughter to visit North Carolina at age 40 and see male American Goldfinches in their brilliant breeding attire! -Just as we do today!

As always, thank you for all you do for the birds.

Phil Doerr, Wake Audubon Board Member, and Volunteer ([email protected])

Please remember during this migration season (Sept 10-Nov 30) we turn off all outdoor lighting from 11pm to 6am to save migrating birds and make their long passages safer. This simple action saves, lives and money while reducing our carbon footprint! Check out “Birdcast.info” daily to keep track of nightly events, as viewed by the real time radar images from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology