September 2014

Take Action September 10, 2014

The One Thing You Can Do To Help Migrants

Cornell Citizen Science staff answered the question: “What’s the one thing people can do to help migrants?” Below are their answers!

Photo © Wally Elton

Put out a bird feeder

Some people believe they should stop feeding birds right after Labor Day because the birds’ southward migrations will be interrupted. However, a bird’s migratory urge is primarily triggered by day length (photoperiod), and even an abundance of foods at your feeders will not make a bird resist that urge. In fact, your feeder might provide a needed energy boost along a bird’s migration route.

You can also help by signing up for Project FeederWatch: your support of this program helps researchers study bird abundance and distributions across the United States and Canada. Additionally, you can count the birds at your own feeder and submit that data to FeederWatch so that migrants in your own backyard are recorded and documented.

Learn more and sign up here: http://feederwatch.org/about/how-to-participate/

Dr. Emma Greig
Project FeederWatch Project Leader

Photo © Michaela Sagatova

Don’t deadhead your flowers

Be lazy. Sometimes the best thing you can do for migrating birds is nothing. Don’t rake up those leaves. Don’t deadhead your flowers. Most songbirds switch from eating seeds to insects during nesting season, then turn back to seeds for fall and winter. Birds, like chickadees, goldfinches, yellow-rumped warblers, and indigo buntings will delight you with their acrobatics to get at the dangling seeds. Flowers such as artemisia, aster, coreopsis, goldenrods, penstemon, sedum, lupine, salvia, Rose Mallow (Pavonia lasiopetala), black-eyed Susan coneflower (Rudbeckia Fulgida), Echinacea purpurea and even native ornamental grasses like Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) provide visually interesting, and bird-friendly seedheads during the lean months of fall and even into winter. Many other perennials produce seed, so keep an eye out to discover which ones the birds favor. Most flowers with a composite (daisy-like) blooms produce great bird seed. Tall weeds like the Eutrochium (commonly called Joe pye) are especially important in areas where snow falls since they are tall enough to stick up above the snow and provide a source of food when everything else is covered.

Many people do an annual outdoor clean-up around this time of year that includes trimming their flowers and weedy areas. Consider leaving them instead. Your bird friends will appreciate it.

Read more about birds and flowers: http://content.yardmap.org/learn/habitat-types/flower-beds/

Dr. Rhiannon Crain
YardMap Project Leader

Photo © Doug McAbee

Provide Cover Habitat

Reconsider putting your garden “to bed.” Leave edible and flower gardens standing through fall and winter to provide a seed source and valuable cover habitat. Migrating birds take breaks, and when they do, they need a safe place to rest and refuel. If you have downed tree limbs, branches, logs, etc., you can pile them together to create a brush pile, creating even more cover habitat. These practices not only help migrating birds, but butterflies, moths, and other pollinators (including adults, larvae, and eggs) that overwinter on various vegetation, including dead leaves.

Suzanne Treyger
YardMap Project Assistant

Photo © Alex Leung

Keep Your Cat Indoors

Did you know that there are more birds in the Fall than any other time of year? That’s because all the juvenile birds are dispersing and population levels are at their highest. Help protect all those naive youngsters by keeping your cats indoors during Fall migration (or year-round if you can). Recently fledged birds are not experienced with predators and need all the help they can get. Help these young birds who are making their first attempt at migration reach their destination safely, and make your household an indoor-cat household.

I personally keep my cat indoors year-round, and provide plenty of entertainment for him by offering places for him to lounge and watch the bird feeders, and lots of toys to play with. If you can help re-home a stray cat, like my former-stray-turned-indoor-lapcat, everyone benefits! For more help making the transition, check out these resources from the American Bird Conservancy.

Robyn Bailey
NestWatch Project Leader

Photo © thienzieyung

Minimize Light Pollution

Many species of birds migrate at night. Birds use the moon, the sun (setting and rising) and stars for navigation. Migrating birds are attracted by artificial lights – particularly when the weather is cloudy, rainy or foggy. Research has determined that when birds are drawn into the bright lights – they are reluctant to leave it. Lighted buildings, floodlights, and spotlights will attract birds – disrupting migration routes and drawing birds into dangerous environments (especially window strikes).

What can you do? Become educated on the topic and talk with others – especially building owners. Remove flood lights (especially if they point upwards), use motion sensor security lights to minimize light pollution, draw curtains after dark, and turn off unnecessary lights at night. Find out more at: http://www.flap.org/

Karen Purcell
Celebrate Urban Birds Project Leader

This Month’s Articles

Moth-Eaten Migration Myths

Factoid September 25, 2014

The Green Wave of Migration

Research Recap September 17, 2014

The One Thing You Can Do To Help Migrants

Take Action September 10, 2014

Does It Migrate? Quiz

Interactive September 3, 2014


  1. Albert Reingewirtz says:

    The solution is simple. Eat right and exercise and you will live semi active like me at 80. Active enough to let the yard go to seeds, weeds. Thank you Cornell for providing me with a new excuse. I don’t do it for the birds!
    My bird feeders are next to the window where we have breakfast also Hummingbird feeder and suet. The feeder is home made with a strainer so that the rain water drains. Easy to clean on the compost.

  2. Gail Hein says:

    We relaced outdoor lighting with “dark night” lights that spill light downwards for steps and doorways. Look for them when you need to replace an exterior fixture. When flying down the Eastern Seaboard at night, I noticed many businesses are switching to this.

  3. Joey Angstman says:

    It is not enough if only nature lovers take action. Raising awareness is super important as well. Sharing these and other tips with non-birders will increase, not only migrants, but all birds chances. Passing along information that benefits birds with co-workers, friends, family, and neighbors is easy and, usually, people are interested in helping wildlife.

  4. Darlene says:

    Nothing pleases mr more that watching the variety of
    Birds that come to my 5 feeders. I have a fountain with a bubbler on top. I love watching them take their morning shower. Counted 35 Ca Quail eating the leftover seed.
    It’s make my day

  5. Diane M Tuttle says:

    I do all of those EXCEPT I have feral cats that are n/s which I feed. Yes some birds have been killed by them, but with my tiny yard both species have to coexist. I also have an increase in praying mantids. Hoping no hummers have been taken by these critters.

  6. Marsha Mull says:

    I am kinda selfish. I plant flowers so I can watch the birds and butterflies. I don’t deadhead my flowers, but I do take some seeds to plant. It is fun watching all of them. We have Pileated Woodpeckers that live close. I leave dead trees in the woods so they can hunt for bugs. I have three birdbaths in windows where we can watch. Lots of birdhouses. Also I plant the mammoth sunflower and when it has dried I can just put it in the yard. Right now we have two female cardinals feasting on it. With the suet I get a lot of different birds. It seems like the hummingbirds like the hollyhocks most of all but they are gone so I have Pineapple Mint and Four O”Clocks blooming now. The Coneflowers have finished blooming and the finches loves them and have a lot of Black Capped Chickadees. Anyway, I won’t keep naming all of my flowers, but one very dependable shrub is the Rose of Sharon for the hummingbirds. I leave my suet out all winter and always have a lot of sunflower seeds from my flowers. I forgot my one favorite and that is fennel. It feeds all the butterflies…

  7. Ron Tunison says:

    My wife told me today how much she enjoyed the finches and chickadees feasting on our coneflowers. I do deadhead geraniums and roses to promote new blossoms. I leave pretty much everything else.

  8. Gloria Mindel says:

    My bird feeders attract bears. If I put out the bird feeders now wouldn’t I attract bears?

    • Donna Rae says:

      Yes, you would probably attract bears if they are in the area. A lot of people put a few feeders out and bring them in at night. It sounds like a lot of work but if they are easy access then maybe you could consider it. ALSO… birds LOVE the hot pepper suet, and mammals (rodents, raccoons and bears) will NOT be interested.

  9. Verna Brunet says:

    People who feel they cannot keep their cat indoors can clip their cat’s claws every week. At first it will be very difficult with a struggling cat but if you do one claw every day it will become routine and cats love routine. Soon your cat will sit quietly through the clipping procedure. You can learn how to avoid the pink.
    Cats do not use their claws for self defence. Claws are used for offence. For defence they run.
    Cats can still catch a bird with clipped claws — they just can’t torture it. Your cat brings you a live bird he has tortured with claws and you release it to die slowly from shock, pain & blood loss. Even the wild bird rehabber can’t save the bird’s life.
    Same cat with clipped claws brings you a live bird and you bring it to the wild bird rehabber and it thrives & is released.

    • Victoria Yates says:

      Hello Verna, I thought your suggestion to clip your felines nails was indeed good advice. However, as someone who has multiple cat’s, and is also involved in wildlife rehabilitation, I thought I might mention a couple of things. First is that cat’s do actually use their claws for self defense, although clipping them shouldn’t hinder that to severely. Second is that a cat once having caught its prey, will at some point place that prey into it’s mouth, which is where most of the damage happens. Whereas a cat’s claws do carry some bacteria, it’s the bacteria soup in their mouths that usually cause the biggest problems, and these small puncture wounds tend to be difficult to see without a thorough examination. So with animals like mice, ground squirrels, rabbits, and birds, damage usually results from either the bacteria introduced through a puncture wound, or as a direct result of the wounds caused by the canine teeth. In either case it’s usually wounds inflicted through the mouth, not from wounds sustained through the claws. Thirdly cat’s with clipped nails, and even cat’s without nails, can still torture their prey by playing with it. This usually involves tossing the prey into the air and catching it in their mouth, batting it around, or even releasing it to catch again. In any case in these situations, it’s always best to contact your local wildlife rehabilitator who will save the animal if at all possible. And please don’t forget that your local rehabbers are not funded. They cover all expenses out of their own pocket and often struggle to make ends meet; the result of that is that they sometimes have to turn animals away strictly for financial reasons. So if you take them an animal and you are in a position to donate any sum, no matter how small, towards that animals care, food, and medications, then please by all means do so.

  10. everyone. check your suet feeders regularly. we had a squirrel stuck in one. it surley would have died if we hadn’t rescued the poor little thing,dont know how it anaged to get stuck in those little spaces. but it did.

  11. almercika says:

    Feral cats are a severe problem to wildlife and to human health. If indulging a habit of nurturing wild cats , please do it by helping out at your animal shelter or such.

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