October: The Great Migration


Left: Chipping Sparrow singing

Southward migration is at its peak. Birds heading south include Orioles, Black-headed Grosbeaks and Tanagers . But, for every one we lose, another is arrives. White-Crowned, Golden-Crowned and Chipping Sparrows are back. They can be seen best hopping beneath bushes, especially where there is dense brush. 




October is the peak of the fall warbler migration. The familiar Yellow-Rumped Warblers are here, joined by their Orange-Crowned cousins searching for insects in eucalyptus flowers (which can blacken their faces). Some warblers already are moving on south after a brief stay here, such as the Yellow-Crowned and Yellow Warblers. And, right now is when you might see rare but occasional visitors to the coast, such as Wilson's, Townsend's and Black-Throated Warblers. All warblers do a good job of cleaning bushes of bugs.  

Above: Yellow-Rumped Warbler 


Left: Red-Breasted Sapsucker from All About Birds

Red-Breasted Sapsuckers also are arriving. For a woodpecker, they don't make much noise, but you can't miss that fiery head and throat. All About Birds tells us that we have our own local subspecies pf the Sapsucker in California, one that "often shows the black and white face striping of the other sapsucker species, but all the facial feathers are tipped in red."


With the fall migration under way, well-watered stopovers become critical, especially for birds making journeys of thousands of miles. That's why the threatened Salton Sea is so important for many of these migrants and even a sanctuary for some. With habitat shrinking elsewhere, the Salton Sea has become an important way station for migrating birds and even a breeding ground for some. The State of California is in the late stages of making decisions about how much to devote to preserving this critical resource and hopefully will devote funds to preserving it.  




Below: Pine Siskin at feeder


 Your Goldfinch feeders may have an unusual visitor this month, the Pine Siskin, which shows up unpredictably by the coast, usually in flocks. These streaky brown little birds actually are finches, the yellow streak on their wings revealing their kinship. And, like goldfinches, they love nyjer, and other tiny seeds, such as millet and sunflower chips. However, unlike their yellow cousins, whose soft little nests are often in bushes in your yard, they nest high in pines in the mountains. They come down to the coast only after their young have fledged. 

Hot, dry Santa Ana Winds bring the threat of fires and some of the birds that show up in your yard may be fleeing them. Keep bird baths and feeders ready for these needy refugees.


Northern Flickers, who used to be common before intensive urbanization, may migrate through the coastal areas, but no longer stay.

Left: Northern Flicker (All About Birds)


Ducks aren't usually thought of as Southern California residents, but in October coastal lagoons, such as Malibu Lagoon, Point Mugu and Ballona Wetlands, see many temporary visitors. Watch for brown-speckled Gadwalls or Green-Winged Teal or dozens of others that may be seen. Have a guide handy to make sure you don't miss the incredible variety.