September Nature: Migrants Galore

September is a time of change, as some birds prepare to migrate away, while others are migrating in. It's exciting, because you may get a brief glimpse of a bird not often seen in these parts, such as a Nashville Warbler, as it makes its way through Southern California, headed south. Look for gray head and wings with yellow beneath, and a bright white ring around the eye.

Local Dark-Eyed Juncos have raised their chicks. But, as fall comes, there seem to be even more of these cute black-hooded birds. That's because their northern cousins, the “Oregon” variety, start to move southward. Look for juncos with a rusty color on their underparts, rather than the familiar beige. Either way, they will sing their sweet trill. But if you get too close they switch to a repeated click, warning all of danger.

Above: Male Nashville Warbler (All About Birds)

In September Chipping Sparrows descend from the mountains where they breed to form flocks in the warmer coastal areas. Look for a sporty rusty-red cap with a white streak of an eyebrow. They flock with juncos and Yellow-Rumped Warblers, fleeing en masse to the trees when disturbed..

               Right: A Chipping Sparrow sings on a pine bough (All About Birds)

Speaking of Yellow-Rumped Warblers, they are another species that moves into the Southland this month. Also, coming through are bright Yellow Warblers, the males showing red-orangish streaks on their breasts as they search the bushes for insects. The Yellow-Rumped Warblers will stay around most of the winter, especially if they find mealworms in your feeders, but the Yellow Warblers will move on south in October.                       

Left: A Yellow-Rumped Warbler shows off his buttery rear in a bush in Santa Monica (Larry Naylor)

Watch also for the first of the White-Crowned Sparrows, with their distinctive black-and-white striped heads. They are classic ground feeders and can be seen hopping beneath bushes or on the ground below your feeders.


Right: A barn owl family peers out at an intruder

If you are thinking of attracting Barn Owls to take over the rodent-control in your yard, now is the time to start planning. Each barn owl eats about 2,000 rats per year. You can attract a breeding couple by installing a barn owl box in the early fall, which is when young barn-owl pairs start to search for a hollow place to raise a family. There are very few hollow trees in the city, so a barn owl box will look very good to them. If a barn owl box seems too big for your place, consider a box for screech or saw whet owls. They are smaller, even cuter and also eat a lot of rats

Your birdbath may draw some spectacular migrants in the fall, such as Tanagers and Lazuli Buntings, who are headed south. Or, it may just keep your local visitors, such as the Goldfinch (left) happy and healthy in dry hot weather The same birdbath also could be a lifesaver in the event of fires. The fall conflagrations drive birds away from their familiar resources, water as well as food. Providing water gives birds a sense of refuge when their world goes up in flames.

Left: A goldfinch considers a cool bath under a water dripper

As we move into fall, Hummingbird activity remains strong. Most of our SoCal hummingbirds, the Anna's and Allen's, do not migrate. However, the Black-Chinned Hummingbirds, with a purple fringe around the males' black heads, are heading out for western and southern Mexico. You may glimpse a few before the end of the month.