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Migration is over…why go birding?

Drew Weber|

Great Blue Heron on its nest (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

I hear this often; complaints about migration being over, talk of there being no reason to get out early in the mornings, and having to wait for the fall to do any good birding. I say this is ridiculous. While migration does offer a spectacular pulse of new birds and at a higher concentration than out of the birding season, it is birding during the breeding season that can really teach you a lot about birds, their favorite habitats and the variety of vocalizations that they give.

While a morning of birding a migrant hotspot might teach you which species spend their time at different levels of the understory and canopy, finding those same species as breeders can help you figure out why Blackburnian Warblers are always so high in the tree tops and Mourning Warblers are always skulking in the undergrowth. You begin to spot areas that look good for a species based on where you have found them breeding in the past, and soon begin to key in on the other species that are found in that same habitat. Learning habitat associations is a great way to find more birds on a big day and expand your knowledge.

Birding during the breeding season also teaches you to closely watch bird behavior. When a Black-throated Blue Warbler flies in close to the path and seems to be checking you out, there is a good chance that somewhere nearby is its mate, sitting patiently on the nest. If you can stay still and quiet for a long enough time, you might even get to see it fly off to the nest, disappearing into a rhododendron which a big juicy green inchworm.

The breeding season is also a great time to look for raptors. There are all sorts of interesting behaviors going on, from hawks bringing back freshly killed birds and small mammals to the nest, to young Barred Owls and Great Horned Owls that are starting to explore their surroundings and hopping around to different trees. More easy to find would be Bald Eagle and Osprey nests.

The bird behavior you seen in the summer is useful! You can record many types of breeding evidence in eBird, from possible breeding behavior like observing a pair of birds together, or confirming breeding activity by seeing a bird on a nest, or baby birds. While there is no way to currently view all the breeding activity that users submit to eBird, it will eventually be something everyone will be able to access…sort of like an ongoing breeding bird atlas. Go out and find a new breeding species for your county!

So I urge you, don’t slow down on birding now that there are no masses of warblers coming through. Get out to some interesting habitats and see what you can find. Record all that breeding activity and submit it to eBird. Read up at home about a species preferred habitats, and then go out and try to find some new spots where they might be breeding. Look at range maps to see which birds typically breed just north or south of your region, and then see if you can find a spot where they are breeding near you. There are all sorts of fun things to do between migration seasons!

What drives you to get out in the summer?

About the Author

Drew Weber

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Drew is the founder and editor of Nemesis Bird and now works to curate some of the best content the web has to offer on birding and ornithology from an energetic crew of ornithologists, field researchers, tour leaders and photographers. Drew is originally from PA but now lives in central New York where he is enjoying the long and snowy winters. He has done various bird jobs including bird surveys for the 2nd PA Breeding Bird Atlas, tracked saw-whet owls from dusk to dawn with Scott Weidensaul and counted hawks for several years for Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Drew is an avid lister, especially on smaller scales, and enjoys adding new birds to county, state and life lists. He also enjoys digiscoping and making apps for birders. He is Project Coordinator for the Merlin Project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He is also project manager for the North American Rare Bird Alert.