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Fall Migration: Who's Staying, Who's Leaving, Who's on Their Way!

Updated: Sep 26, 2019

Fall is now here and that means the leaves will be changing, pumpkins will be popping up on all of our porches, turkey's will be stuffed, and birds will be migrating! A lot of people don't know what migration is or why it happens and even more folks don't know what birds will be staying and leaving.


Migration in its simplest definition is the movement from one place to another. But why does it happen? Animals of all sorts migrate for usually the same reason: temperature. When the thermometers drop, food supplies can deplete in areas which leaves the animals no choice but to find food elsewhere. Dolphins do this, butterflies do this, and lots of birds do this!


We are very fortunate to be in Charleston, SC because we catch so many different birds in both the spring and the fall. In the spring, right around March and April, the painted buntings and hummingbirds return to the area. Both of these make their way from South and Latin America where it is warmer during our winter. When the temperatures start to drop here in the Lowcountry, that’s when these birds slowly depart. A good rule of thumb is to keep your nectar feeders and your caged tube millet feeders out until they haven’t had a visitor for two weeks. While it is always sad to say goodbye to the painted bunting and hummingbirds, we can get excited for our returning feathered friends!



Goldfinches make their way to Charleston right around the end of September and into October, and they stay with us until about Easter. These birds, however, are commonly overlooked as they lose their bright yellow coloring in the winter. Many people think these finches are regular house finches or some small sparrow, but if you look closely, you can usually pick out a trace of yellow among the brown feathers. Goldfinches will eat sunflower chips, but their favorite food is nyjer, commonly called thistle. This small black seed does not fit in regular feeders, so a special finch feeder or thistle sock is needed. Some people do blend nyjer in with their other seeds and have some success with attracting the goldfinches.






Another fall visitor is the Baltimore oriole who is coming to us from the north for the winter. It’s a little too cold during the winter up there! These orioles are easily identified by their bright orange color. The females will sometimes hit the yellow shades more so than orange, but they will still stick out at your feeders. What makes orioles the most bizarre birds at your feeders are their diets. Orioles love grape jelly. Some people put out the jelly that they buy from the store, but I would not recommend that as that is filled with different preservatives and has a higher level of sugar that what the birds are used to. Jelly is not the only thing they’ll eat though. Orioles, like cardinals and bluebirds, love mealworms. Orioles will also drink nectar like hummingbirds (same recipe too: 4 parts water to 1 part sugar). Lastly, orioles are known to eat oranges. This food does not always get eaten as much as the jelly or mealworms, but oranges can draw the orioles into your yard. It is especially helpful at the beginning of the season.


Lastly, the wintering sparrows should be arriving around November. These birds are the easiest to feed as they like to eat millet (preferably hulled) straight off the ground. You can just throw a handful millet on the ground to draw them in (you can feed a lot of birds this way!).




A common question about fall migration is what songbirds are leaving for the winter. The answer is: not a lot. Most songbirds actually stick around. So keep feeding the bluebirds and cardinals, Look out for the woodpeckers and chickadees, and let us know when you start seeing your fall visitors!



Next week we’ll talk about how to prepare your yard for migrators!


If you are interested in purchasing any items relevant to these migrating birds, the links below will help you out!

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