Bird Migration & Your Yard

Migration is one of the most important and risky events in a bird’s life, and yet it is a critical part of over half of the 650 breeding bird species found in North America. Some species are moving due to preferences for changing levels of elevation or foraging needs, while others are seeking their ancestral breeding and nesting grounds. Find out how you (and your yard) can better serve migrating bird species and gain some bird-friendly tips from our 1% for the Planet Partner, Audubon Rockies.

When Does Migration Happen?

Migration is a twice-a-year mass movement of birds across North America. While national migration never truly stops, the typical cycles for migration land in the spring and fall. 

  1. Spring Migration: March-May 
  2. Fall Migration: August-October 

Bird Fact #1: Most migration happens at night because it’s the safest time for billions of birds to fly across North America in a short time period.

Why Do Birds Matter?

Birds play an important role around your home. Charming songs, flight patterns, and beauty aren’t the only benefits. Bird watching is actually linked to everything from improved mental and cardiovascular health to stress reduction. However, they are extremely hard workers on our behalf too.

Bird Fact #2: From swallows to vultures, a single bird species can provide literally millions of dollars worth of ecological services. 

  1. Birds love eating insects. Aerial, feathered insectivores or birds who feed on insects, like Barn Swallows can eat several hundred insects in just one hour. That’s some au natural pest control. 
  2. Birds help American fisheries. Waterfowl and shorebirds contribute to plant nutrient cycles and macroinvertebrate dispersal critical to fisheries. 
  3. Birds remove diseases naturally for us. Bird of prey species like hawks, falcons, vultures, and condors remove deceased animals from the environment, disposing of dangerous bacteria and other harmful diseases as well.

What Challenges Exist for Birds During Migration?

Loss of Habitat and Resources. As human habitat like cities and housing developments continue to expand, we are losing critical habitat and resources for birds and other wildlife during migration. With a journey that is already the most difficult time in a bird’s life – migration continues to become more challenging and energy-expensive for birds.  

 

Less Energy = Fewer Birds. When birds arrive at their migratory destinations with less energy (and fewer resources to refuel their energy stores) it causes a carry-over effect of lower productivity. This means smaller egg clutches, fewer hatchlings, and ultimately, lower populations over time. Simply put, if we don’t help birds during migration, we’ll have fewer birds. 

How To Create A Better Yard For Birds

Making your home and backyard more bird-friendly can help support birds during migration and throughout the seasons. There are plenty of small things you can do to help birds – without having to drastically alter your lawn.

Plant Native Habitat  

The single best thing you can do for bird populations is to grow native plants

  1. Spring: native plants will provide food for birds by bringing in insects. 
  2. Fall: seeds from native plants will provide energy stores for the fall migration.  

 

Create Nestlings Habitat & Structures

Adding trees and shrubs or leaving piles of brush in your yard will help to provide resting, nesting, protection, and food sources for birds. 

Install man-made habitats like birdhouses and towers, but be sure to keep them at least 10-12 feet from windows. You can also use reflective window tape or DIY window decals (great activity for kids!) to keep birds extra safe from potential collisions. 

  

Selecting & Maintaining Feeders

Feeders can be a great way to attract and support your favorite birds. Audubon recommends the following food for backyard birds: 

  1. Black-oil Sunflower Seeds: attracts finches, woodpeckers, goldfinches, cardinals, grosbeaks, nuthatches 
  2. Nyger (Thistle): attracts siskins, juncos, finches
  3. Peanuts: attracts wrens, kinglets, warblers, and jays
  4. Suet: attracts woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, wrens 
  5. Fresh Fruit (dried fruit and oranges): attracts waxwings, bluebirds, tanagers and orioles 

Bird Fact #4: Clean your feeders before hanging. Rinse feeders with diluted bleach white vinegar (9 parts solution to 1 part water) regularly to keep them clean and safe for birds.

 

Add Moving Water

The bubbling, gurgling sound of water isn’t just peaceful and calming to humans. Water attracts birds because they need fresh water to drink and preen (clean and oil) their feathers.   

 

Don’t Spray All the Weeds

Extending the time between mows or even leaving an area for some weeds are great ways to up the nutritional value of your lawn for birds. 

Sunday ProTip: Plant a clover blend to attract pollinators and use less water. 

 

Keep Cats Indoors

Your furry felines are a top predator of migratory birds. For the peak migration months of April-May and September-October, try to keep them indoors more often or at least away from feeders. 

More Ways to Support Spring Bird Migration

While some of the strain on bird migration is much larger than just our backyard, a lot of small changes add up to planet-sized results. Our 1% for the Planet Partners at the National Audubon Society are working to protect bird habitat and the future for birds. Here are some ways you can get involved: 

 

The Lights Out Initiative

The bulk of bird migration actually happens at night, but sky glow distracts and actually confuses birds. By joining the Lights Out Initiative, we can help billions of birds on their seasonal journey.

 

Habitat Heroes / Plants for Birds Programs 

In the Habitat Hero Program and Plants for Birds program, Audubon provides the resources needed to create sustainable bird habitats for cities, businesses, and people.

Lawn Care on a Mission

We can make changes that reach way beyond our backyard by viewing our lawn as a piece of the whole ecosystem. At Sunday, we’re proud to be a 1% for the Planet Partner, along with encouraging practices that are better for people, pets, and planet. Together we can find ways to connect our little piece of land to the rest of the living world and lawn better. 

Thank you to our 1% for the Planet partner Audubon Rockies for their expertise and time shared to write this article. For more information on Audubon Rockies, visit: https://rockies.audubon.org/