Ruby-crowned kinglet, October 2015 (photo by Steve Gosser)
You can’t tell the difference between male and female ruby-crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula) unless they’re upset. Only males have the ruby crown that gave the bird its name but they hide it unless they’re agitated.
Fortunately for us, ruby-crowned kinglets are feisty and will raise their head feathers as a challenge to each other and just about anyone else.
Watch for them migrating through western Pennsylvania this month.
Steve Gosser photographed this one at Shenango Lake, Mercer County.
Every fall Ron Pittaway produces a Winter Finch Forecast for Canada that predicts the travels of seed eating birds and three other species that often irrupt when finches do. When he says a species will leave Ontario, it will probably come to Pennsylvania.
To make his prediction Pittaway looks at Canada’s forests from a seed eater’s perspective. This year purple finch foods are in low supply on Canada’s trees so he predicts that “Many (not all) should migrate south out of Ontario this fall.”
Get ready for purple finches by offering sunflower seeds at your feeders.
Whimbrel (nicknamed Upinraaq) at the MacKenzie River, Canada. She winters in Brazil.
What happens to birds who migrate over the ocean during hurricane season? Do they run into major storms?
Indeed they do. Since 2007 when the Center for Conservation Biology began satellite-tracking whimbrels they’ve seen 9 of them fly through hurricanes or tropical storms. All 9 birds survived!
This year when Upinraaq (above) launched from Newfoundland on her transoceanic journey, she had no idea she’d encounter Tropical Storm Erika. By the time she hit Erika’s 46 mile per hour winds she’d already been flying non-stop for three days. Nonetheless she flew straight through the storm and made landfall at Suriname.
However, her destination is Brazil and she faces a big challenge in Suriname before she gets home. Click here to read about her land-side challenge and the amazing feats of migrating whimbrels (one flew through Hurricane Irene!) at the CCB’s blog: Whimbrel Tracked Into Tropical Storm Erika.
Soras (Porzana carolina) are the most abundant rail in North America but they’re so elusive that we rarely see them fly. When disturbed they prefer to walk deep into the marsh rather than go airborne. If you happen to flush one it looks weak and labored in the air.
Though they appear to be fly poorly, soras migrate long distances. They’re very cold sensitive so they have to leave before the weather turns. Birds of North America says they become lethargic as the temperature approaches freezing so “most soras winter in areas that have a minimum January temperature above –1°C (30°F).”
From their breeding grounds in Canada and the northern/western U.S. to their wintering grounds in the southern U.S. and Central and South America, soras may fly up to 4,000 miles. We don’t see them on migration because (presumably) they fly at night but they’re sometimes found resting on ships hundreds of miles offshore. We know they cross the open ocean. Some of them winter in Bermuda and the Caribbean.
This month soras are hanging out in wetlands en route on migration. If you’re lucky enough to see one, think of its journey — reluctant to fly, except to escape the cold.
In summer broad-winged hawks are secretive but by late August the birds have finished breeding and are ready to start their journeys to Central and South America.
Unlike most raptors, broad-wings travel in flocks, rising together in thermal updrafts, gliding out toward their destination. At the bottom of the glide they find another thermal and rise again. From a distance they look like rising bubbles so the flock is called a “kettle.” The video above shows them gliding. Click here to read more about kettles.
Thermal updrafts are best over sun-heated land so the hawks avoid flying over lakes and oceans. As they move south, the flocks grow in size and become concentrated at the northern edges of the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. By the time they reach South Texas there are hundreds of birds per kettle and half a million broad-wing hawks per day.