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June 2024

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Spring Migration

As the snow melts and flowers bloom, this season is an excellent time to see birds making their way through New Mexico on their migratory path. Hummingbirds are already here, and higher elevations such as Questa and Eagle Nest will likely see Broad-tailed Hummingbirds (identifiable by their long tail feathers that extend just past their wing-tips, iridescent green backs and bright magenta throats on males) while lower elevations will see more Black-chinned Hummingbirds (characterized by the black head and violet throat in males while females have more dull coloring). Bringing these birds into your backyard is easy: just put out a feeder filled with one part purified water to four parts white cane sugar (be sure to only use granulated white sugar, since brown sugar, stevia and other variants aren’t easily digestible by hummingbirds—and never use red dyes, as these are toxic to birds).


Hummingbirds are very territorial little critters, and if you find your backyard to be the center of a turf war you can ease tensions by placing feeders far apart from each other. Just try to position feeders in the shade so hummingbirds can cool down and their nectar won’t get too hot. Nectar should be changed every five days when it’s cool and every two days when it’s hot (80 degrees Fahrenheit or more). Extra nectar can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks. Cleaning feeders is important, especially with bird flu on the rise—each time your feeders need to be refilled, disassemble them and clean them with hot, soapy water.


Other visitors to look forward to are two yellow-bellies: the Wilson’s Warbler and Yellow Warbler. While both species are a striking yellow, the Wilson’s Warbler can be distinguished by a black cap on males and grayish wings on both sexes, whereas Yellow Warblers are yellow all over with chestnut streaks on the males’ chests. These birds are more likely to be spotted in the woods and prefer foraging for insects along the forest floor. You may be able to lure them to backyard feeders with mealworms, and Wilson’s Warblers may occasionally eat berries as well.


Just like with hummingbird feeders, seed and suet feeders should be cleaned regularly (every two weeks) with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water and a stiff bottle brush to remove grime. Be sure to keep the ground beneath feeders clean as well—picky eaters may discard unwanted seeds and let other birds pick over the leftovers, and these seed piles can spread disease easily if not cleaned up.


Since bird flu is prominent this season, scientists recommend spacing feeders apart and avoiding platform feeders to lessen crowding and close contact. Bird flu is rare among songbirds, who are the primary visitors to feeders, but keep a sharp eye out for any symptoms like lethargy, swollen eyes, and purple discoloration on the legs. Being a birder can be quite a chore, but when you’re scrubbing away at those feeders, just imagine your backyard visitors twittering their thanks to you. They have quite the journey ahead of them, and backyard feeders are the ideal rest stop for them.


The greater the variety of feeders and feed you offer, the more birds you’ll see. I personally use a couple of feeders shaped like little houses, and fill them with a mix of black oil sunflower seeds and a fruit-nut mix; about ¾ sunflower seeds and ¼ fruits and nuts; and a suet feeder stocked with peanut suet. Don’t bother with seed mixes that contain millet, as you’ll just have a mess under your feeders, as birds peck it away to get to the good stuff. Thistle socks, suet feeders, and oriole fruit feeders can be added if you want to see every species the northern New Mexico mountains have to offer. Suet will attract woodpeckers, Steller’s Jays, and magpies; thistle seeds will bring in goldfinches, house finches and sparrows; and oriole feeders will attract, you guessed it, orioles.


To see what species are migrating through, check the migration map at birdcast.info. Birders can help scientists gather important data by reporting backyard bird sightings through the eBird app, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers the Merlin app to help with bird identification. Most birds make their migratory journey during the night. When we reduce excess light pollution by turning off garden lights and covering windows with curtains, we make their navigation easier. Our feathered friends will thank you for the help.

Author

  • Bryce Flanagan

    Bryce Flanagan moved from Sacramento, CA to Taos County in 2016, and has lived in Questa for two years. He's passionate about the unique and beautiful wildlife of our state and is a regular contributor to the Questa Del Rio News.

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